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Posted: Tuesday June 9, 2009 5:08PM; Updated: Tuesday June 9, 2009 6:08PM

Judge focuses on fee in Coyotes bankruptcy case

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PHOENIX (AP) -- A judge is zeroing in on a relocation fee the NHL could charge a Canadian billionaire for moving the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario.

Judge Redfield Baum noted during Tuesday's hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that if the fee is significant, billionaire Jim Balsillie could decide it is too high and withdraw his bid to buy the team. That would resolve the case for now and prevent the judge from ruling on other matters that could set a precedent in professional sports.

The NHL could then proceed with its plan to sell the money-losing team to a new owner who would keep it in Arizona.

The judge also said it was significant the NHL offered to fund the team next season while ownership issues are worked out. The Coyotes have lost at least $30 million each of the last three seasons.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended the morning session of a hearing that was to resume in the afternoon. He then left for Pittsburgh, where the Penguins play Detroit in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Tuesday night.

"We believe the judge is extremely well informed,'' Bettman said. "And my hope is he comes to the right conclusion.

The judge said a case involving the Oakland Raiders from the early 1980s indicates the NHL owns the Hamilton, Ontario, location that would be the Coyotes' new home. The league, therefore, would have a right to impose a relocation fee on Balsillie. The judge wants the sides to agree on a fee, but added, "I'm not holding my breath on that one.''

Baum gave little credence to arguments from the NHL and other professional leagues that an adverse ruling would wreak havoc on their ability to function. Among other instances, he cited the middle-of-the-night departure of the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis, saying that move didn't seem to cause the NFL problems.

Balsillie says the sale must be completed by the end of the month or he'll withdraw his offer.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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