Report: Del Biaggio emerges as front-runner to buy Preds

Updated: June 29, 2007, 3:51 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Predators might not be moving to Hamilton, Ontario, after all.

Owner Craig Leipold has decided to walk away from Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie's $238 million offer to buy the team and plans to pursue a bid from California businessman William "Boots" Del Biaggio instead, sources familiar with the situation told the National Post of Canada.

Leipold reportedly informed Balsillie of his decision late Monday, less than a week before their deal was to close on June 30. Leipold was reportedly unhappy that Balsillie had already filed an application with the league asking the 30 governors to consider relocating the Predators at the same time they consider approving his ownership of the team.

"He wants Balsillie to play ball with the NHL and take it one step at a time, not two steps at a time," a source who asked not to be named told the Post.

Leipold hasn't informed the league of his change of plans, sources told the Post, but there has been speculation at the league office in New York that he might walk away from the non-binding agreement with Balsillie, which was signed May 24.

"When he wrote a letter to the league asking them to stop processing Mr. Balsillie's application, some people had the impression a change was on the way," a source told the Post.

Del Biaggio's original offer for the Predatots was estimated at $190 million, and it is expected that he will relocate the team to Kansas City, which has a new downtown arena and is considered a front-runner for an expansion franchise, once its lease expires.

Leipold -- who is expected to sign a binding, exclusive deal with Del Biaggio's group on Thursday -- has reportedly agreed to accept almost $50 million less for the team because of pressure from comissioner Gary Bettman, who wants a team in Kansas City. Del Biaggio has an agreement with Anschutz Entertainment Group to own and operate an NHL franchise in the new facility.

"I believe Boots and his group will step up and get an expansion franchise if there is one to be had," Tim Leiweke, AEG's president, told a Kansas City reporter last month. "In the meantime, we're going to try anybody and everybody that ultimately is in trouble. We're willing to be used a little bit if that's the process it takes to get Kansas City a team."

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