PHOENIX (AP) - The Coyotes are staying in Phoenix, at least for now.
A bankruptcy judge has rejected the proposed sale of thefranchise to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, who would havemoved the team to Hamilton, Ontario.
The ruling is good news for the Sabres, who feared losing someCanadian season ticket holders to a team in Hamilton. Roughly15% of the Sabres season ticket holders come from Canada. Theteam had no comment Monday night.
Judge Redfield T. Baum issued a 21-page ruling late Mondayafternoon, concluding the June 29 deadline imposed by Balsillie didnot allow enough time to resolve the complex case.
"Simply put, the court does not think there is sufficient time(14 days) for all of these issues to be fairly presented to thecourt given that deadline," the judge wrote.
The ruling is a victory for the NHL, which had argued Balsilliewas using the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to make an end-run around theleague's rules over who owns teams and where they are located.
"We're pleased the court recognized the validity of league rulesand our ability to apply them in a reasonable fashion," NHL deputycommissioner Bill Daly said in a statement Monday night. "We willturn our attention now toward helping to facilitate an orderlysales process that will produce a local buyer who is committed tomaking the Coyotes' franchise viable and successful in thePhoenix-Glendale area. We are confident that we will be able tofind such a buyer for the Coyotes and that the claims of legitimatecreditors will be addressed."
But Balsillie, who has failed in two other bids to buy NHLteams, refused to concede defeat, saying he wants to work with theleague and move the franchise.
"We look forward to hearing from the NHL soon on its view of ourrelocation application and an appropriate relocation fee, so as toallow the court to determine if that fee is reasonable," Balsilliespokesman Bill Walker said. "We still think there is enough timefor the NHL to approve Mr. Balsillie's application and move theteam to Hamilton by September."
Walker said the judge's ruling "invited mediation."
"Mr. Balsillie is willing to participate in such mediation ifthe NHL is also willing to do so," Walker's statement said.
Baum called the case unprecedented in U.S. bankruptcyhistory.
"The legal issues trigger not only bankruptcy law, but antitrustlaw and commercial law in the context of a professional sportsteam, as a Chapter 11 debtor, which team has for years incurred,and is continuing to incur, very serious financial losses andproblems," Baum wrote. "No cases have been found that precisely oreven closely fit this scenario."
Walker's statement ignored several aspects of the ruling thatwere made against Balsillie.
Baum shot down the claim by Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes andBalsillie that failure to allow the team, over the objection of theNHL, to move would violate antitrust law.
"This court can not find that antitrust law, as applicablenonbankruptcy law, permits the sale free and clear of therelocation rights of the NHL," Baum wrote.
He added, "It is not an antitrust violation for professionalsports leagues to have terms and conditions on relocations of itsmembers."
An antitrust claim requires a "bona fide dispute," but there isnone because Balsillie only sought the NHL's permission to relocatethe franchise after it was brought up in court, Baum wrote.
"This court is unconvinced that it should order that the NHLmust decide the relocation application to meet the June 29deadline," the judge wrote.
Baum also rejected claims by Moyes and Balsillie that whileassuming the contract the Coyotes have with the NHL, they candisregard the portion of the agreement that requires the games beplayed in Glendale.
The judge compared that claim to "a purchaser of a bankruptfranchise in a remote location asserting that it can be relocatedfar from its original agreed site to a highly valuable location,for example New York City's Times Square ..."
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 andhad contended the franchise could not use bankruptcy to evade itslease.
Baum said that because he was rejecting the motion, he need notrule at this time on whether Moyes and Balsillie could voidGlendale's lease.
Glendale officials will comment after lawyers have reviewed theentire document, city spokeswoman Julie Frisoni said.
This is the third time Balsillie -- whose company makes theBlackberry -- has tried and failed to buy an NHL team. His madeprevious attempts to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins and NashvillePredators.
Moyes took the NHL by surprise when he filed for Chapter 11bankruptcy on May 5, proposing to sell the team to Balsillie for$212.5 million, contingent on the franchise moving to Hamilton,Ontario.
The NHL said that commissioner Gary Bettman was on his way todeliver a letter of intent to Moyes from Jerry Reinsdorf, owner ofbaseball's Chicago White Sox and the NBA's Chicago Bulls, topurchase the team and keep it in Glendale. However, any bid to buythe team will be far less than the offer Balsillie made.
"I think people are going to be shocked when they see the valueof this team remaining in Glendale," Moyes' attorney Thomas Salernosaid. "It's going to be materially less than the offer we have onthe table."
Salerno said Moyes is disappointed and is evaluating hisoptions. Moyes says he has more than $300 million invested in theteam and would have recouped about $100 million if the Balsilliesale had gone through.
The NHL says four parties, including Reinsdorf, have filedpreliminary applications to investigate purchasing the team andkeeping it in Arizona. However, if no buyer can be found, theleague would look to relocate the franchise.
Moyes and Balsillie contended that the team would never succeedin Arizona and would flourish in hockey-crazy Ontario. But the moveraised territorial rights issues because of the proximity of theToronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.
Baum had raised the specter of a fee due to the NHL and the twoteams if the franchise moved.
The Coyotes have lost more than $300 million since the franchisemoved from Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2006, and at least $36 millioneach of the last three seasons, but the NHL contends the franchisecan be viable with better management and more success on theice.
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