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NHL to Jim Balsillie: We don't pick fights but we end them

BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie and Phoenix majority owner Jerry Moyes are attempting an end-around on the NHL and its rules in trying to uproot the Coyotes, says NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

"More importantly around the rules that comprise the league, and that they have bound themselves to by becoming members of the league - at least with respect to Mr. Moyes," Daly told The Canadian Press on Thursday.

"Mr. Balsillie is acting, again, in total disregard of any rules, or any structure. . . . I would be very surprised if the board would look favourably on the way that Mr. Balsillie has conducted himself in this instance."

Balsillie's US$212.5-million bid for the Coyotes is his third attempt to buy an NHL franchise, following runs at the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators. Daly said the co-CEO of Research In Motion has not talked either to him or commissioner Gary Bettman about his desire to buy the Coyotes and move them to southern Ontario.

Daly suggested that Balsillie may regret his plan of attack.

"He makes his own decisions and he's making a decision that this is the way he wants to get into the National Hockey League. We don't usually like to pick fights, but we end them."

Apprised of Daly's comments, Balsillie spokesman Bill Walker said in an email: "This is not about personalities or curious notions of a 'fight.' It's about a logical business proposal to serve a Canadian market where nearly 100,000 people have already indicated their support for an NHL franchise."

Daly also suggested that Balsillie will meet a united front at the league's highest level.

"Well certainly to the extent he's attacked virtually every rule that's in existence in the National Hockey League, I don't think the governors will look kindly to the posture he's taken in this proceeding, that's for sure."

Asked what the league's biggest objection to the Balsillie bid is, Daly replied: "Well he's doing it totally in disregard of our rules."

He cited Balsillie legal arguments filed Thursday suggesting "that all the rules we have are unlawful under various antitrust and competition statutes. Luckily for us, none of his arguments are supported by existing law."

His comments came after a bankruptcy court hearing in Phoenix, to set hearings for motions on who is in control of the financially ailing team. The league and Moyes both say they are in control.

At first blush, the Coyotes and Balsillie would seem a match made in heaven, between a financially troubled franchise and a hockey-loving billionaire with a sympathetic fan base north of the border. Daly, however, argues that that portrayal is one-sided and short-sighted.

"It doesn't take into consideration all the people and the money that has been spent on and devoted to the Coyotes franchise here in Glendale, both in the creation of a new building that was paid for largely by taxpayers and in the emotional and financial connection Coyotes fans have with their team.

"In any situation we believe, once you've committed to a market, you have to give the market a fair chance to succeed or fail and I don't think this market has had that chance at this point of time."

Citing "various expressions of interest," Daly said there are other purchase offers that would keep the team in suburban Glendale.

"There is one that is very far along. In fact it was an expression of interest in the form of a letter of intent that we were prepared to deliver to Jerry Moyes on Tuesday of this week."

Daly confirmed that was from Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls.

The NHL believes hockey can still be a success in Phoenix, Daly said.

"I think there are a variety of things that have contributed to the club's financial difficulties. I think all those things can be and have been to a certain extent addressed by some of the discussions that have been ongoing for the last nine to 12 months. And I think there's a plan here that clearly gives the Coyotes a chance to stabilize themselves and be successful in this marketplace."

Asked if the league was paying the bills in the meantime, Daly said the NHL had made certain advances and loans to the Coyotes "but again the league will be made whole on those loans as part of a sale transaction."

The next major hearing is May 19, which will hear the issue of who controls the club.

Phoenix and Balsillie aside, when asked whether he could envision a time when they will be a second team in Southern Ontario, Daly said: "You know, I don't deal in those types of hypotheticals. Certainly that's possible, at some point in the future.

"But right now we're focused on the 30 teams we have and the 30 markets we're in. We're not planning on expanding in any time in the foreseeable future and we're not focused on any club relocation."

Territorial rights under the league constitution can be triggered by another franchise coming with 50 miles (80 kilometres) from the corporate limits of a city with a team, Daly confirmed.

"That is something ultimately the board decides," he said, referring to territorial rights compensation.


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