What is the NHL's price?

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

PHOENIX -- How much is too much?

That is the question Jim Balsillie has yet to answer.

That is the question the National Hockey League must wrestle with should they be asked by bankruptcy court Judge Redfield T. Baum to arrive at a price -- and fast -- for the relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes in Hamilton.

Balsillie, the BlackBerry billionaire, has bid $212.5 million U.S. for the Chapter 11 declared Coyotes, but after Judge Baum stated in court that anyone moving an NHL franchise to Hamilton must pay the league for the right to do so, the price needs to be determined. And when Baum made that declaration, he changed much of the expected parametres surrounding the case and stunned the NHL in the process.

When this case began, the NHL wanted to argue that Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes didn't have the right to take this team to bankruptcy. The Judge would have none of that.

PUSHED HARD

The NHL also pushed hard to argue that Balsillie does not have the right to put in a purchase for a bankrupt franchise, by attaching a condition on his purchase -- of the move to Hamilton. But it was clear in court Tuesday that Baum is open to the franchise being moved, making certain that all parties, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, are appropriately compensated.

The NHL went so far as to work with its fellows from other pro sports, and the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, splitting the cost on one lawyer, argued that allowing a franchise to move unilaterally would "wreak havoc" on professional sports. That seemed like a logical argument: But Judge Baum shot that one down completely.

When the lawyer attempted to argue the NFL had been damaged by the move of the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis, and subsequent moves that weren't approved by the league, the judge basically laughed in the face of professional sport.

Which brings us back to the relocation fee and all that surrounds it.

Judge Baum indicated he didn't need to be an expert to determine that an NHL franchise in Hamilton was worth more than an NHL franchise in Glendale, Ariz. But he also made it clear that the league must be compensated for franchise movement: This is where Balsillie and his campaign to have seven hockey teams in Canada comes in to play.

Would he pay $25 million, the number the Los Angeles Kings were compensated when the Anaheim Ducks came into the NHL?

Would he pay the complex amount that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the New Jersey Devils paid when infringing upon the territory of the New York Rangers, Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers?

Daly wouldn't put a figure on that, but said it was double the price of the franchise at that time: In fairness, the Colorado Rockies, before moving to New Jersey, were worth next to nothing.

Or is the number the $100 million that's been kicking around?

Balsilie's sidekick, Richard Rodier, indicated after court on Tuesday that Balsillie has the option of walking away from the deal to buy the Coyotes should a transfer fee be beyond what he considers reasonable.But Balsillie, on his own website yesterday, indicated that he's "one step closer" to bringing the Coyotes to Hamilton.

What Baum is basically doing now is forcing the NHL and Balsillie to try and work out a compromise so he won't have to make the ultimate ruling in this case.

Should the NHL come up with a number, and Balsillie is willing to pay it, the court would almost certainly rule in favour of the sale and the move to Hamilton. Should Balsillie walk away, that basically eliminated the process. And all the while, Baum is protective of Balsillie's bid on behalf of the creditors because as he has said over and over in this case, it's the only bid.

He isn't buying any of these phantom bids the NHL is talking about. He calls them hearsay. The irony, in all this is, the NHL may end up operating the Coyotes in Phoenix for another season and then end up selling the franchise for a low price and getting relocation fees from either Hamilton buyers or Kansas City movers. But first, Baum wants to know what that price is.

WANTS TO KNOW

Balsillie wants to know. The Maple Leafs and the NHL want to know -- and the NHL has to walk a tightrope here because if Baum may order them to determine just how they derived at such a price.

We may, in fact, be closer to a seventh NHL team in Canada. That's Balsillie's pledge. It just may not involve him in the end.

It depends on how much he's willing to pay. This is an expensive game of poker now, only there's no place for bluffing. Balsillie's bid runs out in 19 days. The judge doubts there will be a better offer come an auction in September.

Everyone needs to act quickly here.


Videos

Photos