The NHL and Jerry Moyes will trade punches today in court over the timing of Moyes's disputed sale of the Phoenix Coyotes - but the main event remains a hearing next month, which will decide if the NHL team can be relocated.
In the meantime, though, the lawyer for Jim Balsillie, the prospective buyer of the financially crippled team, scored the sharpest jab in documents filed yesterday with the U.S. bankruptcy court in Arizona.
Richard Rodier's declaration sought to take the air out of the NHL's argument that the Coyotes cannot possibly be moved in time for the 2009-10 season. If successful in his bid, Balsillie plans to move the team to Hamilton.
The league says even if Judge Redfield T. Baum rules next month that the Coyotes can be relocated by the successful bidder, its approval procedure for new owners does not allow enough time for such a move. The league also cites logistical problems, such as the 2009-10 schedule, which it says is largely completed.
However, Rodier said in his statement that when Balsillie, co-CEO of Research In Motion Ltd., attempted to buy the Nashville Predators two years ago and move them to Hamilton, a lawyer representing the league said in a letter that a move could be accomplished in a short time frame - similar to the one Balsillie wants to employ to relocate the Coyotes to Southern Ontario.
Rodier's points were made as part of the filings requested by the court for an amended schedule of the necessary steps to conduct an auction for the team using Balsillie's $212.5-million (U.S.) offer, which is conditional on moving the team to Hamilton, as the opening bid.
Requirements that any succeeding bid had to top Balsillie's bid by at least $5-million was dropped, along with a demand for $4-million as a "termination fee" if the Balsillie bid was unsuccessful.
Lawyers for Moyes, the team's majority owner, asked the judge to move the deadline for the NHL's board of governors to approve bids to June 12, with the auction to follow on June 24, two days after the relocation hearing.
There was also a request for the court to approve the sale immediately after the auction. The NHL wants the auction to be held Aug. 27 and even later if the court rules the team can be moved.
Moyes's lawyer, Thomas Salerno, stated the sale has to be completed quickly because Balsillie's offer has a second condition: If the sale and relocation are not completed by June 29, he will withdraw the offer.
Salerno said in filings that Balsillie notified the Coyotes that he put this ultimatum in the offer because he, "nor any other known entity, will fund another year of significant losses."
The Coyotes are expected to lose more than $45-million in the 2008-09 season.
In June of 2007, Balsillie unsuccessfully attempted to buy and move the Predators to Hamilton. There was an escape clause in the Predators' lease with the City of Nashville, but it could not be terminated in this case until June 30, 2008. However, the NHL's deadline to apply for relocation for the next season was Jan. 1, 2008.
According to Rodier, NHL lawyer Thomas W. Gowan said in a letter that the Jan. 1 deadline could be waived by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman if a majority of the league's governors voted in favour. Rodier quoted the letter as saying that even if an application to move the Predators was made in the spring of 2008, the board of governors "can decide to consider an application for relocation after January 1 with ample time for its consideration and the team's possible relocation before the commencement of the following season."
The NHL did not address Rodier's claim in its filing yesterday, but it emphasized again that the desire of Balsillie and Moyes to complete the sale and move of the team to Hamilton was not possible. The league argued its procedure for completing such a transaction plus logistical problems mean the team cannot be moved until the 2010-11 season at the earliest.