Steeltown put on hold

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

And so, Hamilton waits.

Again.

Every time Steeltown figures that maybe, just maybe, a final decision will be made as to whether the Phoenix Coyotes/Hamilton Blackberries will scoop up their sticks and move into Copps Coliseum, another chapter gets added to this seemingly-endless mini-series.

Sorry, folks. Game delayed due to lawyers.

If there is any consolation for the hockey-loving folks in the Golden Horseshoe, it is this: Jim Balsillie will live to see another day. At least one.

Arizona bankruptcy court Judge Redfield T. Baum could have stomped on the dreams of southern Ontario hockey zealots by yesterday deciding to uphold the NHL's vote to reject Balsillie's offer to land the Coyotes, a ruling that would have left the Blackberry magnate out of the auction for the franchise later this month.

MORE FAMOUS

But Baum, who is becoming more famous in Hamilton than most members of the Coyotes (quick, name four Phoenix players other than Shane Doan), decided to reserve judgment. There is now a growing belief that the judge may lump all his rulings into his final decision after the hearings on Sept. 10 and 11.

If Hamiltonians wanted a sliver of hope, perhaps they got it courtesy of Baum, who implied to the gathering in a Phoenix courtroom -- one that included Balsillie and his nemesis, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman -- that it would be difficult to block an offer for the money-pit Coyotes franchise.

"The court would be very reluctant -- very, very reluctant -- to discourage anybody who wanted to make a bid from doing so," Baum said. "There's an awful lot here that the various parties and their attorneys dispute and disagree on. But I don't think anybody disputes that the Coyotes, and the companies affiliated with them that lost a lot of money for a lot of years, have got serious financial problems."

If, in fact, money is the issue, Balsillie's $215.5 million US bid is far more lucrative than that of the other two interested parties. Ice Edge Holdings LLC, a group of American and Canadian businessmen who would keep the team in Glendale while scheduling five games in Saskatoon, has offered $150 million while the NHL's own bid is worth $140 million.

The normally reclusive Balsillie, who has remained in the background since announcing his plans to buy the Coyotes at a hastily called press conference in May, emerged from the courtroom after the day's proceedings still maintaining the resolve he has shown the past four months.

"I still think our bid is best by far the best for creditors for fans and the long term viability of the team," he told reporters. "All I wanted from the very beginning is a chance for a level-playing-field court-supervised auction where we could participate."

As for Baum, Balsillie said: "I totally respect the court process. Whenever he rules it I will respect his ruling."

Bettman also said he understood Baum's reluctance to make a ruling yesterday. Maybe both men are just being politically correct for the cameras and the microphones. It wouldn't be the first time.

But make no mistake: There is no love lost between these two sides. The NHL has taken pot shots at Balsillie's character for months. The Balsillie camp continues to counterpunch, saying the league rejects him for fear of litigation by the Maple Leafs, who are believed not to want a team so close to their market.

Either way, Balsillie is quickly reminding us of that old Timex watch commercial: "Takes a licking, keeps on ticking."

Much to the NHL's chagrin.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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