By now, the Phoenix Coyotes should have their own permanent entry on the agenda of the NHL board of governors’ annual meeting.
When the group convenes Monday in Pebble Beach, Calif., league realignment is the biggest item to be discussed. But the Coyotes, who have been a discussion point going back to 2008, are a factor in those plans as their ownership future is still uncertain.
At this point, no one knows when the NHL’s longest recurring nightmare will end. Until it does, though, it will be difficult for the governors to produce a realignment plan for the league. At best, they could put forward three plans: One if the Coyotes stay put in Arizona next season, one if they go to the Eastern Conference and one if they go to the Western Conference.
However, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly insists otherwise. He said in an e-mail there is “nothing new to report on the Coyotes’ sale. Any realignment plan approved by the board will be able to accommodate a change in situation for the Coyotes.”
At this point, the only thing certain about the NHL’s efforts to sell the Coyotes is it will not stick to the Dec. 1 deadline it set in previous years for the suburban City of Glendale to find a buyer willing to keep the team at Jobing.com Arena. However, if such a buyer is not found by playoff time next spring, the Coyotes almost certainly will be moved in time for the 2012-13 season.
While the NHL has made it known two groups are in the picture – one led by Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and another fronted by former San Jose Sharks president Greg Jamison – even those in the middle of the situation don’t know what is happening.
“There’s so many rumours I’m not sure of my own name any more,” Glendale city councillor Phil Lieberman said. “You will pardon the military expression but it’s such an eff-ed up mess, it’s pitiful. I will be glad when the whole thing is settled.
“As a council member, I’ve spent hundreds of hours one way or another listening to deals, talking deals, talking to people making presentations. I’m sick of the whole damn thing.”
Lieberman said he and his fellow councillors expect to get an update on the sale from Glendale city manager Ed Beasley at an in-camera meeting Tuesday. He also said the city will not be covering any of the Coyotes’ losses beyond this season.
No doubt the councillors will get an explanation from Beasley about his announcement Friday night he plans to retire next year. He did not give a date but councillor Joyce Clake told the Arizona Republic Beasley told them he will not leave until “several internal projects are finished.” Clark said she thinks Beasley will wrap up the Coyotes negotiations by January.
Beasley and Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs were the driving forces behind the city’s disastrous entry into the game of building facilities for professional sports teams. The only success is the University of Phoenix Stadium for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. The rest of the projects, from the Coyotes’ $180-million arena to $200-million spent building a spring-training facility that houses Reinsdorf’s baseball team were unmitigated disasters that left the city of 250,000 facing debts as high as $500-million and a final bill of $1-billion.
Scruggs could also be gone next year, since she and three of Glendale’s six councillors face re-election next August. She has not indicated if she will run again.
Two sources keeping tabs on the Coyotes sale believe Jamison has a conditional agreement with the NHL to buy the team. But he has to raise the money to meet the NHL’s asking price of $170-million (U.S.) and sources believe he has not be able to do so thus far.
If Jamison is unsuccessful, it is thought the NHL and Glendale will go back to Reinsdorf, who has been in and out of the sale negotiations even before the league bought the team out of bankruptcy in October of 2009 for $140-million.
At some point, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is going to face some hard questions from the governors. The league has been pouring money into the Coyotes since the start of the 2008-09 season, when former owner Jerry Moyes said he was finished paying the losses.
Glendale put up a total of $50-million toward the Coyotes’ expected financial losses in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Last season’s loss was $36-million, and it looks like this season’s will be about the same.
One source believes that even if Glendale’s contribution is subtracted, the Coyotes have cost the NHL about $200-million, including the purchase price.
Bettman did get about $60-million from the Winnipeg Jets as a relocation fee last summer, which was expected to offset the Coyotes’ losses. But at least some governors think that was a windfall that should have been shared among the other 29 NHL teams.
The economic forecast for Glendale is not promising. Former Coyotes owner Steve Ellman, whose dream of using the team to jump-start a retail and entertainment complex called Westgate City Center around Jobing.com Arena, recently lost control of the project.
Ellman’s lenders, who are out hundreds of millions of dollars, foreclosed on Westgate but were unable to attract even one bid in two auctions for the outdoor plaza and some land around it.
A New York-based real-estate investment trust, iStar Financial Inc., repossessed the main buildings and land. IStar put Westgate up for auction with a minimum bid of $40-million and now is operating the complex itself because there were no takers. Credit Suisse Group foreclosed on 95 surrounding acres but no one met its minimum bid of $25-million.
Westgate City Center remains open but like the Coyotes, its future is uncertain.