Sunday, May 9, 2010

Making Sense of This Nonsense

A lot can happen in a week.

On Monday night, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the media in Chicago prior to the Hawks game with the Canucks. Most important nugget to Arizona hockey fans? A quote from his holiness that a deal to sell the Phoenix Coyotes to a group headed by Jerry Reinsdorf would be beneficial to the franchise and the league.

"It will be great for this league and that franchise if Jerry is able, with his partners, to consummate that transaction," Bettman said Monday night before Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Vancouver Canucks and Blackhawks.

And we all lived happily ever after. Right?

Not quite.

Like many sound bites, it faded quickly. The seemingly never ending ownership saga took some new and quite unexpected turns in the past 72 hours. First we heard from the well connected Darren Dreger that Ice Edge, the enthusiastic group of young businessmen, had gotten a call from the City of Glendale inviting them back to the dance. And then we learned that the NHL had asked (told may be more like it) Glendale to guarantee any losses the team might suffer in 2010-11 if new ownership could not be completed by the start of the league season (July 1st).

So what to make of all of this?

Well, we’ve done a little digging and will try to add some context to what is going on.

The NHL is running out of patience with the City of Glendale. The league is facing a June 30th deadline on which they will void the Jobing.Com Arena lease and send it back the Moyes estate if new owners are in place. They are also in the process of drawing the 2010-11 schedule and need to start firming up where this team will be playing next year. Typically the schedule is completed by the first week of July.

The NHL has been extremely patient with Glendale, the bidders and the process but now they are bringing the issue to a head. They have asked the City to guarantee any losses the team has if new owners are not in place by July 1. In effect, they will commit the team here for at least another year but they will not fund the losses.

The message to Glendale is clear – agree to fund the losses if they can’t make a deal with an owner or get a deal done with a buyer the league will approve. And fast. Even though both groups have been vetted by the NHL, there’s still a little matter of finalizing financing and getting the other team owners to approve the sale. Nothing is certain until the Board of Governors approves the transaction.

Let's clarify one important point. The league’s objective is not to have Glendale become the owner or the bankroll the team for an entire season. No one expects a government entity to cover the teams losses from city funds. Even in good times, that dog doesn’t hunt. What the league does want is assurances that Glendale won’t drag this dance on and the best way to do that is to apply significant economic pressure on the city.

And Glendale seems to have gotten the message. The proposal the Council will vote on funds any losses from the special district that will accompany the sale of the team. It’s the same mechanism that will generate more income from ticket surcharges, parking fees and some incremental taxes on the Westgate development to help new owners. And I’m guessing that the City fathers and mothers have already worked out what this means behind closed doors.

Now, about those new owners. At some point, the Team Reinsdorf and/or someone at the City of Glendale realized that the sweetheart deal cut to save the team might be very difficult to pull off. I don’t know who got cool feet first but it’s clear that someone flinched enough that the City decided to call Ice Edge and see if they had made other prom plans. Right now no one is confirming or denying the Reinsdorf deal is officially off but it’s seems shaky enough that Elaine Scruggs and Ed Beasley will likely be getting their ring back this week.

This of course, now brings Ice Edge back into the picture. For those of us who have communicated with the Ice Edge group formally or informally and the many Coyotes fans who have hung on every word of this soap opera, that’s good news. The perception is that these are good guys, they love hockey and as I have told you on several occasions, they have money. These are not the Little Sisters of the Poor trying to buy a hockey team.

And to Ice Edge’s credit, they are also applying some pretty big pressure to Glendale. You want a deal? Then we want to be your exclusive dance partner. When someone jilts you, paybacks can be a bear. Sometime in the next day or two (or perhaps already) it appears they will be getting an exclusive agreement that effectively means the Reinsdorf bid is off the table. And all of Glendale’s chips will now be squarely on their shoulders.

While the Reinsdorf brand may have the bigger reputation and the unabashed support of the Commissioner, I’m an Ice Edge guy. I just think these guys have the energy, acumen and enthusiasm to pull it off. They want to make money but they don’t seem to be in it just for the money. I like their style.

The drama resume on Tuesday. The Glendale Council will vote on the short term proposal to mollify the NHL. Once that proposal is passed, the negotiations with Ice Edge and the NHL will likely be at warp speed.

And if all this fails, we’ll all have a lot to talk about on Wednesday. Much of which won’t be good.

On a separate note I want to thank all of you who have called, written tweeted or texted me supporting the Western Hockey Exchange. I haven’t been able to write as much as I would like lately but I’ll try to stay on top of things in the next few days.


  1. I hope and pray you are right.

  2. This says it all:

    “This is absolutely crazy,” council member Phil Lieberman said Sunday. “I will do everything I can to point that out on Tuesday.”

  3. I'm kind of torn on this whole issue. I'm a Winnipegger, and like most people in this city, I'm still hurting from the loss of the Jets 14 years ago. I was a teenager when that happened, and I'd grown up with the Jets. The fact that the Jets were leaving was hard enough, but it seemed like the NHL was adding insult to injury by moving them from a city obsessed with hockey to some place in the middle of the desert with no hockey tradition that didn't even have natural outdoor ice.

    Naturally, I've been following this Coyotes ownership ordeal as closely as possible, with the faint hope that, one day, Winnipeg will have justice and a horrible crime that happened in the 90s will finally be righted.

    HOWEVER, I'm sure there are legitimate hockey fans in Phoenix, and I sympathize with them. We went through this, and it was devastating. Despite the rampant reports that no one gives a shit about hockey in Phoenix and that the "sell-out" games are mainly due to free ticket's clear, from reading online, that there are a lot of loyal Coyotes fans.

    It sucks to see someone else have to go through what we went through, and I feel for the Coyotes fans, but -- no offense, Coyotes fans -- I'm hoping the Ice Edge deal falls through and the Jets come back home.

    You've probably all heard the arguments for why hockey "doesn't work" in the southern US before, but this is the main reason why I believe it's always going to struggle down there: kids don't play it organically.

    I mean, I'm sure there are kids in Phoenix playing for hockey teams, and I'm sure the arrival of the Jets 14 years ago did a lot to promote the sport among young people, but it's not the same.

    I was a completely average hockey player as a kid, not some dedicated pro, but I still went EVERY DAY of the winter, even in -35 degree weather, to the local community centre's OUTDOOR rink. And it was PACKED with other kids. Every day. We are obsessed. I found a website a few months ago that keeps a database of where players are from, by state/province. You look up Manitoba, there are hundreds and hundreds, including some all-time hockey legends and even current stars (like Jonathan Toews). You look up Arizona and there's ONE guy, who played ONE season, back in the early 80s.

    That's pretty sad, but not surprising. Phoenix is a hot place. Winnipeg is frigid. We play hockey because there aren't a lot of options in a place that has winters that (can, and have) run well into April. Outdoor summer sports like baseball, football and basketball are reasonably popular here, but they've never caught on in a huge way because our climate is totally wrong for them.

    ...but our climate is PERFECT for hockey. I have a baby daughter who is just learning to walk. I'm hoping by this winter, I'll be able to get her out on the ice. We already have skates for her, and that's not unusual for parents here. I doubt that's common in Phoenix, because when it comes to sports, hockey is third or fourth on the popularity list.

    That's not a bad thing, and, again, I really feel for the genuine hockey fans down there. It's NOT fair that your team might be taken from you, just like it wasn't fair that our team was taken from us, but if the Jets do return to Winnipeg, please believe me that they'll be going to a very, very good home, where they'll be loved forever.

    Hell, we haven't had a team in over a decade, and Winnipeg Jets caps, jerseys, t-shirts, etc. are STILL huge sellers for a lot of stores. We're obsessed.

  4. So the NHL (a club of millionaires) shouldn't be expected to pick up the losses of a team that they purchased but expects the COG to do so.

  5. I just read the post from the chap from Winnipeg. He is a well spoken young individual (teeanager when the Jets left in 96). He sympathisizes with the true hockey fans down in Phoenix. Likely most of which are transplanted Canadians. While I agree with him, there are some bulging items that need to be made clear. The first one is the new arena in Glendale. The NHL and Bettman are so proud of that facility that they were willing to lose over 20 million for the league to keep them there. Another blunder for this franchise that Bettman made. What kind of sense does this make when the last 14 years prior to this last season showed absolutley no reason to think that there is a snowballs chance in Arizona to make it financially.

    Then there is the Gretzky saga. Let me say this, it was absolutley repulsive the way that the Great One was treated there. Up here he would be carried from place to place like an Arabic King.

    And finally, the Jets belong in Winnipeg. Maybe Selanne will play one more season and come back to where he set the Rookie record for goals scored in a Rookie Season with 76. Did any of you in Arizona know there have only been 8 players to score 70 or more in a season? I didn't think so. I bet most Canadians could.

  6. Selanne returning would be amazing. I remember how much excitement there was when the Jets signed him, and how he would go out of his way to interact with the fans, going as far as playing street hockey with the local kids.

    The arena in Phoenix is ridiculous. It's unfortunate that the city of Glendale is potentially going to lose its hockey team and have this brand-new, multi-million dollar arena sitting vacant...but I don't have much sympathy, because it was a stupid idea. "If you build it, they will come" doesn't exactly work in a city where no one cares about hockey in the first place.

    I think the only reason this farce has gone on as long as it has is because Bettman stubbornly refuses to admit that his southern expansion was a horrible idea. I understand WHY he did it, but now, a decade and a half later, it's a failure. Bettman just needs to acknowledge that, move the ailing southern teams back to Canada (and the northern US) where there are built-in hockey-mad fanbases, and carry on.

    The common theory up here seems to be that Bettman hates Canada and will never bring NHL teams back here if he can avoid it. I don't necessarily agree. I think deep down, Bettman KNOWS Canadians are the obvious market for the NHL, but he has invested so much time and money into his US expansion that he won't embarrass himself by admitting it.

    ...and Gretzky, yeah. He would have had people fanning him and feeding him individual grapes up here.