Anthony LeBlanc (left) and Gary Bettman (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Arizona Coyotes co-owner Anthony LeBlanc has made it clear the team will fight to keep its place in the desert. After Glendale council voted to terminate its agreement with the Coyotes, LeBlanc said the team negotiated the deal in good faith and intends to live by it.
CHICAGO – Arizona Coyotes co-owner Anthony LeBlanc thinks I think he’s nuts for fighting to keep the Coyotes in the desert. For the record, I don’t think Anthony LeBlanc is nuts. I admire him for his determination and his willingness to stand up for what he thinks is right.
But like so many other people, I’m absolutely flummoxed at why LeBlanc, and the NHL for that matter, seems so insistent on fighting for a hockey market that has bled millions of dollars and one now, where even the local government has made it clear it no longer wants you around. Both the NHL and LeBlanc have fought the good fight and both can now leave the desert – at least this part of the desert – with a completely clear conscience.
But they continue to fight. Sometimes your trusty correspondent wonders if those who are battling even remember what it is they’re trying to achieve by winning the fight.
“Everyone talks about our out clause,” LeBlanc said in a conference call Thursday afternoon, the day after Glendale council voted 5-2 to cancel the 15-year lease agreement with the Coyotes for the Gila River Arena less than two years into the deal. “Well, we have an out right now and we’re going the other way.” LeBlanc went on to say the Coyotes are trending upward and, “we believe in this market. We’re trending in the right direction.”
LeBlanc pointed to one of the teams in the Stanley Cup final, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and how it wasn’t long ago that the Lightning was in disarray. But that was before billionaire Jeff Vinik came along with his very, very, very deep pockets. And when Vinik purchased the Lightning, there was no out clause. He was there for the long haul. And if reports are true, Vinik has a lot more money at his disposal than Coyotes majority owner Anthony Barroway.
What makes the situation such a head scratcher for many is that it seems inevitable to everyone but Anthony LeBlanc that the Coyotes will ultimately move out of Arizona anyway. But LeBlanc valiantly soldiers on, talking about how season ticket renewals were up five percent until this happened, how when you include the sales tax revenues, Glendale was “buffering up against $10 million,” as a return from this season on the $15 million a year it gives to the Coyotes.
LeBlanc talked about the city of Glendale showing “political gamesmanship,” and how it is trying to exploit a technicality. And that technicality revolves around Coyotes general counsel Craig Tindall, who was terminated as the city’s attorney general before being hired by the Coyotes in 2013. Glendale is citing a conflict of interest, which is something of a stretch. LeBlanc pointed out that Tindall’s hiring did not violate the spirit of the law and that Glendale is trying to use a loophole to either renegotiate or get out of its agreement with the Coyotes. And he’s right. City council realizes it got hosed in the last deal and is looking for a way to improve it. And if it needs to exploit a loophole to do that, well, let’s just say that’s probably the first play in the playbook.
But that just demonstrates how badly Glendale wants to restructure this deal. And if that’s the case, it gives the Coyotes an opportunity to make a clean break. If they’re going to move in three years anyway, why not just get it done now?
Well, first of all there’s no safety net. Nobody knows where the Coyotes will end up, but Las Vegas is as good a bet as any. The only problem with Las Vegas is the new arena is not due to be finished until early 2016. Could that construction be expedited given the circumstances? If the Coyotes were to move there next season, would they be able to play the first couple of months on the road until the building is completed?
It’s interesting that, along with filing for damages, the Coyotes have applied for a temporary restraining order. If it succeeds, the Coyotes would have a home for the time being, perhaps for one more season. Then with a new arena, billionaire William Foley could step in and move the team there.
Yes, the league wants to preserve its ability to collect $500 million in expansion fees. But could it not just charge $500 million in relocation fees instead? In fact, would an established franchise with a load of good, young prospects not be worth more than having to start a team from scratch?
There are a lot of moving parts here and nobody really knows at the moment where all this is going. But one thing we know is there are people who are willing to keep fighting for a team that really doesn’t seem worth all the headaches.