Balsillie ‘one step closer’

Jim Balsillie says he’s “one step closer” to bringing the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton even though the Canadian billionaire may have to pay the NHL a hefty relocation fee to do it.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly answers questions as he leaves U.S. Bankruptcy Court after a hearing on Tuesday.

TORONTO — Jim Balsillie says he’s “one step closer” to bringing the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton even though the Canadian billionaire may have to pay the NHL a hefty relocation fee to do it.

Balsillie made the statement on his website Wednesday, a day after a hearing in U.S. bankruptcy court on his bid to buy the Coyotes and move them over the objections of the NHL.

On Tuesday, Judge Redfield T. Baum said he believes the NHL has the right to request a relocation fee — which could amount to US$100 million or more — and suggested he might force the league to establish a price by granting the motion to relocate the Coyotes in order to settle the bitter standoff.

Baum is considering the matter and plans to issue a ruling in the near future.

Balsillie has offered US$212.5 million to purchase the Coyotes, conditional on a move to Hamilton and closing by month’s end. However, Balsillie’s lawyer, Susan Freeman, said her client would walk away if the relocation fee was too exorbitant.

On Wednesday, Balsillie seemed to leave the door open.

“However it works out, the issue of a relocation fee, while a new development, does move us one step closer to bringing the Coyotes to Hamilton,” the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion said on www.makeitseven.ca. “I am fighting for Canadian hockey fans because I know you’ve been out there fighting for my bid.”

Balsillie also assured fans who have supported his cause that he is still moving toward his goal.

“We’re looking forward to instructions from Judge Baum,” he said. “But you should know as a makeitseven.ca supporter that I am committed to continuing and winning this fight to bring a seventh NHL team to Canada.”

His campaign has been aggressive so far. He’s already unveiled plans to renovate Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum should the Coyotes come to town and he has recruited corporate partners in his cause, with Prime Restaurants, DeWalt Tools and FirstOntario Credit Union the latest to sign on, joining Labatt Blue and Home Hardware .

On Wednesday, the Balsillie camp declared June 19 “Make It Seven Day” across Canada, encouraging fans to rally support for the cause that day.

Should Balsillie walk away from a third attempt to buy an NHL team, the other thorny legal issues before Baum would not need to be solved since if not paid by the buyer, the relocation fee would leave too little money for the creditors. And under that scenario, it appears the NHL would get its wish for a Sept. 10 auction of the club, with at least one more Coyotes season in Phoenix.

Freeman said she expects the NHL to demand $100 million as a relocation fee — a number the league hasn’t confirmed and that was blacked out in court documents — and deputy commissioner Bill Daly refused to speculate Tuesday on how much would be enough.

“I don’t think we are prepared to put out a number,” Daly told reporters. “That’s something that is generally determined by the board of governors in the context of a relocation application and from our perspective, we have a couple of steps before we get to a relocation application.”

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