Naylor: Is the end of the Coyotes' saga finally at hand?

Dave Naylor
3/9/2011 10:34:36 PM
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This much we know about NHL hockey in Glendale, Arizona.

The sport as a straight cash-in, cash-out business doesn't work, or at least the NHL hasn't been able to find anyone who believes it can work without a whopping subsidy from somewhere.

That reality doesn't change whether the team wins or loses, or even after it cashes a sizeable revenue-sharing cheque at the end of a season.

Hence the fact that the City of Glendale wants to pay Matthew Hulsizer $197 million to finance a $170 million purchase that would keep the team from abandoning Jobing.com Arena and thus endangering all those bars and restaurants that surround it.

All of that would have been fine had the tax payer advocacy group known as the Goldwater Group not got involved. But by suggesting the city's plan to pay Hulsizer may violate Arizona law, and by threatening to sue to back that up, the Goldwater folks have effectively put the breaks on the city's efforts to raise $116 of the money by selling municipal bonds.

All of which has put NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a very difficult spot, something he fully acknowledged Tuesday night in Glendale when he addressed the Coyotes future before a game against the visiting Vancouver Canucks.

This was Bettman as we've rarely seen him. There were no promises of a resolution, no calling out members of the media for wrongly speculating that the deal could go down in flames.

No, on this night, Bettman laid out the facts as simply as possible.

The only way the Phoenix Coyotes can be sold to Hulsizer is if the City of Glendale can sell its municipal bonds. The bonds aren't selling because of the chill put on them by the Goldwater Institute. And unless Goldwater backs down, there is grave doubt that the bonds can be sold.

Goldwater, however, isn't going away. In fact, its leaders seem more emboldened each time the NHL or the city of Glendale bemoans its tactics as obstructionist and unfair.

Which almost assuredly means that with no other way to close the sale to Hulsizer, the Phoenix Coyotes are going to need a new home, presumably Winnipeg, the city from whence they came.

So, the critical question becomes does the NHL have another card to play or is the end of this saga finally at hand?

Barring the bonds somehow being sold, there appears only one way this story can have another chapter. And that is for someone to replace the money that was supposed to be raised through those municipal bonds by writing a cheque.

But just who might that be?

Not likely the City of Glendale which only passed its plan to sell municipal bonds by 4-3 vote and which is in no position to empty its coffers of an extra $100 million dollars as a handout (which would undoubtedly become the subject of a Goldwater Institute lawsuit).

Not Matthew Hulsizer, who suggested this week he isn't willing to pay one cent more than what he agreed to pay the NHL for the team.

And presumably not the NHL, which only agreed last May to keep the team in Glendale for the 2010-11 season after the city agreed to pick up the tab for up to $25 million in losses if the team can't be sold, and whose owners have no appetite to throw good money after bad at a team will apparently lose $40 million this season alone.

That doesn't leave a whole lot of options.

Maybe Gary Bettman was just being coy Tuesday night. Maybe the NHL knew there would be difficulty selling those bonds and has been cooking up an alternative plan which Bettman will unveil when the time is right.

Maybe, maybe not.

Canadian hockey fans haven't always given Bettman the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his take on financially distressed teams in Southern markets.

But if they believe what he said Tuesday night, that there is no plan B in the works, that this is now an all-or-nothing situation resting on the sale of those bonds, then the path back to Winnipeg has never been so clear. 

Gary Bettman in Phoenix (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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