One upside of the lockout for the NHL is that it has given the league more time to deal with the mess that continues to be the Phoenix Coyotes. Whether the deal to sell the ward of the state to Greg Jamison is dead or has simply hit another in a long line of obstacles is open to conjecture, but it’s clear the future of the Coyotes is nowhere close to assured.
This much we know: that Horatio Skeete, the acting city manager for the City of Glendale, told councillors there in an in-camera meeting earlier this month the deal was to have been completed by Thursday and it was not.
That news is coming amid claims by one industry source the deal is, in fact, dead and Jamison has not been able to raise the money to purchase the team from the NHL. It was reported in early August Jamison, the former CEO of the San Jose Sharks, had come up with the final $20 million he needed to fund the $170 million purchase of the team from the NHL. (According to our source, Jamison had to come up with $70 million toward the purchase price.)
Nothing has been heard since then and if Jamison were to have all his financial affairs in order to purchase the team, wouldn’t things have moved forward in the almost two months since then? The only thing that has really happened since then is captain Shane Doan signing a four-year, $21.2-million contract, but that was more necessitated by the impending lockout than it was a reflection of the status of the Coyotes. To this point, neither a deal has been reached between Jamison and the City of Glendale to restructure the team’s lease with the Jobing.com Arena nor has Jamison purchased the team from the NHL, which has been operating it since 2009.
One member of the NHL’s board of governors reached by THN.com said he hasn’t heard anything one way or another on the status of the Coyotes purchase, but said he doubts the deal with Glendale will ever get done.
“I just can’t imagine any city would enter into that kind of agreement, would it?” he said. “That might be me just sitting here saying, ‘Does that make any sense?’ But usually when you ask whether it makes sense, it doesn’t make any sense.”
With the City of Glendale apparently unwilling to give the Coyotes any more short-term lifelines, the fate of the team is uncertain. If the season is truncated because of the lockout, perhaps the league might be willing to operate for one more year in the desert because the losses will be less than they would be for an entire season. According to a source, the prospect of suspending the franchise until it can be sold and moved is a possibility.
The problem for the NHL is it doesn’t have another Winnipeg – a city with an appetite for NHL hockey with an NHL-ready building waiting to be used – at the moment. Last summer, when the Atlanta Thrashers imploded, the league was able to move the team relatively quickly because everything was already in place in Winnipeg. Other candidates to take a team – namely Seattle, Quebec City and Toronto – do not have their buildings in place yet.
The more you speak to the NHL’s rank-and-file, the more you get the impression the league is trying to crush the players in these negotiations. That’s probably already evident in the league’s behavior so far in these talks, but it is disturbing.
I was speaking with an NHL veteran recently, a player who went through the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. When asked whether the players would have the resolve to sit out another season, he said a year ago he would have thought that wouldn’t be the case.
“But Gary (NHL commissioner Bettman) makes it really easy for us to come together,” the player said. “If this was a nice guy who came across as a guy just trying to make a deal to protect the owners, that would be one thing. But it’s the arrogance that makes us stronger. Gary’s arrogance scares me. Guys I’ve talked to are willing to go the whole year.”
An agent relayed a conversation one of his clients had with his team’s owner that stunned the player. “This owner said, ‘This is billionaires against millionaires,’ ” the agent said. “ ‘I’m the billionaire and I’m going to win.’ ”
It would be far more comforting to hockey fans if there were a desire to get a deal that is fair to everyone. But the league appears to have one goal in mind and that’s to win. Those kinds of deals help nobody in the long term, because all they do is provide the aggrieved side with the feeling it must do the same the next time around.
Never been happier to see Sept. 28 come and go. Finally, we’ve reached the 40th anniversary of Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series. So, presumably, that means by Saturday we can all get on with our lives without the marathon of sappy tributes to the most overrated event in the history of the game.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.