Gary Bettman was in Phoenix the other day, spinning a few tales about the impending sale of the Coyotes.
Well, impending may be stretching things a tad, as the NHL commissioner is now saying he expects the sale to be completed by the end of the hockey season. And local fans shouldn't worry about that Dec. 31 deadline the league established to give priority to buyers who will keep the team in its suburban Glendale arena. As Bettman told the Arizona Republic, "I'm not concerned about Dec. 31 or Jan. 1."
Besides, the commish said, he has six potential buyers on the line. But as anyone selling real estate knows, a potential buyer is anyone who stops in front of your For Sale sign.
A day in search of the elusive six produced little concrete information. There is one obvious suitor, Ice Edge Holdings LLC, a group of Canadian and U.S. businessmen that has declared its intention to pay $150-million (all currency U.S.) and keep the team in Glendale. After that, the field thins out quickly.
The mayors of Quebec City and Winnipeg could be counted, since they have made their desires to get back in the NHL public and Bettman has made encouraging noises. Neither city should get excited, since it's only prudent for Bettman to encourage them in hopes of spooking someone else into buying his handyman's special.
There are also the owners of the Toronto Argonauts, Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon. They have been kicking tires around the league for a while now, but if they can't hack the losses in the CFL, how are they going to make this work even if their ultimate dream is to put the Coyotes in suburban Toronto?
Finally, Jerry Reinsdorf's name just won't go away. But those who are familiar with the jockeying with Glendale say the owner of the Chicago White Sox is not keen to buy the team, just willing to listen if a deal he thinks might work is presented to him.
As anyone who followed the team's bankruptcy court case knows, papers inadvertently filed with the court revealed the only thing Reinsdorf thinks will work is a subsidy of $23-million a year from Glendale. That, city officials were quick to say, is not going to happen.
John Kaites, a lawyer and former Republican politician, has been Reinsdorf's front man on the Coyotes. He has a long relationship with Glendale city manager Ed Beasley and it is said Kaites is still poking around about a new arena lease with the city in hopes of coming up with something that will intrigue Reinsdorf.
And then there is any number of people who have called Bettman in hopes of springing the team for some other city in the United States.
What Bettman would really like is someone to plunk down at least $140-million for the Coyotes, the price the NHL agreed to pay for them when it "won" the auction conducted by the bankruptcy court, by early December. Then he could go to the annual board of governors' meetings on Dec. 15 in Pebble Beach, Calif., and tell them he managed to flip the team quickly so they are no longer on the hook for the massive losses.
If he can't sell the team by the end of the season, Bettman will have to tell the governors the total tab for rescuing the Coyotes from Canadian suitor Jim Balsillie could hit $200-million. That would be the purchase price plus the legal costs in the war against Balsillie's plan to buy the team and move it to Hamilton, plus this season's losses.
Considering the Coyotes lost more than $60-million last season and this season's ticket sales have cratered, that $200-million estimate might be on the light side. Especially if you give credence to persistent talk that no one making a call to Bettman about the team is eager to pay $140-million.
This should make for an interesting couple of days in Pebble Beach next month. Those in the know expect a full and frank exchange of views, as the lawyers like to say.
Bettman already took a shot across the bow this week from Kevin Compton, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and co-owner of the San Jose Sharks. Compton told the Sports Business Daily the whole Coyotes saga was "a joke" and the league needs Balsillie as an owner.
"Jim loves hockey," Compton said. "Jim's got a lot of money. Jim's got a lot of passion." Compton also said he is certain Balsillie will become an NHL owner some day. When it was pointed out the league is keeping Balsillie out, Compton shot back that "owners aren't."
Sure hope this guy turns up in Pebble Beach.