More on the Phoenix Mess
- A Hamilton perspective from today's Hamilton Spectator:
Leafs, NHL roadblocks to Steel City
Balsillie legal briefs cite past history of bids
June 08, 2009
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jun 8, 2009)
The National Hockey League and the Toronto Maple Leafs have "never had any intention of allowing a team in Hamilton," Jim Balsillie suggests in his latest legal salvo.
Further, Balsillie's legal team suggests the league's opposition to a Hamilton franchise is likely triggered by the views of the Toronto Maple Leafs who believe they have veto power over a Steeltown franchise and would plan to sue the NHL if a team were permitted to play at Copps Coliseum.
"A review of the history of attempts by various parties to acquire an NHL team for Hamilton (either through expansion or relocation) and league reactions to these attempts strongly suggests that the NHL never had any intention of allowing a team in Hamilton," said Team Balsillie in its final brief before an Arizona court convenes tomorrow to determine if the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes can be relocated.
Balsillie has a conditional $212.5-million US offer on the table to purchase and relocate the Coyotes to Hamilton.
But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has filed his own brief that states four other ownership groups have emerged including Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, the owners of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.
The other groups are interested in buying the Coyotes and keeping the team in Phoenix, at least for the time being.
Balsillie's brief reviews four previous attempts to locate a team in Hamilton, including Ron Joyce's bid to secure an expansion franchise in 1990.
"The league insisted that Mr. Joyce and MLSE (owner of the Maple Leafs) would have to agree on the amount of the indemnification fee due to MLSE. MLSE refused to negotiate the fee or provide an indication of the level of fee that it would expect until after Mr. Joyce paid the non-refundable $50 million expansion fee," the brief states.
Joyce balked and the league awarded expansion franchises to Ottawa and Tampa Bay.
In the mid 1990s, the City of Hamilton pitched buying the Winnipeg Jets from then owner Barry Shenkarow.
"Mr. Shenkarow told the mayor that he would not entertain their offer at any price since, among other reasons, the Maple Leafs would never permit a team to be located in Hamilton.
"This suggests that the Maple Leafs have never had any intention of allowing a team to relocate to Hamilton," the Balsillie brief suggests.
Team Balsillie said in the mid 1990s the City of Hamilton was interested in buying the financially troubled Quebec Nordiques from Marcel Aubut, who wanted the team to stay in Canada.
"Mr. Aubut, however, informed the mayor of Hamilton that the Maple Leafs would never allow a team to move to Hamilton."
The Balsillie group said Hamilton applied for an NHL expansion team in the late 1990s only to be thwarted as the NHL opted to approve teams for Nashville and Columbus.
"It was clear to the bid delegation that Hamilton's application for a franchise was not being taken seriously by the NHL," the Balsillie brief recounts.
In his own submission, Balsille's lawyer Richard Rodier said the Maple Leafs believe they have power under the NHL constitution to veto another southern Ontario franchise.
Rodier said the Leafs received a $150,000 payment from Hamilton sports promoter Russ Boychuk in 2006 to allow an exhibition game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I have been advised and it has been reported in Canadian news media that the Maple Leafs have threatened to sue the league and its constituent members if a team is located in Hamilton," Rodier's brief states. But Bettman has advised the court that no single team has a veto over a franchise relocation.
He said a majority vote by the NHL board of governors is required to approve such a relocation.
Maple Leafs' president Richard Peddie stated the organization would have no comment on Balsillie's bid to buy the bankrupt Coyotes and relocate the club to Hamilton for the 2009-10 season.
While Hamiltonians have expressed suspicions in the past that the Maple Leafs are the main obstacle to a team locating in Copps Coliseum, this marks the first time such views have been expressed in court documents.
The Balsillie brief even quotes excerpts from a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry wants to return a suit out of spite.
Balsillie's lawyers argue that the NHL has adopted a similar position in rejecting a Hamilton relocation.
Balsillie suggests that keeping the Coyotes in Glendale "would result in throwing good money after bad.
"Transferring the club from its death throes in Glendale to a willing owner of integrity and means in a location crying for an NHL team with a validated market demand is the only rationale alternative."
Balsillie also acknowledges that his proposed purchase of the Coyotes, vigorously opposed by the NHL, has become personal.
"Emotions and personalities can cloud the objectivity of a league's decision-making process. That has happened here..." the brief continues.
Should the Arizona court rule in the league's favour that the Coyotes must remain in Phoenix, that will likely nix Balsillie's third bid to bring a team to Copps Coliseum.
Should the court rule in Balsille's favour, however, that would set up an auction later this month. Balsillie's bid remains the highest offer on the table.
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