Balsillie strikes out

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Once again, Jim Balsillie has defeated himself in an attempt to secure a National Hockey League franchise for Hamilton.

Balsillie has become the Vernon Wells of franchise chasers -- wealthy, but 0-for-3 in his at bats to bring another NHL team to Ontario -- and yet he's certain to keep swinging for the fences.

In the end, his legal strategy, his back-door attempt to gain entrance into the NHL and the tight deadline he placed on the proposed purchase of the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes were all called into question when Judge Redfield T. Baum released his 21-page ruling yesterday, denying Balsillie's latest attempt to move the wayward NHL franchise to Hamilton.

Forever looking for a solution from the parties involved, Judge Baum refused to set any kind of precedent himself in this case and it would have taken that kind of bold ruling for Balsillie to emerge.

"No cases have been found that precisely or even closely fit this scenario," Baum wrote. And later in the ruling, he wrote that there are no reported bankruptcy court decisions that "order a relocation of the magnitude proposed here." And clearly, he wasn't about to become the first.

This is, of course, a victory for the NHL, if keeping a bankrupt team in a city that doesn't even care a whit about it can be considered a victory. The league will pump more money into the Coyotes but as a secured creditor it will get every dollar back when the team eventually is sold in bankruptcy auction.

Inevitably, somebody will buy the Coyotes -- maybe even Argos owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon -- and move the team with the NHL's approval. But that somebody won't be Balsillie. In the NHL's mind, it's three strikes and he's out.

But if anything good came out of the past several weeks of hype and hyperbole, it is the clear notion that Southern Ontario is poised and ready for a second NHL team and there are no shortage of parties interested in involvement either through a Coyotes purchase and move or more likely a pricier league expansion.

The NHL can't overlook this market anymore, even if it wants nothing to do with the BlackBerry billionaire, even if it feels indebted to the Maple Leafs, there will be a second team: It is now only a matter of when.

The hope, from Balsillie's side, was that Baum would see his $212.5-million US bid as the only choice for protection of the creditors, and also accept his lawyers' views that preventing his purchase and move would represent a violation of anti-trust laws. In court last week, Baum made it clear that Balsillie's offer was the only one on the table and he referred to pending offers that the NHL talked about as "hearsay."

But Baum, instead, took issue with the tactics Balsillie's lawyers' employed, including the tight June 29 deadline placed upon the transaction. Clearly, he didn't like being rushed into a decision and didn't want to put the NHL in a similar bind.

"Simply put," the Judge wrote, "the court does not think there is sufficient time (14 days) for all these issues to be fairly presented. Baum didn't believe the "unresolved issues" such as relocation and the price involved with it, "could be resolved" by the deadline.

Baum believed Balsillie should have been more up front with his bid, informing the league prior to making his offer and applying for relocation before this matter went to court. He wrote that Balsillie should have addressed the relocation issue and what he was willing to pay for moving the Coyotes. Baum was unwilling to set a price or interfere with NHL business.

Balsillie's camp held out hope of victory here, believing they represented the best opportunity for the beleaguered creditors which includes former owner Jerry Moyes.

And while Baum appeared to be leaning that way in court last week, in his ruling he indicated that the creditors were evenly divided in this case, with the NHL, the city of Glendale, Ariz., and stadium managing company, Aramark, all opposed to the bid.

That was Balsillie's best shot. A shot misfired. Until the next time.


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