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True North still focused on Phoenix Add to ...

Larry Tanenbaum remained silent Monday on his plans in the wake of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan's decision to explore the sale of its majority interest in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

The chairman of MLSE, who owns 20.5 per cent of the company, has the right of first refusal on the Teachers' 66-per-cent share of the company. At this point, he is weighing his options and waiting to see who comes forward to make a bid.

Woodbridge Company Ltd., the investment arm of the Thomson family, joined Rogers Communications in ruling itself out of an interest in MLSE. (The Thomson family, through Woodbridge, also owns The Globe and Mail). But Canada's richest family still has an interest in an NHL team.

The Thomsons have a long-standing involvement with hockey, as the late Ken Thomson was a close friend of a former Leafs owner, the late Steve Stavro, and was once an investor in MLSE. Ken's son David is one of the owners of True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, touted as the likely home for the Phoenix Coyotes if the municipal bond deal in Glendale that would keep the team in Arizona falls through.

Multiple sources say there is much movement behind the scenes involving the Coyotes and the Atlanta Thrashers, the team considered most likely to be bought by True North if it cannot land the Coyotes. But no one was willing to predict how the Glendale bond sale is going. Sources connected to the deal said they are "cautiously optimistic" the bonds will be sold.

Matthew Hulsizer, the Chicago businessman who wants to buy the Coyotes for $170-million (all currency U.S.) from the NHL with financing from the bond sale, is working with Glendale officials and the NHL to get the bonds to market.

The obstacle to the bond issue continues to be the Goldwater Institute, a privately funded watchdog group, which claims the bond sale, which will produce a $100-million up-front payment to Hulsizer in exchange for parking rights around the Coyotes arena and other considerations, violates state laws banning excessive public subsidies of private enterprises. Both Goldwater and Glendale have threatened to sue each other but neither has followed through.

Goldwater's public campaign is putting a chill on the sale of the bonds. While the NHL believes it has identified potential buyers of the bonds, at this point the interest rate demanded by the bond market is too high to make the deal feasible for Glendale. If the market cannot be reassured enough to lower the interest rate in order to make a sale possible then the NHL will have to consider selling the team to True North. Sources on all sides agree that decision must be made soon.

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