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Another group eyeing the Coyotes, wants to keep the team in Phoenix

PHOENIX - Jim Balsillie isn't the only potential bidder eyeing the Phoenix Coyotes.

Coyotes minority partner John Breslow has formed a group interested in submitting a bid for the team, his lawyer Scott Cohen said Wednesday.

Cohen declined to comment on reports that Breslow's group includes hockey great and Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky.

The Breslow group is interested in keeping the team in its current home of Glendale and has already filed a statement to U.S. bankruptcy court in support of the NHL's bid to block the sale of the Coyotes. That document will remain confidential.

Breslow served as Nebraska state auditor from 1991 to 1999 and was a Republican candidate for governor of that state in 1998. He currently holds a stake of roughly two per cent in the Coyotes and shares at least one trait with Balsillie - he's said to be a huge hockey fan.

Whether or not he's able to put together a bid that competes with the Canadian billionaire will likely depend on how Judge Redfield T. Baum rules during a June 22 hearing. That's when lawyers for the NHL and current Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes will present arguments on whether the team can be relocated as part of a sale to remove it from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Once Baum makes that decision, a timetable will be set for interested parties to make formal bids. The eventual owner will be determined at a court-supervised auction.

Following Tuesday's bankruptcy hearing, Balsillie announced that he intends to officially file his US$212.5-million bid for the Coyotes to the NHL along with paperwork requesting permission to relocate the franchise to Hamilton. That came after Baum questioned why it hadn't already been done, indicating in court that Balsillie's antitrust lawsuit against the NHL isn't very relevant if the league hasn't even received his bid.

Richard Rodier, Balsillie's point man on negotiations to land an NHL team, explained Tuesday why the bid hadn't already been delivered to the league.

"I don't think it occurred to anyone with a fair sense of how the NHL would handle things that the application would be accepted or dealt with," said Rodier. "I think now that the judge has made his feelings known, the application will be dealt with in some manner.

"And it will be discussed on (June 22)."

While that remains a key date in the case, the parties will be back in court on May 27 to give the judge a status update on how mediation is going. Baum ordered lawyers for Moyes and the NHL to sit down together and try to work out who currently controls the team.

That was originally thought to be an important detail in the case, but now seems fairly moot because the NHL has said the Coyotes will remain in bankruptcy even if it is ruled to be in control of the franchise.

"We're committed to going through a sale auction that's going to be overseen by the court," said deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

That process could potentially bring forward many bids - besides those from Balsillie, Breslow and Jerry Reinsdorf - if Baum decides the franchise can be moved as part of a sale.

Balsillie told a Hamilton radio station that he was pleased with Tuesday's hearing and welcomes the opening of the bidding process and the ruling on relocation.

"This is exactly what we wanted. This is exactly what we asked for," Balsillie told CHML radio host Bill Kelly. "The judge will open the auction and decide on location. I don't know how it could have been better."

In the meantime, the Coyotes remain in limbo.

The court heard Tuesday that the team has sold just $20,000 worth of tickets for 2009-10 since Moyes filed for bankruptcy on May 5 - the same day Balsillie announced his desire to bring the team to Hamilton. The Coyotes had sold $1.5 million prior to that.

The NHL is hoping that fans continue to believe the team will remain in Glendale.

"You heard our lawyers state statistics with respect to what the business has been since the bankruptcy filing," said Daly. "It's not a pretty thing. We need team management to be committed and hopefully rally the supporters of this franchise to continue to buy on the assumption that this team's going to be here."

Another interested party is the NHL Players' Association.

Executive director Paul Kelly remains concerned about the timing of the legal events and how the uncertainty is affecting his players.

"There are issues such as restricted free agents looking to re-sign, scheduling for next season, and the approaching NHL draft that are of concern to us," Kelly said in a statement. "Our principal interest is in protecting the rights and interests of our players.

"Hopefully the court will make a ruling on June 22nd so that the status of this franchise is clarified and the uncertainty is behind us."

-

With files from The Associated Press

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