The long-anticipated climax of the Phoenix Coyotes petered out into what this has been all along - a waiting game.
After yesterday's auction sale concluded on schedule with Jim Balsillie and the NHL offering revised bids, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum concluded the session by asking both sides to file written versions of them by Tuesday. The judge will then consider them and pick one. The only sure thing is what the judge said in a hearing more than a week ago - he will issue a decision before the NHL regular season starts on Oct. 1.
Baum's decision on the winning bid could also include rulings on a several major legal issues, including some that could have a lasting impact on professional sports. But, as the major creditors of the Coyotes pointed out in throwing their support behind the NHL's $140-million (all currency U.S.) offer instead of the $242.5-million offered by Balsillie, the judge can avoid those difficult decisions by ruling in favour of the NHL.
Balsillie's lawyers countered by telling the judge his offer, even after the NHL sweetened its bid, is the best for the creditors and even if the NHL wins it will probably move the financially crippled team from the suburban City of Glendale within a year.
This was echoed by Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes after the auction concluded, as he unburdened his feelings about his treatment at the hands of the NHL after months of relative silence. He said hockey will never succeed in Glendale, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's grand plan to spread the league into non-traditional markers in the Southern United States has flopped and bitterly lamented his treatment at the hands of the league after he poured more than $300-million into the Coyotes in an attempt to make them a success in his hometown of Glendale.
"I feel pretty poorly over it, to be honest with you," Moyes said of the process that began about one year ago when he told the NHL he could no longer pay for the club's losses. "I just don't think I've been treated right. I gave it the 100-per-cent try. I feel betrayed by the NHL."
Moyes said there is no future for the NHL in Glendale because even the NHL has admitted the possibility it may have to sell the club within a year to someone who will move it. Keeping it in Glendale, he said, will require large subsidies that a city of 250,000 people cannot afford.
"We spent two years trying to sell this team, trying to make it work in Glendale and it just will not work in Glendale," Moyes said.
"With or without a $25-million [annual]subsidy from Glendale, which I don't think [the city]can do, this team just is not going to be here."
If the NHL wins the auction Moyes said, all that will happen is the city "gets one year of rent and a team for a year and they are going to be faced with exactly the same situation a year from now as they are today - a team that is going to relocate."
The root of the problem, Moyes said, is that 16 years after Bettman took office as commissioner with a promise to turn the NHL from a regional sport to one spread around North America the plan never worked.
"I put plenty of money in it, I put a lot of time in it, I gave it the best try I could," Moyes said. "Hockey will not work in the South. Mr. Bettman's plan is not working out.
"You've got Phoenix, you've got Dallas, you've got Atlanta, you've got Tampa Bay all in trouble. These teams have got to go north where everybody loves hockey."
Bettman had a quick response a few minutes later in the same spot in the courthouse steps when the comments were relayed to him.
"What's happened to this team is crystal clear. That is it needs new ownership."
As for Moyes's sense of betrayal, Bettman said, "considering the NHL has been supporting this franchise for the past year when Mr. Moyes was supposed to be, it is quite disappointing."
Moyes also said he had approached the league many times after the court action started in May looking for a settlement only to be rebuffed.
Bettman would not discuss any negotiations he may have had with Moyes. "We only fight when we're forced to. If there was at any point anything worth talking about, we would have done it," he said.
Balsillie, who saw the Coyotes' largest creditor, SOF Investments Ltd., and the committee of unsecured creditors, tell Baum to accept the NHL's bid, was sanguine about his chances. He declined to answer a question about an appeal if his bid was rejected by the court.
"All I want is to bring a team to Southern Ontario, that is my lifelong dream," Balsillie said. "We need a fair shot and a level playing field. I got that today and that was really my only objective.
"I think we put our best offer forward. There was a $100-million [difference from the NHL's]that really looks after all the constituents. I think that is clearly in our favour."
The NHL revised its offer during yesterday's hearing to provide more money for Moyes - as much as $29-million - after initially saying he and Gretzky would not be paid. Balsillie is offering to pay Moyes, whose status as a creditor has yet to be decided by Baum, $62.5-million.
Earlier in the day there was a stir in the court when one of the NHL's lawyers told the judge the status of Coyotes head coach and part-owner Wayne Gretzky was subject to "delicate negotiations."
The NHL's bid does not make any provision to pay Gretzky's claims or pick up his contract, which pays him $8-million a year, far more than all other NHL coaches. But the league is trying to convince Gretzky to accept a new deal with a pay cut and stay with the team.
Bettman said he has spoken to Gretzky but declined to reveal any details. Moyes and Coyotes president Doug Moss both said Gretzky will be with the team when training camp opens this weekend.
The fireworks anticipated in the morning by the appearance on the stand of Bettman did not materialize. He sparred with Jeffrey Kessler, Balsillie's lawyer and Tom Salerno, one of Moyes's lawyers, but neither did any real damage.
Or, at least, what Kessler and Salerno saw as a smoking gun - the contention that Bettman had decided to put in an NHL bid for the Coyotes last June and concealed it from them in August when Kessler examined him under oath - did not seem to make much of an impression on the judge.
Kessler and Salerno tried to prove that Bettman deliberately misled Balsillie's forces during his examination on Aug. 20 when he was asked if the league was making any preparations to deal with the Coyotes this season if there was only one bid. Bettman said no at the time and Salerno went after him yesterday, insisting that not revealing an NHL bid was in the works on Aug. 20 and then filing one five days later was misleading Balsillie and Moyes at best.
Bettman countered that no decision was made by Aug. 20 and eventually said it was not decided to make an NHL bid until 24 hours before it was filed on Aug. 25. He also said, in response to charges the league actually decided to make a bid as early as late June, one month before it rejected Balsillie as an owner, that he decided only that preparations should be made for all possibilities, which included getting the approval of the governors on June 24 to make a bid if necessary.
Things grew testy when Bettman and the lawyers clashed over the definition of the word preparation. But Baum said at one point that lining up all of its options was a reasonable approach by the league.