Report: Hamilton in talks with Basillie

Updated: May 10, 2009, 7:33 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

If an NHL team is set to move to Hamilton, Ontario, city officials say that club will apparently come from the desert.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger told CTV's "Question Period" on Sunday the city's efforts are set on helping BlackBerry mogul Jim Balsillie bring the Phoenix Coyotes north of the border, denying a local report suggesting he was shifting his negotiations to an investor group interested in bringing the Atlanta Thrashers into town.

The Coyotes filed for Chapter 11 reorganization last week, which includes a plan to sell the team to Balsillie for $212.5 million and move it to Southern Ontario.

"We've had discussions with others, we're going to leave it at that, but the primary person we're dealing with right now and that we hope to put together an arrangement with for Copps Coliseum is Mr. Balsillie," Eisenberger was quoted as saying on CTV. "That's what we're currently working on, that's what we'll continue to work on and we hope by the middle of the week sometime we'll have something in place that will work for him and work for our city."

Thrashers GM Don Waddell also denied Atlanta's involvement in a potential move.

"I have spoken to our owners again today on this subject," Waddell told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun on Saturday. "The Atlanta Thrashers hockey club is a vital part of the Atlanta area. We also own the Atlanta Hawks and have controlling interest in a 99-year lease with Philips Arena. Our franchise is not available to be moved, we will continue to be part of this community for many, many years."

Meanwhile, Balsillie's bid has started a heated battle with the NHL. The league said it has been in control of the Coyotes since November and is asking a federal judge to throw out the team's bankruptcy filing. Judge Redfield Baum set a hearing for May 19 for arguments on who is in charge of the franchise and whether Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes had the authority to file for bankruptcy.

The NHL wants to keep the team in Arizona and says it is in discussions with a prospective ownership group that includes Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls.

The league has funded operation of the franchise since last August or September, and Moyes has signed documents turning over control of the team to the NHL "more than once," NHL deputy commissioner Daly said. He said the latest document was signed in November.

Court documents filed by Moyes said the team has lost $73 million over the past three years.

"I got into this thing kind of by accident," Moyes said last week. "I loaned [previous owner] Steve Ellman $5 million one night to keep the team in Phoenix. Now I'm into it over $300 million. I'm going to be lucky to get $100 million out of it."

Moyes indicated he was open to another bid to buy the team.

"We have been in negotiations for six months to try to get various partnerships together, set the city involved, get concessions from the city," he said. "And we were just never able to get closure to this. If somebody wants to put a group together, I'll be glad to be part of it. ... But we've got to get commitments from everybody and the city and that's where it stands now."

Moyes said he had never been contacted by the Reinsdorf group. Daly said if Baum rules in favor of Moyes, the NHL still believes it will ultimately prevail and keep the franchise in Arizona.

"It won't be devastating to our position in this case, which is ultimately none of the relocation can happen and none of the sales procedure can happen without them coming through the league and league rules," Daly said.

Moyes' attorneys have filed a complaint contending that the NHL's control over relocation of teams violates federal antitrust law.

League members "have conspired with and through the NHL to maintain monopoly power in their `home markets' or `home territories' by refusing to allow the relocation of NHL clubs to markets where existing clubs currently have franchises," the document contends.

The move to Hamilton would invade areas already claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres as their fan base. Daly said NHL rules have been upheld by courts in the United States and Canada and he expects them to survive any challenges made in the Coyotes case.

The city of Glendale, where the Coyotes play in Jobing.com Arena, also believes it can prevent the team from leaving. The franchise signed a 30-year lease but Moyes and Balsillie believe that can be negated by a successful bankruptcy case. Glendale officials, though, argue the lease can't be broken without the $750 million payment it requires.

Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, has twice before tried and failed to purchase an NHL team and move it to southern Ontario, in Pittsburgh and Nashville.

Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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