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Sens owner Melnyk says he's surprised Balsillie questioned his integrity

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk speaks to media during their season closing press conference at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Friday April 18, 2008. The Senators were defeated four games straight in first round Stanley Cup playoffs  by the Penguins. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Sean Kilpatrick

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Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk speaks to media during their season closing press conference at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Friday April 18, 2008. The Senators were defeated four games straight in first round Stanley Cup playoffs by the Penguins. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Sean Kilpatrick

TORONTO - Jim Balsillie may be an expert in high-tech communications, but the BlackBerry boss could still learn a few things about business etiquette, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said Friday.

Calling himself the victim of a Balsillie "cheap shot," Melnyk took the billionaire co-founder of Research in Motion to task in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Melnyk said he was surprised to learn earlier this week that Balsillie had called his integrity into question in recent court filings related to the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy case.

There are certain rules that prospective NHL owners need to follow, Melnyk said - and the Research in Motion co-CEO simply isn't playing by the rules.

"Yes, it's etiquette, but it's more than that," Melnyk said of Balsillie's attempt to force his way into the league through the courts. "It's about fair play."

Melnyk's comments came a day after he issued a lengthy statement responding to the latest court filings on behalf of Balsillie.

Melnyk, the former CEO of drug maker Biovail, said he tried to contact Balsillie before releasing the statement, but was unsuccessful and felt he "had to do something to set the record straight."

Melnyk said he has since spoken with Balsillie twice, but dismissed his response as "unsatisfactory." Balsillie, meanwhile, has not responded publicly to Melnyk's comments.

The NHL's board of governors recently rejected Balsillie as a prospective owner because he lacks "good character and integrity."

In response, he filed documents in an Arizona bankruptcy court that mentioned Melnyk and other NHL owners while arguing that the league hadn't considered the character of previous buyers.

"It was somewhat of a surprise as to how I would get dragged into this thing as part of an effort to secure a franchise," Melnyk said earlier Friday in an interview with all-sports radio station The Fan 590.

"There was no need for it, there was no discussion beforehand."

Melnyk was brought before an Ontario Securities Commission panel in June and accused of misleading investors about the financial impact of a delayed shipment of pills caused by a truck crash.

Melnyk acknowledged in his statement Thursday that he's paid fines to the OSC for "administrative oversights," but noted that it was a far cry from sanctions that have been levied against Balsillie and his company RIM.

He would have advised Balsillie about how to properly go about getting a team, had he been asked, Melnyk added.

"You don't really need an invitation," he told The Fan. "You've just got to ask whether you can come through the door. Had he called me up I would have given him that advice."

The co-CEO of Research In Motion has offered US$212.5 million to buy the Coyotes, but the deal is contingent on moving the team to Hamilton.

The NHL wants to keep the team in Arizona and favours a US$148-million bid from Jerry Reinsdorf, who owns baseball's Chicago White Sox and the NBA's Bulls.

The case is playing out in a Phoenix bankruptcy court.

Judge Redfield T. Baum has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 2 in Phoenix to determine whether to uphold the NHL's rejection of Balsillie. If he doesn't, it would clear the way for Balsillie to participate in a Sept. 10 auction for the Coyotes.

Melnyk said that Ottawa had voted with the other teams to reject Balsillie's bid "on its merits," but that he had been willing to advise him in a potential alternative bid in future.

Meanwhile, the Senators owner said he would welcome another Ontario-based team.

"We love rivalries," he said, noting the Senators are sold out at premium prices whenever the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town.

But he said that a possible franchise in Hamilton would impinge on both the Leafs and Buffalo Sabres and "they have to be compensated for that."

"I wouldn't be very happy if somebody set up a franchise across the river in Gatineau (Que.)," he said. "That would cost me fans. I paid full price. . . (I) built the franchise."

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