PHOENIX — Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie could be facing a US$100-million fee for the right to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton.
Balsillie’s lawyer Susan Freeman says that’s how much she expects an NHL-imposed relocation fee to be, though the amount was blacked out in court documents.
Bankruptcy judge Redfield T. Baum agrees that the NHL is entitled to a fee and says that figure is crucial to his decision on the fate of the insolvent Coyotes.
His statement, coming during a combative and entertaining court hearing Tuesday in Phoenix, ran counter to arguments made by lawyers for Balsillie that no fee is owed.
Balsillie, the co-CEO of BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion, has bid US$212.5 million for the insolvent Coyotes on the condition he move the team to Hamilton — something the league is against.
The relocation fee would take away money available to pay off creditors and Baum said that if that left them worse off, he would reject Balsillie’s bid.
The issue, he said, was determining that amount and he chastised both sides for leaving the matter unresolved.
NHL lawyers told the court that the league would need time to study what an appropriate relocation fee would be.
“You may be forced to do that on a very expedited basis,” Baum said.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman dodged questions about the issue as he hopped into a waiting limo headed to the airport. Bettman was due to be in Pittsburgh for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final Tuesday night.
“We’re not going to get into the specifics, it’s obviously before the courts,” said Bettman. “The judge has a lot of facts and legal issues before him and we believe the judge was extremely well informed and my hope is he comes to right conclusion.”
Baum seemed to be weighing the idea of solving the relocation fee issue through mediation but was concerned there’s not enough time to get it done.
Baum said identifying the fee would perhaps cause Balsillie to either accept it or prompt him to walk away, allowing for a solution without having to solve the more complex issues.
The hearing is continuing in a Phoenix courtroom.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly also attended the hearing with Bettman.
Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and several members of the team’s front office are also attending the hearing as is another Balsillie lawyer, Richard Rodier.
Baum said he intends to begin work on his decision Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. It’s not clear when he would be ready to hand down that decision.