U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff ruled yesterday that the "likelihood that the owners of the Mets will go to trial to defend themselves against a multimillion-dollar lawsuit involving their dealings with Bernard L. Madoff is very real," and "not very far off." Rakoff "made it clear that the trial date he set months ago -- March 19 -- remained fixed." In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes there "seems to be little rationale for either side to settle at this point." With the Mets "in financial distress," Owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz "appear poorly positioned to agree to a sizable payment." A trial "is a near certainty," and "could take at least four weeks." Fox Rothschild Partner Michael Kline said, "The Wilpons will be having their personal and financial lives exposed for weeks" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18).
TAKING STOCK: In Montreal, Mike Boone notes Canadiens Owner Geoff Molson yesterday answered "questions about his team's star-crossed season" at the opening of an outdoor hockey rink in Hayward Park. Molson acknowledged it has been "a disappointing season so far." He characterized the Canadiens' season to date as "soft, underperforming." He added, "If the second half is anything like the first half, it will be a disappointment for everybody." However, Molson "reaffirmed his support" of interim coach Randy Cunneyworth and GM Pierre Gauthier, and said that a "thorough evaluation of the team will come at the end of the season." He said that he had "'learned a lot' from the firestorm that erupted after [former coach Jacques] Martin was sacked and replaced by Cunneyworth, a unilingual anglophone." Molson said, "As a family, that's been part of this community for 225 years, we certainly understand Quebec culture. There is no question that we support French and English. There is no question that we respect our fans and the culture of Quebec" (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/18).
ON THE PROWL: USA TODAY's J. Michael Falgoust in a sports section cover story writes T'Wolves Gs Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea, F Derrick Williams and coach Rick Adelman "have given hope to a Timberwolves team that had won 32 games over the past two seasons." The T'Wolves, with "sellouts in three of seven home games, are 14th in attendance entering today's game" against the Pistons. They ranked "24th in average attendance last season." In 82 home games the last two seasons, the team "sold out twice." With "8,000 season tickets sold this season, the franchise has its largest base since 2005-06, before Kevin Garnett left" for the Celtics (USA TODAY, 1/18).