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Burke tight-lipped about Coyotes bankruptcy case

The Canadian Press

9/8/2009 4:36:11 PM

TORONTO -- Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke isn't allowed to discuss the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy case -- but he'd like to.

"We're not allowed to talk about it," Burke said when pressed by reporters. "I can't wait for the day when we are, but I have to cut you off because we're not allowed to talk about it."

Asked if he found the Coyotes drama distracting heading into the start of training camp, Burke was a little more open.

"We're not allowed to comment on it," said Burke. "But if I go bigger picture . . . would the NHL like to be opening the season with all of the stories about hockey, rather than courtroom wranglings over a franchise or the financial uncertainty of another franchise? Yes."

The ongoing saga surrounding the financially troubled Coyotes returns to court this week, with Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie still hoping to buy the franchise and relocate it to Hamilton.

Arizona bankruptcy judge Redfield T. Baum still has to rule whether Balsillie can be part of an auction process, and whether the team can be moved. Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, has increased his bid for the NHL club to as much as US$242.5 million, according to court documents filed by Balsillie's lawyers Monday night.

Balsillie had been offering $212.5 million since the team was placed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection back in May.

The case resumes Thursday but an immediate court decision isn't expected. Baum urged Balsillie to move back his Sept. 14 deadline because he wanted more than a weekend to make up his mind.

Balsillie's new proposal extends the court's deadline to accept the offer to Sept. 21 and comes with a closing date of Oct. 2 -- one day before the Coyotes are supposed to open the regular season in Los Angeles.

Burke hopes that once the fate of the Coyotes is decided, the hockey world will turn its attention back to the on-ice product.

"Hopefully that emphasis will shift real quickly," said Burke."It sounds to me like the judge plans to resolve this one way or another in short order, and hopefully that will be the end of it and we can talk about hockey."

Meanwhile, the former CEO of Hamilton's Copps Coliseum has written an open letter to Balsillie, warning him that his relocation bid will face stiff resistance from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Gabe Macaluso, who served as CEO from 1989 to 2005, told Balsillie about several relocation or expansion attempts that were shelved due to the Leafs' "veto power." The letter, which appeared in the Hamilton-Burlington Bay Observer (www.bayobserver.ca), listed five instances in which Toronto threatened to use its veto to block a move into Hamilton.

While the NHL denies that any team has the right to veto, the league acknowledged in court documents filed last week that the Maple Leafs believe they have the right to do so.