NHL union boss supports 2nd team in southern Ontario

NHL Players' Association executive director Paul Kelly wants the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy issues cleared up soon and believes Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie is the right man to assume ownership of the team.

Paul Kelly says he would be extremly pleased should Coyotes move north

The executive director of the NHL Players' Association wants the bankruptcy issues surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes to be resolved by the end of June. And Paul Kelly also thinks Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has what it takes to be the new owner of the club.

Kelly arrived at the men's world hockey championship in Bern, Switzerland, on Wednesday on an overnight flight from Toronto to the news that the Coyotes had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and that Balsillie had made an offer of $212.5 million US to purchase the team and relocate it to southern Ontario.

Kelly has never hidden his support of putting more NHL teams in Canada.

"Obviously if Phoenix could have gotten new ownership and new investment and turned it around and made it a profitable franchise, we would have been very supportive," he said in an interview.

"If that can't happen, and I have said it many times, I think the league should look seriously at putting another team in southern Ontario, either in Toronto or in the Hamilton-Kitchener area. There is incredible enthusiasm for hockey in southern Ontario. Certainly they could support a second team."

Quick resolution needed

Kelly also said he wants a quick resolution to the future of the Phoenix franchise.

"You have scheduling issues, you have the draft issues and we have players, frankly, that have commitments on homes, condos and families that have to be in school," he said. "You can't let the thing linger much past the end of June for it to be resolved one way or another."

Kelly was asked why he thought the NHL does not want Balsillie as an owner.

"I am not surprised by it. He is into his third attempt at buying a franchise and moving it," he said. "I have not been involved in any of his prior efforts, but I am certainly aware that the league does not like to be strong-armed and the league believes it has a number of legal and technical manoeuvres they can take to forcefully block anybody who tries to enter the ownership group.

"We want what is best for hockey and we want what is best for the players. If that turns out to be in Phoenix, that is great and we will support it. If it turns out that's bringing in a new owner and moving that team to southern Ontario, we will be extremely pleased and that would be great for our players."

Financial stability essential

While the NHLPA does not have input regarding team ownership, Kelly said whoever gets the team should have deep pockets.

"I know that the league does not wish to infuse any more money into the Phoenix Coyotes. If they are bringing in new ownership or a new investor, then that group is going to have to be able to either absorb the losses or fund the operation on their own. The league will simply not carry that.

"They did the right thing this year by advancing funds and infusing money to keep that team going, and it is good for the players and good for the league. At this point you need someone who can stand alone and handle the financial consequences."

Kelly said he feels Balsillie has what it takes to be an owner.

"I think anytime you have someone who is a passionate hockey guy who loves the sport and plays the sport, who is a true fan of the sport, as an owner, is a great thing," Kelly said. "If it happens that that person has deep pockets, that would be a better thing. Jim obviously has all of those attributes.

"I sensed his passion for the game [in conversations with Balsillie] and I do think it would be somebody worth considering. But there is a lot of politics and history here [between Balsillie and the NHL] that I am not in a position to comment on."

Kelly said the NHLPA would closely monitor the Coyotes' financial situation.

"At this point it is out of our hands," he said, "and we will watch it with real closeness and we will be keeping our players advised throughout the process."