Hockey

Balsillie deal not dead: report

Jim Balsillie may have hit a snag in his bid to buy the Nashville Predators, but that doesn't mean the proposed deal is off, a source told the Canadian Press on Saturday.

Jim Balsillie may have hit a snag in his bid to buy the Nashville Predators, but that doesn't mean the proposed deal is dead.

That was the message a source close to the Canadian billionaire delivered to the Canadian Press on Saturday, a day after Predators ownerCraig Leipold set the hockey world abuzz by sending a letter to the NHL asking the league to stop the application process for Balsillie "until we reach a binding agreement."

"The Predators' lawyers have informed us that they want us to put a hold on the Balsillie application for now," deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed Saturday during the NHL entry draft in Columbus. "To the extent that there's anything to consider in the future, they want it to be their application, not Balsillie's."

But a source close to Balsillie said Saturday that the only reason Leipold did that was because the application process was costing him a fortune in legal bills and he wants to focus on finalizing his deal with Balsillie before going back to the league.

"It stopped. But it doesn't means it can't recommence," said Daly. "We've had a number of examples in the past where there's been a breakdown and people have come back. So who knows?"

Balsillie, the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, which is based in Waterloo, Ont., signed a non-binding letter of intent on May 24 to buy thePredators from Leipold for $220 million US.

Payroll sliced

Balsillie doesn't want to complete the purchase until the NHL's board of governors approves his contingency plan to move the financially struggling franchise to Hamilton. The board of governors doesn't meet again until September.

In the meantime, Leipold is free to entertain other offers.

"Mr. Leipold at this point has decided he's not going to pursue the Balsillie application unless or until they have a binding agreement," said Daly. "Obviously he's going to look at what his other options might be."

While the process drags on, Predators general manager David Poile has been busyslicingsalaries from a team that claims to have lost millions of dollars last season.

The trades of Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Vokoun over the last week will save the Predators about $16 million US on next year's payroll, ifthe rich contracts Hartnell and Timonen signed in Philadelphia are included.

The moves, which would appear to weaken a team that finished last season with the third-best record in the NHL, could benefit Balsillie if he indeed would like to move the Predators to Hamilton.

Hamilton talk 'premature': Bettman

Under the Predators' arrangement with the city of Nashville, the team's owner can get out ofits arenalease and relocate the team if attendance falls under 14,000 on average next season. It was also reported last week that Balsillie could buy himself out of the lease.

A week after his announced agreement with Leipold, Balsillie reactivated a deal that gave him exclusive rights to negotiate a lease option for housing an NHL team at Hamilton's Copps Coliseum, news that caught Leipold by surprise and reportedly troubled him.

Thousands of season-ticket reservationswere sold after Hamilton's city council approved the agreement, which would have allowed Copps Coliseum to be the home of the Predators.

However, at the board of governors meeting in New York this week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said talks of Nashville relocating to Hamilton were "premature."

"Currently there isn't a fully completed application before the board of governors," Bettman said on Wednesday. "As a result, I think people are getting a little bit ahead of themselves on this entire issue.

"It isn't in any shape or form close to being ready for consideration as it relates to approval of an ownership change. I'm not exactly sure why people are focused on the Nashville Predators being anywhere other than in Nashville at this particular point in time."

Last December, Balsillie withdrew his $175-million US offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins after it was rejected by owner Mario Lemieux.

With files from the Canadian Press