Looking grim for Jim

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Three strikes and once again it looks like Jim Balsillie is out.

He tried to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins. Didn't happen. He tried to move the Nashville Predators. Didn't happen. And his unusual ambush-strategy attempt to try and bully his way into owning and moving the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton is on hold today, with no assurance it will ever happen.

The Balsillie dream of placing a second National Hockey League team in Southern Ontario is again in peril, for now and maybe for the future, while the poking and prodding of the Coyotes in a U.S. bankruptcy court muddles on.

Sometimes, like in the case of a major automobile manufacturer, a bankruptcy court can rule in one day. But in the case of the Coyotes, with so much mud to sling, a case so twisted, so divisive, so personal that Judge Redfield T. Baum, certainly named from a Burt Reynolds character in some southern movie, refused yesterday to tackle the most essential issues in this matter:

1) Who owns the Coyotes, which is really the thrust of the case;

2) Can the Coyotes, as part of Balsillie's $212.5-million US bid, be moved to Hamilton without the consent of the NHL, thus giving the court a right that NHL owners themselves don't have.

The problem with all this is a myriad of further problems. And time, in this case, is of the essence and is working against all involved.

The NHL needs to settle this franchise dispute quickly but that's not going to happen; Balsillie needs to know if he has a team and that's not happening quickly; owner Jerry Moyes needs to be confirmed as the actual owner of the club, so he can, in fact, sell it or take it to bankruptcy. And the good judge, in his wisdom, did a whole lot of knuckle rapping yesterday on just about everyone who spoke before him.

Baum gave it to the NHL's lawyer, gave it to Moyes' lawyer, didn't even allow Balsillie's lawyer to address the court.

Clearly used to dealing with matters of finance rather than sport, Baum seemed unhappy that none of these still wealthy and formerly wealthy men were able to play nice with each other.

So he ordered the impossible: He ordered Moyes and the NHL to go to mediation to solve the central issue of who owns the Coyotes. That's like trying to mediate Kramer vs. Kramer. This is The War of The Roses, the hockey movie, without commentary from Danny DeVito.

The judge asked that the two sides go to mediation and report back to the court on May 27, a week from today. I can predict with near certainty that nothing will come of that mediation. Moyes isn't about to relinquish his apparent ownership and the NHL isn't about to allow him to put the team into bankruptcy. Try find middle ground there.

And if it's not bad enough that Moyes and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman have no trust or belief in each other, the judge did say he would discuss the relocation of the franchise -- what he called the "hot-button issue" -- on June 22, more than a month from now, which was immediately followed by the NHL lawyer indicating the league would not approve the movement of a franchise for next season at that late date.

The lateness of that date all but means Balsillie and Hamilton are out for next season.

It may also mean the Coyotes may be out for next season.

That is the difficulty the NHL must come to grips with. You can't move the Coyotes by late June and you can't sell tickets in Phoenix for a franchise nobody can say for certain will be playing there. It is a double-edged sword, with both sides stabbing at the league.

What may make sense is to suspend the operation of the Phoenix franchise, disperse its players in a draft around the league, and then announce expansion plans for southern Ontario. That way, the league saves face, gets its expansion dough, ends up with a 30-team league down the road, and can control whether or not it wants to do business with Balsillie, which clearly it doesn't.


Videos

Photos