Coyotes future uncertain as case gets chippy, takes new turn
PHOENIX (AP) -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says he didn't decide to submit a bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes until "about 24 hours" before it was submitted on Aug. 25.
Bettman made the comment Friday under questioning by the attorney for Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie as the auction of the team in U.S. Bankruptcy Court entered its second day.
There are only two bidders -- Balsillie and the NHL.
Judge Redfield T. Baum indicated it would take him at least a week to rule, telling Balsillie that he should rethink the Sept. 21 deadline he has set for completion of the sale.
Balsillie, who wants to buy the team and move it to Hamilton, Ontario, over the league's vehement objection, contends it was unfair for the NHL board of governors to reject the Canadian's bid while the league was contemplating one of its own.
Bettman did not disclose the bid possibility when he gave a deposition on Aug. 20, four days before the league submitted the offer.
He said he didn't do so because the matter still was under consideration and the league remained hopeful there would be another way to keep the team in Glendale.
After the board voted 26-0 against Balsillie as an owner on July 29, citing his untrustworthiness, Bettman said he reminded the group of the possibility the league might make its own bid.
Bettman said he understands that both of the potential buyers who withdrew their bid -- Ice Edge Holdings and a group headed by Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf -- would be interested in buying the team outside the bankruptcy process if the NHL bid is accepted. Both groups have said they want to keep the team in Glendale.
The NHL and Glendale waived their right to question Balsillie, who was in the courtroom. Because of that, attorneys agreed not to ask Bettman questions relating to why the board voted against Balsillie as an owner. The Canadian has failed in previous attempts to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.
Baum would not allow a question from NHL attorney Shep Goldfield, who wanted Bettman to confirm there are several parties who have expressed interest to the commissioner for an expansion franchise in Hamilton.
Baum again raised the possibility he might reject both bids and simply have no sale.
NHL attorney Tony Clark told the judge that, if both bids are tossed, the NHL would seek a ruling allowing it to take control of the team in preparation for a resale.
In other words, the league seemed not mind a "no sale" determination.
Balsillie's attorney, Jeff Kessler, on the other hand, likened such a ruling to "letting the patient die."
Balsillie has offered to buy the team for some $242.5 million, contingent on moving it to Hamilton, Ontario.
The NHL has bid $140 million with plans to resell the franchise outside of bankruptcy.
Balsillie wants the judge to overrule the NHL board's rejection of the Canadian as an owner. Balsillie also wants Baum to allow the team to be relocated without the league's approval and to set a fee to be paid for that relocation.
If Balsillie "wants to understand why he has been rebuffed in his sincere and indisputably passionate desire to be a team owner, what he needs to do is he needs to look in the mirror," Clark said. "He brought this about on himself by his refusal to abide by the rules."
"Perhaps someday (Balsillie) will meet up with a recognition on his part that he isn't above the rules that apply to all the other NHL owners," Clark said. "Maybe he will find a way to express an honest regret and a humility and acknowledge where he went wrong."
If he apologizes, Balsillie would perhaps be able to "achieve his dream" to own a team, Clark said.
Clark said there are three requirements to be an NHL owner. The first two are to be wealthy and love hockey.
"Mr. Balsillie has that in spades," Clark said.
The third requirement, the NHL attorney said, is "to play by the NHL rules." Then Clark cited a song by Meat Loaf.
"It's called 'Two Out of Three Ain't Bad,"' Clark said, "but that doesn't cut it to own a team in the NHL.
Baum later warned the attorneys to not make their arguments personal.
"If I said anything that went over the line, I apologize your honor," Clark said.
Kessler told the judge that the NHL and city of Glendale waived their right to cross-examine Balsillie in a "desperate" act aimed at preventing Baum from seeing what a good, upstanding citizen he is and that he shouldn't have been rejected as an owner.
Kessler said evidence shows the NHL acted in bad faith in failing to consider relocation of the team to Hamilton.
As he has done several times, Baum referred to the fact that the ruling Balsillie wants would be unprecedented.
"Doesn't it strike you as unusual," he asked Balsillie attorney Susan Freeman, "that in the bankruptcy code of 1978, 31 years later, nobody's ever crossed this bridge before and approved this kind of relocation?"
Clark ridiculed Balsillie's claim that the real reason for rejecting him as an owner was fear of a lawsuit from the Toronto Maples Leafs, believed to be the most valuable team in the NHL.
The auction came one day before the Coyotes are to open training camp at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)