The charges and countercharges have been flying fast and furious in the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy case, with the following transpiring just in the last 24 hours:
- Elected officials in Ontario turned out to be just fine with Coyotes suitor Jim Balsillie’s demand for $120 million in public money to renovate Hamilton’s hockey arena if he moves the team there. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, a Liberal, asked if he would rule out the use of public funds, replied, “I’m very much in favour of a new hockey team in Ontario”; his deputy premier, George Smitherman, went further, saying, “If we see success in terms of a franchise coming this way, if there are capital needs there, I think the premier’s said we’ll be open to the conversation.” MPP Andrea Horwath, a New Democrat whose riding (that’s “district” in Canadian) includes the arena, chimed in that while, “I don’t think a blank cheque to a multimillion-dollar corporation is the best way to go, … I think government should be looking to partner in whatever way we can.” Then she talked about the battered steel industry and added, “So anything that can bring some excitement, some hope and some economic stimulation are all positive things — particularly in an economic downturn.” And her fellow New Democrat Paul Miller got special dispensation to wear a “Hockey Night in Hamilton” T-shirt in the Ontario legislature this morning.
- The Hamilton city council unanimously approved giving Balsillie an option on a 20-year (or maybe 32-year — reports differ) lease on Copps Coliseum, provided he gets the Coyotes. No details on how much rent Balsillie would be paying on the place (if that’s even been negotiated yet), but the city council did commit to lobby the province and federal government for renovation funds.
- Balsillie, awed by the love of his fellow Ontarians, promptly released a statement saying he’d never asked for any public money, notwithstanding yesterday when his spokesman said he did.
- The NHL, not awed by anyone, issued bankruptcy court papers calling Balsillie’s offer to buy the team “illusory, at best, and a sham, at worst” and “a last-ditch effort” to get around league rules, and said that it had taken control of the team from principal owner Jerry Moyes and so Moyes’ bankruptcy filing was illegal. And if it wasn’t, it was just plain wrong: “Even assuming that Mr. Moyes’ conduct was technically permissible, it smacks of bad faith and duplicitous dealing,” wrote the league. “The court should not condone such inequitable conduct.”
- Balsillie fired back with a statement of his own asserting: “Who owns or controls the team is a distinction without a difference. The team itself is still bankrupt, voluntarily or not. The owner of the team has a fiduciary obligation towards the creditors.”
At this rate, maybe they should forget about playing hockey and just sell tickets to watch the lawyers fight.