No sale on Coyotes, but NHL is the winner

And the winner of the Phoenix Coyotes is … nobody! As threatened earlier this month, Judge Redfield Baum rejected both bids for the bankrupt NHL franchise, ruling that neither Jim Balsillie’s plan to move the team to Hamilton over the league’s objections nor the league’s offer to buy the team itself and search for a new owner met the standards of a bid that was in the best interest of creditors.

If the NHL lost the battle, though, it looks to have won the war. Baum decisively rejected Balsillie’s attempt to buy the Coyotes under any circumstances, ruling that the NHL has the right to approve or deny prospective owners, and the league had previously voted unanimously to bar the BlackBerry king. The NHL, meanwhile, will be allowed to revamp its bid to produce more money for outgoing Coyotes owners Jerry Moyes and Wayne Gretzky (which was Baum’s main objection to the league bid) — or, presumably, it can sit back and wait for a new crop of non-Balsillie bidders, which is what it wanted all along. Wrote the judge, unable to resist a painful sports metaphor: “In hockey parlance, the court is passing the puck to the NHL who can decide to take another shot at the sale net or it can pass off the puck.”

Balsillie has said he won’t appeal. So the big question now is: Who’ll bid for the Coyotes now that they don’t have to compete with Balsillie? The last two bidders promising to keep the team in Arizona — for one season at least — you’ll recall were a guy from Chicago who wanted to be paid to play there (and who has a history of shaking down cities for subsidies) and a consortium that wanted the team to split its home schedule between cities 3,000 miles apart. It’s always possible someone has been hiding in the woodwork waiting for the price to drop, but at this point, the NHL has got to be shaking palm trees in hopes another Russian billionaire falls out.