Balsillie awaits decision

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:47 PM ET

From Ancaster to Stoney Creek, Hamilton-area hockey fans could see their dreams of landing an NHL franchise dry up in an Arizona courtroom Wednesday.

Of course, Blackberry moneybags Jim Balsillie is not about to let that happen without a fight.

Both Balsillie and his arch-rival, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, are scheduled to be on hand in Phoenix when U.S. bankruptcy Judge Redfield T. Baum makes a key decision that will help determine if a seventh Canadian NHL team will, in fact, become reality.

With Bettman sitting in the room, Balsillie will be available to answer any questions the court might have concerning his attempt to purchase the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes and move the team to shinny-starved Steeltown.

It now rests in Baum’s hands.

Should the judge uphold the NHL’s unanimous vote rejecting Balsillie’s bid for the Coyotes, an antitrust suit might be one of the only options left at Balsillie’s disposal.

During the recent vote, the NHL claimed Balsillie received the thumbs down because he lacked “good character and integrity.” The vote was 26-0 against Balsillie’s bid, with the Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres among those who abstained.

PSE, the organization set up by Balsillie to pursue the Coyotes, has suggested the NHL’s argument should be moot, since the league approved him as an owner three years ago during his flirtation with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

If Baum rules in favour of the NHL, Balsillie would not take part in the Sept. 10 auction for the team, barring any further litigation. Such a decision would once again gut the fine citizenry of Hamilton, who already received a punch in the stomach in 1990 when the league overlooked the southern Ontario city’s bid for an expansion franchise in favour of Tampa and Ottawa.

Of course, in the event Baum ignores the NHL vote and allows Balsillie to be a player in the auction, a huge roadblock will be removed in the quest to one day have the Hamilton Blackberries lacing up the blades at Copps Coliseum.

From a financial standpoint, Balsillie’s $215.5-million US bid easily is the most lucrative. Of course, that offer comes with the caveat that the franchise immediately would be moved to Hamilton.

The NHL, which would prefer to keep the team in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, submitted a $140 million bid of its own last week. The league’s offer came after Chicago White Sox/Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf withdrew his $148 million bid, allegedly because he could not come to a workable business agreement with the city of Glendale which operates the Jobing.com Arena.

A third interested party, Ice Edge Holdings LLC, is made up of a group of American and Canadian businessmen who would keep the team in Glendale while scheduling five games in Saskatoon. Those games, which would require approval from the league, reportedly would be Nov. 12 (Montreal Canadiens), Dec. 21 (Columbus Blue Jackets), Jan. 21 (Nashville Predators), Feb. 8 (Edmonton Oilers), and March 2 (St. Louis Blues).

Ice Edge Holdings, which is forwarding a bid of about $150 million, is said to be closing in on a lease deal with Glendale. It has also reportedly reached an agreement with the Coyotes largest creditor, SOF Investments LP, to repay the $80 million it is owed from the cash-strapped franchise.

The entire affair has been messy from the start, with both sides flinging salvos at each other.

The Balsillie camp feels the league is hypocritical for questioning the integrity of their front man. In documents filed to the court last month, the Balsillie group suggested “the NHL has long tolerated indicted and even convicted criminals among its ranks,” pointing out the league’s one-time approval of William (Boots) Del Biaggio as an owner, a man who subsequently pleaded guilty for forging financial documents to obtain $110 million in loans.

Hamiltonians could care less about the details. They just want a team.

Today, they will find out if they are, in fact, closer to one.


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