PHOENIX – One week after the NHL rejected him as a potential franchise owner, Jim Balsillie’s dream of buying the Phoenix Coyotes and moving them to southern Ontario has been given new life.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum ruled Wednesday that all bids for the financially ailing Coyotes, those to keep the team in Arizona or to move it elsewhere, would be accepted for the Sept. 10 auction.
He specifically said the US$212.5-million offer from Balsillie, the Canadian billionaire who twice before tried to move an American team to Canada, would be considered. That sets up another showdown between Balsillie and the NHL, because the league’s board of governors unanimously rejected him as an owner in a July 29 vote.
Balsillie’s bid is contingent on moving the team to Hamilton.
Balsillie spokesman Bill Walker praised the judge’s for creating a “fair and transparent” sales process.
“It’s the best outcome for creditors and for the future of the franchise,” Walker said. “We think Jim Balsillie’s bid will emerge the winner because it offers the best financial terms and the best market in Hamilton, where hockey fans are thirsting for this team.”
But Balsillie’s bid still faces several major hurdles.
The NHL has made it clear it doesn’t want Balsillie as an owner, and is looking for a bidder that would keep the team in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, Ariz.
“We remain confident that the successful bidder will be one who is committed to continuing to operate the Coyotes in Glendale for the long term,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. “We also remain confident that Mr. Balsillie’s bid for the team will never be approved by the court for a variety of reasons, including that his application for ownership was overwhelmingly rejected by the NHL board of governors last week.
“We look forward to making significant steps toward resolution of this unfortunate situation over the next several weeks”.
The league also hasn’t ruled on whether it would allow the team to move or what fees would be included to enter territory now claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.
Additionally, Baum has not ruled whether Balsillie can escape the lease the Coyotes have with the city of Glendale to play at Jobing.com Arena.
Baum scheduled a hearing next Tuesday to consider issues that have been raised by his ruling.
An auction had been set for Aug. 5 for potential buyers who would keep the team in Arizona.
But the NHL, Glendale and the two apparent local bidders asked for a postponement to Sept. 10. That raised the possibility of adding bids from buyers who would relocate the team.
Balsillie’s bid is by far the biggest.
A group headed by Jerry Reinsdorf – owner of baseball’s Chicago White Sox and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls – has offered $148 million to buy the team and keep it in Glendale but is still working out details with the city and other creditors.
A third group known as Ice Edge, headed by Canadian and American investors, told the court it intends to submit a bid of about $150 million but was still gathering financing.
Earlier Wednesday, Baum delayed a hearing on whether to find the owner of the Coyotes and his lawyers in contempt of court for publicly filing documents that were supposed to be kept confidential.
Team owner Jerry Moyes opposes the Reinsdorf deal, which would give him little or no money. He supports Balsillie’s proposal, which would give him about $100 million.
Lawyers for Moyes posted confidential documents to the public docket last week. The documents were later removed, but Glendale sought the contempt order on Monday, saying the city was “absolutely outraged” by the release of the information.
The Arizona Republic saw the appendix before it was removed.
It showed that Reinsdorf has asked for a special taxing district to be created near the arena that would pay the new owners as much as $23 million next year. And if the team was still losing money after five years, Glendale would have to pay Reinsdorf $15 million for each year of losses or allow the team to be sold and moved without penalty, according to the newspaper.
Glendale contends the release of confidential negotiations would discourage potential buyers from participating and have a “chilling effect” on the sale process.
AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Flagstaff, Ariz., contributed to this report.