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Court filing: Bettman says Argo owners among 4 potential buyers for Coyotes

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Paul Sancya

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Paul Sancya

Toronto Argonauts owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon are among four potential buyers to express an interest in purchasing the bankrupt Coyotes and keeping them in Phoenix, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a court filing.

The four parties submitted preliminary background applications this week seeking league approval to buy the troubled club, which Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie is trying to buy out of Chapter 11 protection for US$212.5 million and move to Hamilton over NHL objections.

Two of the applicants had already linked to the club - Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who'll partner with John Kaites; and Coyotes minority owner John Breslow - but the interest of Sokolowski and Cynamon came out of left field.

The fourth applicant is a Phoenix businessman who requested anonymity pending the NHL's due diligence, and there was no further detail offered on any of the bids.

Should attempts to find an owner to operate the team in Phoenix fail, the NHL added, it would then look to move the club.

The revelations came as part of the filing briefs submitted ahead of a midnight Friday deadline set by Judge Redfield T. Baum, who will hear arguments on whether Balsillie can move Coyotes in an Arizona bankruptcy court Tuesday.

The Argonauts did not offer any comment Saturday and Sokolowski and Cynamon did not immediately reply to email requests sent by The Canadian Press.

The documents draw out the case each side will make in the bitter fight for control of the Coyotes, who according to current owner Jerry Moyes have never made a profit in the 13 years since moving from Winnipeg and lost more than US$316 million.

The NHL cites the four potential buyers in arguing that maintaining the league's consent rights in a sale would not adversely affect creditors, and Bettman says in his declaration that he expects more bidders willing to keep the team in Phoenix to follow.

The league also argues that efforts to find a new owner for the Coyotes were "cut short by the debtors' (Moyes') precipitous and unnecessary rush into Chapter 11" and that if no ownership is willing to keep the club in Phoenix, "the league will find a purchaser for another location in co-operation with this court, and in accordance with the league's transfer and relocation rules and procedures, that will maximize the recovery for creditors."

The brief also goes on to defend its claims that Moyes didn't have the right to sell the team conditionally based on a move to Hamilton and that only the league can approve the relocation of its member clubs.

The Balsillie camp's brief hammers away at those arguments, underlining the view that the Coyotes aren't viable in Phoenix and breaking down any notions of veto power, territorial rights and compensation held by or owed to Toronto Maple Leafs.

By brushing aside Balsillie's bid, the brief states, the NHL is acting "to the detriment of all creditors," and that the best way to protect the creditors is by allowing them to move.

"The Coyotes hockey team is worth considerably more if relocated than if kept in Glendale, Arizona, and would enable a substantially greater recovery to the debtors' creditors," the brief said.

The Balsillie camp also argues that it has met all criteria under NHL bylaws for both purchase and relocation, and suggest that "emotions and personalities have clouded the objectivity of the league's decision-making process."

Also clouding the league's judgment is the NHL's desire "to protect the Toronto Maple Leafs and to leave the Hamilton geographic franchise opportunity open for the league to seize later."

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