Along with the playoffs, an annual rite of spring in the NHL in recent years is wondering about the fate of the Phoenix Coyotes.
The question of the Desert Dogs moving to Canada heated up right on time when outgoing Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs blew up at the NHL. She accused the league of misleading the suburban city about the chances of selling the Coyotes to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer a year ago and asked for the city’s money back this year. That would be the $25-million (all currency U.S.) Glendale is supposed to fork over on May 2 to the NHL as its subsidy for the team’s annual losses.
Now, another mayor is getting in on the fun. Newark Mayor Cory Booker made an even better feud public the day after Scruggs’s outburst when he went off on New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek. After the city came out on the short end of an arbitration ruling over Vanderbeek’s refusal to pay rent at the Prudential Center, Booker called him a “high-falootin’, high-class huckster and hustler,” and the fun was on.
The Star-Ledger newspaper has a good summation of what’s behind the scrap. The fallout saw the city vow to reduce the police presence around The Pru when the Devils’ playoff series against the Florida Panthers moves there, which would give anyone who’s attended a game in the dodgy neighbourhood pause.
Booker took to the pages of the Star-Ledger himself to explain why he is so angry at Vanderbeek. Like Scruggs, Booker made accusations the city was misled, in this case over promises to fund various community programs.
However, it will not be long before Vanderbeek and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will have much bigger problems than Mayor Booker. Vanderbeek has yet to put together new financing to satisfy his creditors, who are owed at least $80-million on the team and that much or more again on the Vanderbeek company that runs the arena.
Vanderbeek and Bettman have managed to hold the bankers off so far thanks to an NHL regulation that prevents a lender from foreclosing and taking over the Devils until the day after the playoffs are over. That will make Stanley Cup parade day an interesting one for Devils fans even if they don’t win the Cup.
Back in Glendale, city manager Ed Beasley, who like Scruggs is on his way out the door, is singing a familiar song to the Arizona Republic. Yep, there’s yet another deal for the Coyotes in sight, this time with either a group led by former San Jose Sharks president Greg Jamison or the mystery second party that’s been touted by Beasley and Bettman for the last few months. Just don’t ask who it is.
If Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans think general manager Brian Burke is guilty of peddling the same worn-out line for far too long, he has nothing on the principals in the Coyotes mess.
As usual, Beasley, who will bail out later this year with a golden parachute into “retirement” and a six-figure pension at the age of 53, indicates the latest prospective deals will answer the cash-strapped city’s prayers. But Scruggs, who will still have a vote on the city’s budget despite her intention not to run again for mayor this summer, points out the Jamison deal depends on him raising the money for the NHL’s asking price of $170-million for the Coyotes.
In other words, there is no real money man in sight and no sign either prospective buyer is willing to cover the annual losses, which are north of $25-million.
It also looks like Jamison’s plan involves buying Jobing.com Arena from the city along with the nearby Westgate City Center mall, which is in bankruptcy. That plan, no doubt, is to buy both for a song, which is a difficult prospect for Glendale, which borrowed $180-million to build the arena.
The city of $250,000 is facing a budget deficit of up to $30-million and its total debt is approaching $1-billion, so there is no money to throw at any would-be owners who have their hands out. Thus, a new city for the Coyotes beckons.
While the NHL acknowledges time is short and it is not willing to keep the team in Glendale for another year without a new owner, Bettman refuses to name a deadline for a decision. But Glendale has to have a new budget in place by June, so hockey fans in Quebec City and Seattle can get their hearts racing in the last few days of May.