PHOENIX // A US bankruptcy court judge has accelerated the schedule for determining whether Canadian Jim Balsillie can buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to southern Ontario over the objection of the NHL. At a hearing on Wednesday, Judge Redfield Baum called the relocation issue "the 10,000-pound elephant in the room" and said it needed to be resolved quickly. He set a hearing for June 9 and promised a ruling shortly thereafter. All briefs and declarations must be submitted by June 5. The relocation hearing had been scheduled for June 22, but Balsillie has said he will withdraw his $212.5million (Dh778m) offer if the sale is not completed by the end of June.
The NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league will appeal if it loses at the bankruptcy court level, but expressed confidence that will not be necessary. "We're confident in what the law says," he said, "And the law is pretty clear with respect to our rights to control the identity of our owners and location of our franchises." The National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Assocation have filed papers asking the judge to respect the NHL's rules, expressing concern that an adverse ruling would serve as a dangerous precedent undermining the operation of the professional sports leagues in North America.
Lawyers for Balsillie and Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes argue that blocking the move violates antitrust law. The judge set two tentative dates for the auction of the team, depending on how he rules on the relocation issue - June 22 if Balsillie gets his way and Sept 10 if the NHL prevails. * AP