GLENDALE, Ariz. - Professional hockey will live on in thedesert, at least for a while.
Billionaire Jim Balsillie failed in his bid to have a bankruptcycourt judge order the Phoenix Coyotes sold to him and, over theNHL's objection, moved to Hamilton, Ontario. His downfall was hisself-imposed June 29 deadline for completing the deal.
Redfield T. Baum, chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court inPhoenix, concluded in a 21-page ruling Monday there was no way toresolved the case by then.
"Simply put, the court does not think there is sufficient time(14 days) for all of these issues to be fairly presented to thecourt given that deadline," the judge wrote.
The only one who didn't see it as a defeat for Balsillie and avictory for the NHL was Balsillie himself.
"We're still here," Balsillie spokesman Bill Walker said,contending there was still an opportunity for the NHL and Balsillieto reach an agreement on moving the franchise to Canada.
At a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday, Balsillie'sintentions remained unchanged.
"He's committed to Hamilton, he's committed to CoppsColiseum," Walker said. "He just sees this as another day atwork, another day at the office."
Balsillie is willing to negotiate with the NHL on bringing theCoyotes to Hamilton but the league has not approached him,Balsillie lawyer Richard Rodier said from Toronto. The lawyer addedthat the next step was to speak to Jerry Moyes, the Coyotes'majority owner.
The NHL, however, prepared to move ahead to find a buyer whowould keep the team in Arizona. Any sale would have to be throughbankruptcy court, where Balsillie had been the lone bidder.
"We're pleased the court recognized the validity of leaguerules and our ability to apply them in a reasonable fashion," NHLdeputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday. "We will turn ourattention now toward helping to facilitate an orderly sales processthat will produce a local buyer who is committed to making theCoyotes' franchise viable and successful in the Phoenix-Glendalearea. We are confident that we will be able to find such a buyerfor the Coyotes and that the claims of legitimate creditors will beaddressed."
The NHL has said it would relocate the team if no suitableownership in Arizona is found. The league says four parties havefiled preliminary applications to investigate purchasing the teamand keeping it in Arizona. One of them is Jerry Reinsdorf, owner ofbaseball's Chicago White Sox and the NBA's Chicago Bulls.
The Coyotes have lost more than $300 million since the franchisemoved from Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1996, and at least $36 millioneach of the last three seasons.
Any bid to keep the team in Arizona would be far less than the$212.5 million Balsillie had offered, contingent on moving thefranchise to Hamilton. Last fall, Forbes magazine said the Coyoteswere the least valuable franchise in the NHL, at $142 million. Thatwould mean much less for Moyes, who says he has $300 millioninvested and would have recouped $100 million in the sale toBalsillie.
At Jobing.com Arena in Glendale on Monday night, Coyotespresident Doug Moss called this a "great day for our fans, for ourpartners the city of Glendale, and we're really gratified we canstart the next chapter of the Phoenix Coyotes right here inGlendale."
But Balsillie, who has failed in two other bids to buy NHLteams, refused to concede.
"We look forward to hearing from the NHL soon on its view ofour relocation application and an appropriate relocation fee, so asto allow the court to determine if that fee is reasonable," Walkersaid Monday. "We still think there is enough time for the NHL toapprove Mr. Balsillie's application and move the team to Hamiltonby September."
Baum shot down the claim by Moyes and Balsillie that failure toallow the team to move would violate antitrust law.
"This court cannot find that antitrust law, as applicablenonbankruptcy law, permits the sale free and clear of therelocation rights of the NHL," Baum wrote.
An antitrust claim requires a "bona fide dispute," but thereis none because Balsillie only sought the NHL's permission torelocate the franchise after it was brought up in court, Baumwrote.
Baum also rejected arguments by Moyes and Balsillie that whileassuming the contract the Coyotes have with the NHL, they candisregard the portion of the agreement that requires the games beplayed in Glendale.
The judge compared that claim to "a purchaser of a bankruptfranchise in a remote location asserting that it can be relocatedfar from its original agreed site to a highly valuable location,for example New York City's Times Square."
Baum said that because he was rejecting the motion, he need notrule at this time on whether Moyes and Balsillie could voidGlendale's lease. The city, which had claimed nearly $795 millionin damages if the Coyotes had moved, said it was pleased.
"Clearly the court recognized the significance of these issuesand the unique interests of the City of Glendale and itstaxpayers," the city said in a statement. "The court based itsdecision on the law and facts and not on countless rumors andinnuendo regarding this matter."