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?
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.