Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie is offering an olive branch to the NHL in his ongoing effort to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, saying in a court filing that he wants to work with the league and is prepared to keep the club in Phoenix for another year - so long as future relocation is approved.
Balisillie said he is willing to provide the league "with all the documents and information it reasonably needs to quickly process an application to approve the transfer of Coyotes assets to [his company]and relocation of the team to Hamilton," according to the court filing.
He added that blocking his efforts in order to protect the Toronto Maple Leafs' territory or because the league simply dislikes him, "would be unreasonable and an abuse of discretion, in violation of anti-trust laws."
The filing came in response to strongly-worded attacks on Balsillie by the NHL, which opposes his attempt to move the team. The league cited two previous attempts by Balsillie to buy a team, alleging that in each case he tried to circumvent league rules.
Richard Rodier, a Toronto lawyer who has acted for Balsillie in his attempted purchases, acknowledged in a court filing that there had been misunderstandings in those cases and said he could have handled some aspects "more smoothly."
But he rejected allegations Balsillie purposely tried to circumvent rules.
In his filing, Balsillie said Phoenix does not have enough of a fan base to support a hockey team. "Children in Canada often strap on hockey skates before they start school and grow up in an atmosphere of intense hockey enthusiasm. Children in Arizona do not, and most never step on an ice rink."
He added that "keeping the Coyotes in [Phoenix]benefits the [Toronto]Maple Leafs by enabling them to enjoy the benefits of no competition in the Toronto area, but it is disastrous to the Coyotes' creditors."
Balsillie and Rodier both insist that under United States bankruptcy law, the league could not block the purchase and relocation of the team. That was in response to suggestions by the NHL that courts have generally protected the right of sports leagues to control where teams are located.
The NHL has also alleged that the Coyotes majority owner, Jerry Moyes, did not have authority to put the club into Chapter 11 protection and arrange the sale to Balsillie. The league argued Moyes turned over control to the NHL last fall, in return for financing.
Moyes has argued he was still in control of the team.
In the filings, Balsillie and Rodier said they negotiated the proposed sale with Moyes believing he was in charge.
"At no time did anyone suggest that Mr. Moyes did not have the authority he seemed to have," Rodier said, adding he was not aware of the league's claim that it had control of the club.
"We are willing to comply with NHL procedures and policies on ownership and relocation, as well as other league rules, as long as they are not applied arbitrarily."