Balsillie group vows to fight on; some thoughts on court ruling

As Leahy mentioned earlier tonight, Jim Balsillie's bid to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton was blocked by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Redfield T. Baum. We've received a statement from Bill Walker, a spokesman for the Make It Seven movement, regarding the ruling:

Jim Balsillie's bid to bring a seventh NHL team to Canada continues. We're still here. The Phoenix court confirmed Mr. Balsillie was approved as an NHL owner in 2006 and remains so. We believe he has made the best offer and Hamilton remains the best location for this team.

The court did not approve either our approach or the NHL's. Judge Baum did state he does not have time to decide all the relocation issues. But the court still controls the sale process.

As a result, we look forward to hearing from the NHL soon on its view of our relocation application and an appropriate relocation fee, so as to allow the court to determine if that fee is reasonable. We still think there is enough time for the NHL to approve Mr. Balsillie's application and move the team to Hamilton by September. The court invited mediation on these issues and Mr. Balsillie is willing to participate in such mediation if the NHL is also willing to do so.

Of course, what the statement fails to mention is that there is no legally binding reason for the NHL to sell to Jim Balsillie and PSE, or allow them to move the team to Southern Ontario. The NHL wants the Coyotes sold to a party that'll keep them in Glendale. Balsillie wants to buy them and move them to Hamilton. Thanks again for playing this round, Jim.

From AZ Central, a further rebuttal of the Make It Seven reaction:

Walker's statement ignored several aspects of the ruling that were made against Balsillie. Baum shot down the claim by Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and Balsillie that failure to allow the team, over the objection of the NHL, to move would violate antitrust law. "This court can not find that antitrust law, as applicable nonbankruptcy law, permits the sale free and clear of the relocation rights of the NHL," Baum wrote.

He added, "It is not an antitrust violation for professional sports leagues to have terms and conditions on relocations of its members."

But Balsillie's group makes an very valid point that was offered in the judge's ruling: That the NHL already approved Balsillie once as an owner in 2006. Whether it's another bid for the Coyotes, a bid for another U.S. team in turmoil or an eventual expansion team, Balsillie's going nowhere -- nor should he.

Even at what appears to be the end of this Coyotes saga, Balsillie is still a winner.

He's solidified support in Canada for bringing a seventh team "home," and sufficiently made the case that Hamilton/Southern Ontario should have an NHL franchise in the near future.

When a guy whose life's mission has been the return of the NHL to Winnipeg called Balsillie a "Canadian god" on this blog, we knew the BlackBerry billionaire had achieved folk hero status for many Canadians -- especially as an agent of agitation for Gary Bettman. That reputation has been established and cemented. Balsillie's a player in the NHL, going forward.

The Toronto Star has Baum's ruling online; a few random thoughts about it and the Coyotes' situation ...

First, from the Star, what this means for the Coyotes in the near future:

Now that Baum has sided with the NHL, it's likely an auction would be held in mid-September, and the Coyotes would remain in Glendale, Ariz.

The judge's decision is also a win for the city of Glendale, which had spent $183 million to build an arena for the Coyotes and had contended the franchise could not use bankruptcy to evade its lease.

• Clearly, Balsillie and Moyes had, for lack of a better term, a case of premature adjudication. Based on legal precedent, according to the judge, it was essential for PSE to file a request with the NHL to relocate the team in order to challenge its refusal to move the team on the basis of antitrust law. Trouble is, Balsillie's team filed that motion with the NHL on May 19 after the court basically said, 'Hey, you might want to actually file a relocation request with the League before yammering on about getting stonewalled.' From the ruling:

"The fundamental problem with those assertions is that the NHL has never made any decision about the relcoation of the Phoenix Coyotes to any site, be it Ontario, Canada or anywhere else, i.e. The NHL has not yet applied its relocation requirements to this request."

• Another issue with the Balsillie claim ended up being timing with regard to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The judge cited the fact that Gary Bettman "literally left the court" on the day of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to fly to Pittsburgh. The judge wrote the court was "unconvinced" that it should force the NHL to consider the relocation bid to meet the June 29 deadline.

• The judge was fairly clear that, despite other professional sports leagues lining up to support the NHL, there's no clear evidence that the hostile takeover of teams for the purposes of their relocation is detrimental to the leagues. It's sort of hard to make the case when Indianapolis, Baltimore and Cleveland all have thriving franchises in the NFL.

That said, the judge seemed to rule with respect to the sanctity of those leagues' rules and procedures for relocation.

Five For Howling, one of the most vocal and public voices from the Coyotes fan community in this situation, only used eight exclamation points in its "Coyotes Staying" headline.

The great Tyler Dellow takes a gander at the decision, and presents the following conclusions:

What happens next? I've had about thirty minutes to consider this, and I would predict the following:

1. Balsillie will be approved for the purposes of bidding for ownership of the team;
2. The NHL will reject his relocation application;
3. The NHL is going to come up with someone who will pay enough to satisfy all of the creditors except Moyes, possibly because Glendale is going to offer various subsidies/breaks on the lease; and
4. The NHL is going to try to convince the judge that Moyes isn't really a creditor.

• Meanwhile, Make It Seven's Facebook page isn't giving up the fight ... or the chance to have a public relations holiday in Canada:

Make It Seven supporters need to make their voices heard to convince the league by participating in Make It Seven day on June 19. Read more about how you can support Make It Seven Day at  Jim will be emailing all of us with his planned next steps, so we continue to ask you to urge people to sign up now to show their support on the Make It Seven site. Tell your friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers to sign up.

• Finally, let's not lose sight of the fact that the Coyotes are, without question, a damned mess. The NHL might find someone to buy them and keep them in Glendale. But that doesn't change the fact that the coach is being paid a gajillion dollars to not make the playoffs, the team is bleeding money and the only way to get fans to come to the arena is with cheap-ass tickets and elaborate promotions ("all you can eat!").

We've learned a lot about the NHL during this process. We've yet to learn how it intends to make the Coyotes a thriving franchise free of crushing financial burdens. But it won't involve Jim Balsillie; at least not in the near future.

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