No end in sight to Balsillie fight

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

The obstinate dream of Jim Balsillie -- his against-all-odds pursuit of a National Hockey League franchise for Southern Ontario -- muddles on with no solution in sight, the only certainty being that the Phoenix Coyotes will not be playing hockey in Hamilton this season.

That much is obvious.

What else there is to know about the state of the NHL's only bankrupt franchise played out in the droning hours of legal arguments, another day of wheel spinning in the bankruptcy court of Judge Redfield T. Baum, but still no real direction for the NHL, Balsillie or the wayward Coyotes on what the future may bring.

Instead, one deadline rolls into another, and the Sept. 10 date originally scheduled for the bankruptcy auction is likely to be pushed back to later in the month, Judge Baum said.

Yesterday, the judge was to have determined whether Balsillie will be allowed to participate in the auction of the club on Sept. 10 but instead court adjourned without any determination except that the next court appearances would be Sept. 10 and 11. Instead of same time next year, this case has developed into same time next week.

The auction is likely to happen some time after that, although Judge Baum promises it will be prior to the start of the NHL season in early October.

And it isn't known whether Balsillie will be informed before the auction date if he is still a player in his wild west attempt to pay $212.5 million US for the Coyotes franchise or if he's out.

While little headway was made in court yesterday, there was certainly no shortage of concessions, threats and accusations.

Balsillie's lawyers, for example, offered for the first time to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix for the season if granted the team, but only if the NHL would split the losses with him and withdraw any legal objections to his owning and eventually moving the franchise.

Needless to say, that didn't fly.

The NHL responded by all but threatening Judge Baum that if he rules in Balsillie's favour to fight "for as long as it takes. We are going to appeal to the highest level," said NHL lawyer Shep Goldfein.

In a concession of its own, the NHL indicated it would turn over all profits from the eventual sale of the franchise to the creditors if its offer was selected by the bankruptcy court. That seemed to cause even more problems.

Balsillie's lawyer, Susan Freeman, accused the NHL of being in a conflict of interest position by first voting Balsillie down as a prospective owner and then launching their own bid for the bankrupt Coyotes.

"The NHL shouldn't be able to block my client's bid," said Freeman. "At the point that it decided, that this board of governors voted to turn him down, it was already contemplating its own bid. That's a flat-out conflict of interest."

Baum's response was hardly sympathetic: "I guess I'll put it this way. Everybody better have a very, very compelling argument about why some bidder ought to be, in the generic sense, punished for making a bid."

Also in court yesterday, the much-speculated interference of the Toronto Maple Leafs continued to make news without any Leaf involvement in court.

Another Balsillie lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler, insisted the league was concerned about legal ramifications if the Coyotes are allowed to move to Hamilton.

"What I'm contending is, Toronto's veto still existed," said Kessler. "Toronto did not consent. If (the NHL) had voted by majority to approve Mr. Balsillie, they would have faced a massive lawsuit by Toronto."

The Leafs were one of three teams to abstain in the board of governors' vote on Balsillie's phantom ownership. With the most to lose, they were likely instructed not to vote. Judge Baum doesn't have that option. This case, already in its fourth month, is nearing a decision that may end up satisfying no one.

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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