NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday that he believed U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum made "the right decision" when he rejected two multimillion-dollar offers for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Bettman said that as a result of the decision, "we're actually starting to get calls from people who are expressing interest in the franchise."
Baum's decision to reject a bid by the NHL and another made by Canadian electronics entrepreneur Jim Balsillie allows the League to amend its offer in terms of paying creditors but, in Bettman's words, "disqualifies" Balsillie's effort to buy the team from current owner Jerry Moyes and move the team to Hamilton, Ont.
"We got an important decision from the judge yesterday, in effect disqualifying the Balsillie bid," Bettman said. "It's the decision that we believed was the right decision and the one we hoped for because the two most important decisions that any sports league can make is who it wants to allow into membership as an owner, who the partners will be, and where the franchises will be located.
"That's not something that should be abdicated to the courts because someone decides to file a bankruptcy petition. While the court disallowed our bid on some technical basis, in terms of how we treated the creditors, we're looking at it and we will be reacting.
"We're deciding how best to amend our bid. Since the overhang of the Balsillie bid seems to be removed, we're actually starting to get calls from people who are expressing interest in the franchise. We're going to have to follow up on those as well. Our belief is, despite all the damage this process has done to the franchise over the summer, and I think it's going to take some time for the franchise to rebound, it can work with the right ownership and the right management.
Bettman made his remarks during the NHL Hour, his weekly Thursday afternoon broadcast, from the Pepsi Center in Denver prior to the Colorado Avalanche's season-opening game against the San Jose Sharks. Longtime Avalanche captain Joe Sakic will have his No. 19 retired in a ceremony at 8:45 p.m. ET that will be streamed on NHL.com and seen on the NHL Network.
Bettman said he was relieved for the Coyotes' players and their families, who have been in limbo since May when Moyes announced his intention to sell the team to Balsillie through the bankruptcy process.
"I'm glad for the players' sake, that they now have a little bit more certainty that this is where the franchise is going to be this season," Bettman said.
Broadcast partner Ed Olczyk asked Bettman if the League was now in control of the Phoenix franchise.
"Not exactly," the commissioner replied. "From Day One, we have been in a hybrid situation, supervised by the bankruptcy court. The debtor, as the term is used, is technically Jerry Moyes, who was the owner, and we. So we are kind of in joint control. But that gets overblown because the day-to-day operations are being run by Doug Moss, the president. (General Manager) Donnie Maloney, who I think has done a very good job with putting the team together and keeping things stable, is making the hockey decisions.
"Extraordinary decisions involving spending lots of money or the like have to be approved by both the Moyes group and by us, but it's not like we are in there actively running the club right now. It's not our desire to ever really run the club. We put in the bid as a last resort to get control of the situation.
"Hopefully, with the process being simplified with the Balsillie bid now gone, that overhang, and I think, whether or not intentional and I won't throw stones in that regard, a lot went on this summer to further destabilize that franchise, perhaps in the hopes that nobody would want to bid on it and the team would have to move. And, that was something that we resisted mightily and it probably cost a lot of money."
Bettman said the NHL will continue to try to buy the Coyotes from Moyes, then sell it to a qualified buyer.
"First, we're going to try to continue to buy the club. Once we own the club, even if it's going to be for a short period of time, we will control the club so we won't have to be checking with anybody else in terms of what moves Doug and Donnie make. And we'll control the sale process which we think will expedite the sale process and make it more efficient and, hopefully, more successful."