CHICAGO - If you think the NHL is not currently greasing the skids to move the Phoenix Coyotes, you’re kidding yourself. Yes, the league would prefer to keep the team in Glendale for reasons that almost nobody can fathom, but the behind-the-scenes work that could see the Coyotes move is furious at the moment.
When commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly met the media at the league’s state of the union address prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, they acknowledged that the team they’ve been working so hard and spent so many millions of dollars in legal fees to keep in the desert might be gone as early as this summer.
Bettman acknowledged “time is getting short,” for potential Coyotes owners George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc to strike a deal with the City of Glendale to operate the Jobing.com Arena and Daly said the Coyotes’ uncertain status, “means that it’s possible that the team won’t play there next year. I think the puck is pretty well in the City of Glendale’s end with respect to how they want to deal with that.”
So unless Gosbee & Co., come up with a deal that will pay them somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million a year from a city that is deeply in debt, the Coyotes will move in time for the 2013-14 season. (As an aside, a person who has been closely monitoring the Phoenix situation says the Gosbee group has raised just $40 million for the purchase and is financing the rest.)
So now the focus is on the landing spot. And unfortunately for the good people of Quebec City, the tea leaves aren’t saying the Coyotes will land in La Belle Province. If the Coyotes move, speculation is they will relocate to Seattle for a variety of reasons.
Moving to Seattle would keep the Coyotes in the west and maintain the integrity of realignment. It would also give the NHL an opportunity to get a foothold in the new $490 million arena that is going to be built in Seattle before the National Basketball Association moves in. There was speculation the Sacramento Kings would move to Seattle, but that possibility was quashed when the team was recently sold and the league’s board of governors rejected a move.
Here’s how things could work. The Gosbee group will buy the team for an announced price of $170 million. That’s the easy part. Then comes the deal with the City of Glendale and whether or not it is willing to spend money it doesn’t have to keep the team there or risk leaving the Jobing.com Arena without a major tenant. Speculation is that if Gosbee’s group cannot come up with a suitable deal to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, Seattle then becomes a viable option. The team would play out of the antiquated Key Arena in Seattle until the new arena is built. It would not be the ideal situation, but it’s the best option at the moment.
According to a source, there are a couple of kinks in that plan. The first is, Key Arena has taken out its ice-making equipment and cemented over the chilling system in the floor. That would leave the Tacoma Dome, which is about 30 miles south of Seattle, as a possibility. The other is that Chris Hansen, the San Francisco-based hedge fund manager who is building the new arena, is not a hockey fan, but would be amenable to having the hockey team as a second tenant in the building after a basketball team.
Also lurking in the background is a group led by Chicago-based investor Matthew Hulsizer and former Tampa Bay Lightning co-owner Oren Koules. That group has basically let the NHL know what it is willing to pay for the Coyotes and the kind of deal it needs to try to keep the team there. Basically, the Hulsizer group is committed to putting resources into the Coyotes to help them succeed, but wants the option to move the team if the losses become too great, without having to pay an exorbitant relocation fee to do it. The NHL has been trying to get a better deal, but the Hulsizer offer remains on the table. So it’s quite possible Hulsizer will be a player in all of this by the time the team is sold.
Basically, the NHL has interest in the Coyotes, but it comes in the form of groups that want to buy the team for cheap, get a sweetheart deal from the City of Glendale and have the option to move in five years if losses pile up. Even with a $15 million subsidy and the ability to operate the arena, the Coyotes remain a losing proposition.
So it seems inevitable the team will move, doesn’t it? And don’t be the least bit surprised if the Seattle Coyotes are skating to a sold out Key Arena next fall.
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. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.