SBD/Issue 124/Franchises

Bettman Says Coyotes Sale To Ice Edge Is Still Work In Progress

Bettman Still Hopes, Expects There To Be
New Ownership For Coyotes In Phoenix

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday said the sale of the Coyotes to Ice Edge Holdings is "still a work in progress." Bettman: "We're not yet at a point where I have to declare a hard and fast deadline. Our hope and our expectation is there'll be new ownership in Phoenix for the Coyotes." Bettman noted the NHL has given Coyotes GM Don Maloney a budget, and league officials are "not micromanaging what goes on there day-to-day." Bettman: "The fact that they were able to increase payroll at the trading deadline actually caused some consternation among clubs. None of the other clubs have written a check to subsidize this club. It is going to be self-sufficient. The league will come out of this right-side up" ("NHL Live," NHL Network, 3/10). The Coyotes currently are in fourth place in the Western Conference, and in Toronto, Damien Cox writes the team "has an excellent shot at making the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and possibly at even winning its first playoff series for the first time since moving south from Winnipeg in 1996." But "all these good vibes aside, it sure doesn't mean the trouble is over for the NHL in Arizona," or that the Coyotes "will stay put beyond the end of this season." The team is "still hemorrhaging money, albeit down to about $20[M] this season from upwards of $35[M] last year," and a "good chunk of that is due to the departure of Wayne Gretzky, who was drawing about" $8M a season in salary. There is "still no significant season ticket base," and the last four home games drew crowds of 10,385, 12,426, 14,965 and 15,883 at 17,800-seat Arena. The absence of a deal with Ice Edge "has fuelled speculation" that the group "doesn't have the necessary financial backing," and if there is "no deal by June, the NHL will have to look at other options which will certainly include relocating the team." Cox writes it "might make sense for Ice Edge to delay a final sale as long as possible to avoid having to begin paying the bills and funding the losses," but the "happy story on the ice won't stop the Coyotes from moving after this season if Ice Edge can't close the deal and another owner fails to step forward" (TORONTO STAR, 3/11).

IS LAWSUIT WORTH IT? The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt notes the NHL is suing former Coyotes Owner Jerry Moyes "for allegedly breaking side deals in which he pledged not to take the team into bankruptcy, and not to relocate it or sell it to anyone who would." The league "probably ... will get back a tiny fraction of the dough it has frittered away buying the team out of bankruptcy and operating it at a considerable loss this season." But in the process, the "spotlight will once again be turned on the smoking crater that is hockey in Phoenix, and by extension on the other struggling remnants of the U.S. Sunbelt strategy." Brunt: "Everyone will be reminded once again that while Moyes was not the shrewdest operator in the world, he did blow a considerable amount of his personal fortune on a hopeless cause and was about to be thrown under the bus by his partners before fleeing for the sanctuary of the courts" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/11).

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