PHOENIX – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, two team owners and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, who is trying to buy the Phoenix Coyotes over the league’s vehement objections, agreed to submit to depositions in their complex bankruptcy battle.
The four, along with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, consented to depositions Wednesday in two of the more than 630 documents filed in the case since owner Jerry Moyes took the team into Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 5.
BlackBerry magnate Balsillie, who has offered US$212.5 million to buy the team contingent on moving it to Hamilton, for the coming season, agreed to a limited deposition.
In addition to Bettman and Daly – who already have been deposed once – the league agreed to provide Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold for questioning.
Both owners filed declarations in U.S. Bankruptcy Court supporting the league’s 26-0 vote rejecting Balsillie’s bid to become an owner, saying he is untrustworthy.
Jacobs is president of the board of governors and Leipold, former owner of the Nashville franchise, said his unfavourable view of Balsillie stems from the Canadian’s attempt to purchase the Predators in 2006.
The NHL asked Judge Redfield T. Baum to reject the requested deposition of Toronto Maple Leafs president Richard Peddie.
Lawyers for Balsillie and Moyes want to question Peddie over what role the Maple Leafs might play in the proposed relocation of the Coyotes to Hamilton. The league contends the relocation issue is moot because of the NHL board of governors’ rejection of Balsillie as an owner.
The NHL wants to find an owner to keep the team in Arizona, where it has lost tens of millions of dollars in recent years. A group headed by Jerry Reinsdorf is working on an agreement with the city of Glendale for new terms on a lease. On Tuesday, lawyers for the Coyotes largest secured creditor, HOF Investments, said it had reached agreement in principal with Reinsdorf and would support his bid.
Reinsdorf’s bid is for $148 million, far smaller than that of Balsillie. Balsillie’s bid would give Moyes about $100 million of the $300 million the Coyotes owner says he loaned the team. Reinsdorf’s offer would give Moyes nothing, contending his money was equity, not a loan.
On Wednesday, the league objected to Balsillie’s requests for information from the NHL regarding the potential Coyotes relocation as well as the transfer of NHL teams in the past, material that Balsillie’s group says is necessary for his bid to proceed.
PSE Sports & Entertainment, the group formed by Balsillie to pursue the Coyotes, filed a document challenging the NHL’s position that the transfer issue is moot.
“That point ignores that the PSE bid may be moot” if it can’t determine what the NHL would charge for relocating the team to Hamilton, PSE said.
Balsillie’s plans hinge on whether Baum will disregard the owners’ vote and declare his bid viable. A Sept. 2 hearing on the matter has been set. The NHL has indicated it would immediately appeal any ruling in Balsillie’s favour.
The NHL also wants depositions from Balsillie’s aide Richard Rodier, Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and his lawyer, Earl Scudder, and Coyotes president and CEO Doug Moss.
However, Balsillie’s group said there was no need to depose Rodier because of his status as a consultant and lawyer to Balsillie.
The judge is expected to rule on the myriad requests for depositions and information this week.
At a hearing Tuesday, Baum warned he planned only to allow only “very limited discovery” based on the compressed time schedule that has the sale of the team set for Sept. 10.
PSE’s lawyers say they want to question Peddie because PSE believes “the Maple Leafs are trying to block PSE’s purchase of the Coyotes in order to prevent a Hamilton relocation and competition with the Maple Leafs in southern Ontario.”
The league, Jacobs and Leipold contend in court documents that the vote to reject Balsillie was done entirely separate from any consideration of moving the Coyotes.
The Coyotes open training camp on Sept. 12, two days after the team is to be sold. Their first exhibition game is scheduled for Sept. 15, a split squad contest with the Kings with games to be played in Glendale and Los Angeles.
The NHL contends there is no way the team can play anywhere but Glendale in the coming season, and wants a ruling from Baum cementing that position. Balsillie has indicated he would withdraw his bid if he can’t move the team immediately. The NHL is funding the franchise pending resolution of the ownership fight.