The fight for the Phoenix Coyotes now officially is a Duel in the Desert between the NHL and Jim Balsillie.
In a filing to Arizona bankruptcy court last night, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that the Ice Edge Group, which had sought to keep the team in Glendale, Ariz., by raising some cash with home games in a Canadian city, has withdrawn its bid as the auction is set to begin in earnest later this week.
That leaves the league’s $140 million US bid against the big bucks of Balsillie, whose $242.5-million offer to move the team to Hamilton and placate leaseholders at Jobing.com Arena might still be deemed moot by Judge Redfield T. Baum. The judge has yet to rule on whether Balsillie can enter the bidding after the league made it known he was unwelcome in a 26-0 vote of teams with three abstentions.
Ice Edge, fronted by Canadian businessmen Daryl Jones and Anthony LeBlanc, was going to put up $150 million, if a new lease could be arranged. But the notion of the team playing games north of the border (Saskatoon and Halifax were the cities mentioned most often), was going to be hard to achieve, not to mention potential legal action resulting from a broken lease.
Bettman’s filing continued to state the league intends to keep the Coyotes only until a local buyer can be found. That might mean a renewed deal with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who backed out last month after legal wrangling with current owner Jerry Moyes.
On Monday, Balsillie added $30 million to his offer, with $50 million of the total earmarked as compensation to Glendale for the lease. His new proposal extends the court’s deadline to accept the offer to Sept. 21, with a closing date of Oct. 2.
The Maple Leafs, painted as the bad guys by Balsillie for blocking the move to Hamilton as infringement on their territory, remain tight-lipped.
“We’re not allowed to talk about it,” general manager Brian Burke said yesterday. “I can’t wait for the day when we are.
“Hopefully that emphasis will shift real quickly. It sounds to me like the judge plans to resolve this one way or another in short order, and hopefully that will be the end of it and we can talk about hockey."