September 02, 2009

PHOENIX (AP) -- A U.S. bankruptcy judge has told James Balsillie that he should reconsider the Sept. 14 deadline the Canadian billionaire set for completing his proposed purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Judge Redfield T. Baum said that given all that has yet to be determined it was "reasonably probable" that he would not have ruled on all outstanding issues by then.

Baum's comment came during a hearing on Wednesday on whether he should overrule the NHL's 26-0 vote rejecting Balsillie as a potential owner. The Canadian wants to buy the team contingent on moving the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario.

For the first time since Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes brought the team into bankruptcy on May 5, Balsillie was in the courtroom. So was his nemesis, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Balsillie's attorney, Jeff Keffler, argued that the NHL vote was a "thin pretext" conjured up by lawyers when the league's real concern is a legal battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The contention is largely based on a November 2006 letter from the Maple Leafs' counsel that cites the franchise's position that any relocation of a franchise must be approved by a unanimous vote.

The NHL says that Bettman has decided that relocation would be simply by a majority vote.

NHL attorney Shep Goldfein called the allegations "just made up" and "something from the Twilight Zone."

The judge put aside assertions by Balsillie's attorneys that the NHL had a serious conflict of interest because it was a bidder. The league filed a $140 million offer to buy the team last week when a group headed by Jerry Reinsdorf pulled out.

Balsillie's attorney, Susan Freeman, said the NHL was considering making a bid at the time the owners rejected the Canadian as an owner. That put the league in a position of rejecting a competitive bid.

Baum said more briefs need to be filed on the matter before he is prepared to hear that issue.

The judge had sharp questions for attorneys for the NHL and Balsillie. He noted that Balsillie was asking for an unprecedented ruling.

Balsillie is offering $212.5 million, contingent on immediately moving the franchise to Hamilton. Under that bid, Moyes would get $104 million of the $300 million he says he loaned the Coyotes.

Another bidder is Ice Edge, a group of investors who say they will pay up to $150 million and would keep the team in Glendale. However, five regular-season games would be played in Saskatoon.

Moyes would get next to nothing under the NHL and Ice Edge bids.

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