Richard Peddie and the Toronto Maple Leafs are now in the spotlight of the legal fight between Jim Balsillie and the NHL.
Balsillie, co-chief executive officer of Research In Motion, and Phoenix Coyotes co-owner Jerry Moyes still want to put Peddie, president of the Leafs' parent company, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, on the hot seat in their bid to prove the NHL is blocking Balsillie as an owner because the league does not want him moving the Coyotes to Hamilton.
On Tuesday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum told all parties in the Coyotes court tussle they had to shorten their list of demands because of time constraints, but the only person Balsillie's lawyers dropped from their examination request was rival bidder Jerry Reinsdorf.
The NHL, which agreed to have commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and two team owners questioned by the lawyers for Balsillie and Moyes, balked at the inclusion of Peddie.
The NHL's objection, filed with the court yesterday, stated the Maple Leafs abstained from the NHL governors' unanimous vote on July 29 that rejected Balsillie as an owner. Presumably yesterday's objection was made to counter Balsillie's charge that the Leafs are playing a leading role in blocking the move of a team into their territory.
Peddie could not be reached for comment last night.
Balsillie's suspicions about the Leafs became clear in what was purported to be a shortened request for depositions and documents filed with the court yesterday.
His lawyers' request said Balsillie "believes that, notwithstanding the NHL's pretextual arguments, the Maple Leafs are trying to block [Balsillie's] purchase of the Coyotes in order to prevent a Hamilton relocation and competition with the Maple Leafs in Southern Ontario."
Lawyers for Balsillie and Moyes want to grill Peddie about the Leafs' motives. They also want to question Bettman, Daly, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold.
Balsillie's legal team also demanded a series of NHL documents. The team wants documents concerning all franchise transfers, expansions and relocation fees since 1990, gate receipts for all teams located relatively close to one another, hockey-related revenue statements since 2005, and all documents relating to the possibility of another team coming to Southern Ontario.
The NHL agreed to some of the document requests but objected to others, particularly those concerned with relocation.
The league said the relocation issue will be dealt with only if Baum upholds his decision to allow Balsillie to bid after a hearing on Sept. 2 and Balsillie then wins the Sept. 10 auction.
Balsillie's lawyers said they need the relocation information in order for their experts to decide the proper relocation fee.
The NHL also wants to question a number of people. It asked the judge to order Balsillie, his lawyer, Richard Rodier, Moyes and his lawyer, Earl Scudder, and Coyotes president and CEO Doug Moss to submit to questioning.
Late last night, Balsillie agreed to a deposition, however, his group said there was no need to depose Rodier because of his status as a consultant and lawyer to Balsillie.
The requests were in response to a demand by Baum on Tuesday for them to trim their list of demands for discovery and documents. But the only person who appears to have been dropped from Balsillie's list is rival bidder Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, who has pledged to keep the Coyotes in suburban Glendale. The judge said on Tuesday, in relation to a complaint by Reinsdorf's lawyer that the demands were excessive, that neither Reinsdorf nor the members of the third group interested in a bid, Ice Edge Holdings LLC, could be examined.
Since the examinations, as well as all other motions and objections, have to take place before a hearing on Sept. 2 that will decide if Balsillie, who has offered $212.5-million (all currency U.S.) for the Coyotes, will be allowed into the Sept. 10 auction sale, the judge probably will not allow all of the NHL executives listed to be deposed.
Balsillie's lawyers want to shoot down the NHL's argument that it rejected Balsillie as an owner last month on character grounds and because of his "interaction" with other owners. They say this was not done in good faith and it was only to prevent him from moving the Coyotes.
The purpose of questioning everyone from Bettman to Leipold, the lawyers' request to the court said, is to see if the NHL's rejection was "consistent with fundamental principles of bankruptcy, antitrust and other laws, including the NHL's obligations of good faith and fair dealing and its past practices, or whether the NHL's purported bases for rejecting the applications are mere pretext to punish [Balsillie]for seeking to purchase the Coyotes in bankruptcy and/or to protect the Toronto Maple Leafs 'territorial veto' for Southern Ontario."
The mention of a veto shows Balsillie will raise the issue at the hearing on Sept. 2. His lawyers have long maintained each NHL team can veto the move of another team into its territory, which could cause the league a lot of problems under antitrust laws. But the NHL has always denied the existence of a veto, saying only a majority vote of the league governors is required.