NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The city of Glendale, Ariz., narrowly voted in favor of dissolving the municipality's arena lease agreement with the NHL's Coyotes and Gila River Arena, leading to harsh reactions from Yotes ownership and league commissioner Gary Bettman – and once again putting the franchise's future in Arizona in jeopardy.
A day after the city of Glendale, Ariz., angered the owners of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes with the announcement it would be exploring the possibility of voiding the team's lease agreement with Gila River Arena, the municipality voted to do just that. And the decision – made by city councillors late Wednesday evening in a 5-2 public vote – has once again put the franchise back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and renewed speculation it may relocate.
The team's response to the decision was immediate and dismayed.
"We are disappointed with the city's decision to violate its obligations under the agreement that was entered into and duly approved only two years ago," Coyotes co-owner, president and C.E.O. Anthony LeBlanc said in a statement. "We will exhaust any and all legal remedies against the city of Glendale for this blatant violation of its contractual obligations to us."
The Coyotes signed a 15-year, $225-million arena lease with Glendale in 2013, but the vote narrowly passed a city council vote at that time, and changes have since taken place to the composition of the council. Members who voted to dissolve the agreement cited an Arizona statute permitting a government agency to cancel a contract if an employee directly connected to the agreement becomes an employee or agent to the other party, and in this case, former city attorney Craig Tindall was hired as the Coyotes' general counsel in 2013. And while the municipality issued a statement prior to Wednesday's vote that it was open to renegotiating the lease in the wake of the cancellation of the deal, the Coyotes made it clear they had no intention of agreeing to such a resolution.
Asked about the news on Hockey Night In Canada's broadcast of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also spoke out harshly against the developments in Arizona, telling Sportsnet's Scott Oake, "I'm actually really not concerned about the Coyotes; if I lived in Glendale, I'd be concerned about my government, because all this is about is an attempt to renegotiate a lease that was negotiated in good faith and validly adopted by the city council in Glendale less than two years ago.
"If this is how Glendale does business, I think they're going to have far more problems than dealing with the Coyotes."
Should the Coyotes and Glendale officials fail to come to terms on a new long-term lease deal in the coming weeks and months – either via respectful negotiation or after a protracted legal battle – the central question in the minds of many hockey insiders is where the franchise winds up. There are a few prominent suitors making no bones about their willingness to welcome an NHL team to their city, with the most prominent being focused on situating a franchise in Quebec City, Las Vegas, Seattle, and, a little further behind the pack, Southern Ontario. Quebec City and Las Vegas have or will soon have a world-class hockey facility that can host a big-league team, but Bettman has made it clear the league looks at factors other than arenas when deciding which markets are properly prepared to enter into a partnership with the NHL.
Regardless of the particulars, the optics of the Coyotes being dragged back into financial limbo is exhausting to just about everyone involved, from veteran players such as Shane Doan to innocent bystanders such as team officials and employees, not to mention the organization's fans, media and Bettman himself. And in a political environment where the public is increasingly unwilling to hand out tax dollars to professional sports franchises, the Coyotes may not have a white-knight savior capable of keeping them in town for very much longer.