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The pivotal summit that launched Balsillie's quest Add to ...

Mr. Daly said the league offered to provide further funding to the club in return for Mr. Moyes signing documents that handed the league voting control. Mr. Moyes, he added, would be able to keep his titles to avoid public embarrassment. From then on, he said the league ran day-to-day operations and fired Mr. Shumway on Jan. 23, 2009.

Mr. Shumway has insisted the league never ran the operations but merely received weekly financial updates. He also said he received assurances from Mr. Zimmerman that the documents Mr. Moyes signed concerning voting control did not change anything in terms of club management. As for his own departure, Mr. Shumway said it was voluntary.

Long before any of these meetings took place, Mr. Moyes had been quietly shopping the team around for nearly two years. Finally in April, his lawyer, Mr. Scudder, found a potential buyer.

He'd been contacted by Richard Rodier, a Toronto lawyer who represents Mr. Balsillie. Mr. Rodier had been tracking the club's fortunes in the press and he told Mr. Scudder that Mr. Balsillie was interested in buying the club and moving it to Hamilton.

Mr. Balsillie, co-chief executive of Research In Motion, had been through this before. He'd made unsuccessful attempts to buy the Penguins in 2006 and the Nashville Predators in 2007, ruffling the NHL's feathers both times with plans to move the clubs to HamiltonOn April 3, Mr. Scudder told Mr. Bettman about the offer. Mr. Bettman told him relocation was up to the league and that he preferred the Coyotes remain in Phoenix. If the club was to be moved, Mr. Bettman added, "it should first be offered to Winnipeg" where the team had come from in 1996.

Mr. Bettman had been struggling to try to find a buyer himself. In an internal e-mail dated April 4 he said "this is looking more and more difficult since no one seems to be excited about a team losing 40mm". He had one nibble, a proposal to keep the team in Phoenix from Jerry Reinsdorf, a Chicago businessman who owns baseball's Chicago White Sox and basketball's Chicago Bulls.

Mr. Scudder kept negotiating with Mr. Balsillie and they came to a deal on April 17, worth $212.5-million. Mr. Balsillie was ready to put $20-million down and fund the Coyotes through the Chapter 11 process.

On May 5, Mr. Bettman and Mr. Daly headed to Phoenix to go over Mr. Reinsdorf's proposal with Mr. Moyes. Before they could meet, Mr. Scudder called to say the Coyotes had just filed for Chapter 11 protection and planned to sell the club to Mr. Balsillie.

Mr. Bettman was furious. He had no idea discussions had gone that far and insisted he was in control of the club. Furthermore, Mr. Daly said they had told Mr. Scudder about the Reinsdorf offer four days earlier and he had encouraged them to pursue it, claiming no better offer had come in.

They quickly filed legal papers claiming Mr. Moyes had no authority to put the team into protection and alleging Mr. Balsillie had a history of breaking league rules. Mr. Moyes countered that he had authority and he attacked the league's rules on relocation, calling them a violation of anti-trust laws.

As the court hearing begins today, the stakes couldn't be higher. This could be Mr. Balsillie's last chance to buy a team while the NHL is fighting to preserve its authority over where teams play.

"What is at stake here is not simply an ownership interest in a standalone business," the league said in a court filing, " but, rather, the fundamental structure of the thirty-team NHL venture itself." ***

Fate of a franchise

Today a U.S. court will begin sifting through legal arguments and evidence pointing to the behind-the scenes power struggle for the Phoenix Coyotes. This is an e-mail from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to his deputy, Bill Daly, and legal counsel David Zimmerman.

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