A group intending to bid $150-million (all currency U.S.) for the Phoenix Coyotes wants to bring five of the franchise's regular-season games to Saskatoon or Halifax.
The group, officially known as Ice Edge Holdings, has been in discussions with officials from Saskatoon and Halifax about playing five Coyotes' regular seasons games in either community. Ice Edge is leaning toward Saskatoon, although no firm deal is in place. If the National Hockey League approves the plan, the Coyotes would play "home games" in Saskatoon's 11,300- seat Credit Union Centre against the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks.
If the Coyotes make the playoffs, Ice Edge would hold some of those games in Saskatoon as well. It also plans to move the Coyotes' farm team, the San Antonio Rampage, from Texas to Thunder Bay.
"Canada is obviously a tremendous hockey market, yet there are currently 6,000 kilometres of Canadian soil that have no exposure to the NHL in their home market," said Daryl Jones, an Ice Edge partner. "Our plan from the outset was to work with a Canadian city that doesn't have NHL territorial rights issues, and also one that wouldn't be considered a threat to the fans in Phoenix."
"It's a great opportunity to bring regular season NHL hockey to a Canadian city that otherwise would never have the opportunity. It is a great way to ensure the team stays in Phoenix for the long run, but partners with a Canadian city in the process."
Ice Edge officials will present the idea - dubbed the "grassroots Canadian hockey strategy" - to the NHL's executive board Wednesday in Chicago. The group has no plans to relocate the Coyotes and sees the Canadian games as a way of generating additional revenue so the club can stay in Phoenix.
"Ultimately this is a plan to revitalize NHL hockey in Arizona and the southwestern United States," Mr. Jones said.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league is aware of the plan but it would "have to be considered and approved by the NHL board of governors."
Ice Edge raised the idea with several other Canadian cities, including Winnipeg where the Coyotes once played as the Jets, but the discussions have gone the farthest with Saskatoon and Halifax. The group did not approach Hamilton or Toronto, both targeted by other groups interested in NHL franchises.
The Coyotes filed for Chapter 11 protection in May and an Arizona bankruptcy court will hold an auction for the club on Aug. 5. The auction is only for bidders interested in keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix.
If the court determines the bids are too low, another auction for those who want to relocate the team will be held Sept. 10.
Jim Balsillie, co-chief executive of Research In Motion, has offered $212.5-million to move the Coyotes to Hamilton. On Sunday, his spokesman Bill Walker said Balsillie's offer "is not just miles but time zones ahead" of other competing bids and "offers the best outcome for the franchise."
So far only Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, has submitted a formal bid for the Aug. 5 auction. His offer, worth up to $148-million, is conditional on a new arena lease and concessions from creditors.
Ice Edge has submitted only a letter of intent, but it hopes the bankruptcy court judge will take the proposal seriously and give the group time to finalize its offer for the August auction. The group has three main major financial backers, including Anthony LeBlanc, 39, a former RIM executive who lives in Ottawa.
LeBlanc was working on a deal to bring an Ontario Hockey League club to his hometown of Thunder Bay, but he decided to pursue the Coyotes after the club filed for court protection. He has been joined by Jones and Keith McCullough, who is also from Thunder Bay and runs an investment firm in New Haven, Conn., called Research Edge.
Jones, who hails from Alberta, also works at Research Edge and played hockey at Yale University with McCullough. Mr. LeBlanc is an Ottawa Senators' season ticket holder and he was introduced to NHL executives by Cyril Leeder, the Senators' chief operating officer.
The games in Canada are a key component of Ice Edge's proposal and it is unlikely the group will be able to pursue a bid if the NHL turns down the idea. Other features of Ice Edge's plan include offering Wayne Gretzky, the Coyotes' coach and co-owner, a long-term coaching contract and a major ownership stake.
Ice Edge is also considering opening a Gretzky's restaurant in the Jobing.com arena. Gretzky currently owns about one per cent of the Coyotes and he receives a share of profits and revenue from the club, according to documents filed in court.
Ice Edge officials have met with Mr. Gretzky to go over its plans. While no agreement has been reached, Gretzky is believed to be receptive to the ideas, including playing games in Saskatoon.
Reinsdorf's offer does not appear to include any role for Gretzky. According to documents filed in court Sunday, Gretzky's employment contract is not included in Reinsdorf's proposed purchase.
Another Coyotes' co-owner, Phoenix businessman John Breslow, has joined Ice Edge as an investor. Breslow runs the Coyotes charity and the NHL had indicated in a court filing that he was a potential bidder for the club. However, he recently agreed to join Ice Edge and continue working on the charity.
There is no guarantee Ice Edge's proposal will succeed even if the NHL approves the games in Canada. The group's plan hinges on a new lease agreement with the City of Glendale, the Phoenix suburb that funded construction of the Jobing.com arena and is a major Coyotes' creditor.
Ice Edge has had discussions with the city and it is hopeful a deal can be reached. The group is also still lining up financial backers and it recently held a meeting at the Magna Golf Club near Toronto for a dozen potential investors.
Ice Edge is convinced it can sort out the Coyotes' finances and break even within a couple of years. The club has never made money since moving from Winnipeg in 1996, according to court filings, and it lost $67.1-million last season.
Ice Edge plans to introduce a new ticketing system, cut costs, charge for parking and improve the Coyotes' marketing.
"In the last three weeks we have worked with the NHL, the City of Glendale and members of the Coyotes' organization and we are confident that the organization can thrive in Arizona," Jones said.