The Coyote Conundrum

With the current NHL season wrapping up and the Phoenix Coyotes looking to hold fast to some playoff hopes this season, it’s probably time once again to return to the Glendale drama.

The fate of the Coyotes is far from a certain thing with regard to where the team will end up at the start of next season.

For one thing, Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs and city manager Ed Beasley are on the way out. Scruggs and Beasley were part of the decision-making process to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix to begin with, so they leave behind a nearly $1 billion debt for the city – part of that thanks to decisions to build an arena for the ‘Yotes and the $50 million required to help keep the club “sustainable.”

Ice Edge Holdings LLC is back in the picture, too, although not to bid on or make moves on the Coyotes. The group that once tried to snag the franchise is attempting to manage the Arena in suburban Glendale. They also want to bring in a minor league hockey club should the Coyotes bolt for apparently greener pastures this summer.

The group, now known as Lakehead Yale Sports Holdings LLC, says that it wants to sign a long-term agreement to manage the arena and wants to bump up the event schedule if the Coyotes leave. The group contacted the departing Scruggs at the beginning of March after she suggested Glendale needed a “Plan B” if the NHL franchise finally left.

From this situation, it seems that the players from the first few rounds of Glendale drama are out and it seems that the city is essentially preparing to lose the team.

Right now, the facts are sparse. We know that there still are groups interested in keeping the team in Arizona. And we know that there are groups interested in buying the team and moving it to one of the many rumoured locales, including but obviously not limited to Quebec City, Seattle and even Saskatoon. We also know that the NHL is still operating the team and, for most intents and purposes at least, wants the ‘Yotes to stay in Arizona – if for nothing else but pride. Glendale is paying the league $25 million per season to keep the club in the city and needs to fill that arena, which is why Lakehead’s deal could/should start to look like a passable “Plan B.”

According to some reports, there are at least three groups working to keep the team in Glendale. They include a group involving former San Jose Sharks chief executive Greg Jamison and another group that still includes former Arizona lawmaker John Kaites and Chicago sports magnate Jerry Reinsdorf.

Back in February, it was expected that Jamison’s group was close to a deal. But it’s nearly April now and nothing substantial has materialized on that front. Some sources have said that Jamison’s group wants to buy the Arena from Glendale, too, which could add some hitches to the deal.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, some have gone so far as to “confirm” that the Nordiques would be returning. Indeed, money has been set aside for Pepsi Coliseum renovations and a new arena built from the city coffers is in the works. For many, this is seen as preparation for the eventual arrival of a National Hockey League franchise – presumably from the desert.

In Seattle, Christopher Hansen, a hedge fund manager, has his own arena plan with the city. This plan is predicated on the notion of an NBA team first, however, and requires a better facility than the Key Arena. It could be a long shot.

There are, of course, potential surprise options as well. As of right now, nothing is certain. The team could stay in Glendale and continue to force both the league and the city to pay bills they don’t want to pay. Or they could move to Quebec. Or Mars. Or your backyard. This summer, it seems like anything could happen.

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