Balsillie shows he can take the heat

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

PHOENIX -- Whatever his perceived weaknesses, Jim Balsillie showed yesterday that he can take the heat --both from another scorcher in the desert and some savage cheap shots delivered by NHL lawyers.

And with the tedium of months of legal proceedings on hold for now, his immediate future as a potential owner of the Phoenix Coyotes is now in the hands of Judge Redfield T. Baum and his Arizona bankruptcy court.

"I really have one dream here and that is to bring a hockey team to Southern Ontario," a stoic Balsillie said on the courtroom steps after two-day court auction of the beleaguered Coyotes ended without a resolution.

Baum will hand down his ruling at a later date. There is no immediate word on when that might be.

"My only goal is to bring a team to the fans in Hamilton, the best unserved hockey market in the world."

Balsillie took the high road saying he doesn't "take the attacks as personal" and sounding confident he would win.

Essentially the Blackberry billionaire's bid remains at $242.5 million U.S., dramatically more than the NHL's desperation, last-minute bid of $140 million.

Both sides tweaked their offers yesterday, changing some of the terms offered to each of the creditors. Lawyers for both made it sound like they were making offers too good to refuse, which will only add to Baum's headache in making his ruling.

Inside the courtroom, it wasn't always pretty as NHL lawyers did their best to say it wasn't personal, yet attacked Balsillie's integrity rather pointedly.

NHL lawyer Tony Clark suggested that perhaps one day Balsillie will "apologize" to NHL owners who voted 26-0 against his bid to become the Coyotes owner and move the team to Hamilton.

"There are three things it takes to be an owner," Clark said in court. "One, you've got to be wealthy. Two, you've got to love hockey. Mr. Balsillie has both of those in his favour in spades.

"But number three is you have to play by the rules. Perhaps one day, Mr. Balsillie will recognize that he isn't above the rules that 29 owners abide by the rules."

They weren't the only shots to fly. While the city of Glendale and a group of other creditors continued to pledge their support to the NHL, bankrupt Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes lashed out at the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman.

"I put plenty of money in it, I gave it the best try I could, I feel betrayed by the NHL" said Moyes, who has lost roughly $300 million as Coyotes owner. "Hockey will not work in the South.

"Mr. Bettman's plan is not working out. You've got Phoenix, you got Dallas, you got Atlanta, you got Tampa Bay all in trouble. These teams have got to go north where everybody loves hockey."

Moments later, Bettman responded by ridiculing Moyes as an inept businessman who ran a bad team in what the commissioner still believes is a good hockey market.

"Just because the team that he owned and ran unsuccessfully lost money, I'm not sure if anybody should view that as a condemnation of any other teams or any other markets," Bettman said.

Whatever Baum rules, we can expect an appeal from the loser. And that decision may take weeks after the Balsillie group yesterday agreed to drop its Sept. 21 deadline for a decision.

Among his concerns, the judge must determine if he wants to wade into the arena of pro sports and franchise relocation. Complicating that issue is the juicy $100 million difference in the two bids.

Yes, there is still much legal wrangling remaining and in the end, Balsillie has lived to fight another day. The question remains, however, if it's a battle he can ever win.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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