Hockey

Balsillie camp unbowed by court ruling

Representatives for Jim Balsillie were unwilling to concede any kind of defeat Tuesday, hours after an Arizona bankruptcy court judge denied the billionaire's motion to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move the team to Ontario.

Representatives for Jim Balsillie were unwilling to concede any kind of defeat Tuesday, hours after an Arizona bankruptcy court judge denied the billionaire's motion to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move the team to Ontario.

"At the end of the proceeding and the whole process, I think the Phoenix Coyotes are going to end up in Hamilton," said Richard Rodier, legal adviser to Balsillie. "The NHL referred to a lot of other people who are dying to keep the team in Phoenix.

"Right now ours is the only offer on the table."

Balsillie, the co-CEO of Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, imposed a June 29 deadline to complete his sale through bankruptcy — hoping to speed up the process and have the team ready to play in Hamilton for the 2009-10 season.

Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 5 — a move intended to facilitate the sale of the franchise to Balsillie for $212.5 million US.

Spokesperson Bill Walker said Balsillie — who was not present at Tuesday's news conference — is not dejected in any way by the ruling of Judge Redfield T. Baum.

"The commitment remains completely unchanged," said Walker. "He's committed to Hamilton, committed to Copps Coliseum. He just sees this as another day at work, another day at the office."

Rodier said Balsillie wouldn't appeal Monday's ruling, but said they hadn't spoken to representatives for Moyes.

Baum said in his ruling that the deadline was too tight to resolve all the outstanding issues related to the case.

Rodier rejected the notion that their own deadline helped lead to the setback, arguing that a deadline was needed due to free agency and other dates on the NHL calendar.

"You want to make sure you go so late it comes impossible to relocate before the coming season," said Rodier. "I think that whoever owns the team and is responsible for funding losses in the coming season is going to incur potentially catastrophic losses … that's not something you want to be responsible for."

Baum said in his ruling that since the NHL has never come to a decision on whether to relocate the Coyotes, he had a hard time supporting the assertion from Balsillie's side that there had been a violation of antitrust law.

Rodier said that since Balsillie wasn't prevented from resubmitting his motion by the court, the league at some point might find itself in the position to justify with cause why it won't consider the Canadian's bid.

"What he [Baum] is saying is that the NHL hasn't had a reasonable opportunity to consider the relocation application and rule on it, if I can use that word. "But … tick tock, tick tock. Time is running out and there's no reason why the relocation application can't be considered in a reasonable fashion."

Rodier and Walker said Balsillie had no personal dispute with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and remains willing to work with the league on a mediated solution to the sale and relocation.

Whether the NHL will be quick to pick up the phone remains to be seen. The NHL has told the court it has had four expressions of interest from potential buyers who want to operate the Coyotes in Phoenix, including from Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox, and Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, co-owners of the Toronto Argonauts.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has speculated an auction for the Coyotes would take place in September.

Rodier seemed willing to concede that Balsillie isn't the first choice of the league, but said not to count the prospective NHL owner out.

"You still have a team that is bankrupt and that has to be sold in a process that's going to be administered by Judge Baum. The next step in the process for him and the NHL seems to be that they'll look for a local buyer in accordance with the NHL's schedule. 

"I caution you that in bankruptcy, things can come out of left field. There's a lot of time between now and Sept. 10."