Balsillie's hopes alive

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Jim Balsillie is alive and well in his rampant quest to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes.

Sort of.

As usual, almost everything to do with the bankrupt Coyotes, the story that won't go away, is about as clear as mud. But at least Balsillie is still in the game with his attempt to purchase the National Hockey League franchise for $214.5 million, which would include moving the team to Hamilton.

Wednesday, in a stunning determination, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum, who has deftly avoided any kind of controversy in this case, ordered that Balsillie's offer for the Coyotes will be considered when the club is put up for auction on Sept. 10.

That becomes particularly interesting considering the NHL itself voted unanimously just last week to turn down Balsillie as an NHL owner.

When asked last night what would happen should Balsillie be granted the franchise by the court on Sept. 10 after the NHL has already vetoed him as an owner, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sun Media: "I don't anticipate that happening."

The truth is, the NHL didn't anticipate Balsillie getting this far, or for that matter, the dealings on the Coyotes getting this messy.

In fact, the NHL may find itself in a less than enviable position no matter what occurs in the auction next month.

The NHL's preferred bid for the Coyotes is the one headed by Chicago sportsman, Jerry Reinsdorf, who is heading up a group, although we are told none of his own money is involved with the bid, which would see the team remain in Phoenix.

The Reinsdorf offer, like Balsillie's offer, like a still unofficial third offer from the Ice Edge Holdings group, is conditional.

Reinsdorf's conditions include serious handouts from local government in Glendale, Ariz., some to the tune of $23 million US a year, which have been privately negotiated and not put before City Council or the local taxpayers.

That kind of political deftness may not pass the local smell test.

The Ice Edge offer, which has yet to appear in writing, seems flimsy at best, with one of the conditions being games, including playoff games, being played in Saskatoon of all places. Imagine, having Saskatoon financially prop up an NHL market: How bad would that look?

And then there is Balsillie, the Research in Motion billionaire, whose bid financially meets more of the criteria than the other bids - which puts him in some favour with the bankruptcy judge - but the move to Hamilton and the overt tactics he has used has done nothing but anger the NHL.

To further complicate matters, Judge Baum had called for an Aug. 11 hearing to listen to arguments from all the interested lawyers, including former owner Jerry Moyes, the NHL, Balsillie, the creditors, and the City of Glendale - all to address the possibilities of allowing someone to bid on a league property that was already turned down by the league.

Needless to say, the Balsillie people are excited by their newfound position and while there are all kinds of legal hurdles still to clear, the possibility of getting the franchise is closer to real than it has ever been before.

"It's the best outcome for creditors and for the future of the franchise," Balsillie spokesman, Bill Walker said last night. "We think Jim Balsillie's bid will emerge the winner because it offers the best financial terms and the best market in Hamilton, where hockey fans are thirsting for this team."

While a second franchise in the Southern Ontario regions remains a long shot, it is not, as it seemed a week ago, a completely dead shot. All along, all Balsillie has asked for is an opportunity.

He has that now. He's still a player in this complicated game: How much of a player is anyone's guess.


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