As expected, the Glendale City Council agreed to pay the NHL an additional $25 million that would keep the Coyotes in Arizona for another season. The vote, 5-2, was agreed upon late Tuesday night. The city paid the NHL $25 million last week for operating expenses for the league-owned team for last season.
With the Coyotes safe for another season, the NHL can continue to work out a deal with prospective buyer Matthew Hulsizer. It could also search for another owner as the deal with Hulsizer has been complicated and been met with some resistance from a local watchdog group concerned with the use of taxpayer money.
The vote could prove to be more than a one-year fix despite the on-going ownership issue. Included by the vote was a provision that the NHL has the right to renew the agreement annually for 10 years. That could mean up to $250 million to the league to cover the losses incurred by the franchise.
Phoenix has long had the eye of True North Sports and Entertainment, a Winnipeg group interested in purchasing the franchise and relocating it to Manitoba.
The news is not good for the Thrashers as True North is likely to move its efforts to obtain a team to Atlanta.
“We are continuing to seek solutions for the Thrashers,” Thrashers co-owner Bruce Levenson told the AJC Wednesday. “I will not comment on any speculation.”
The Atlanta Spirit has been trying to sell the Thrashers in earnest for several years. Co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in February, and again last week, that there is a “sense of urgency” to find a buyer and/or investor to keep the team here. If one can not be found, relocation is possible. With Winnipeg ready to pay $170 million, $60 million which would go to the NHL as a relocation fee, the door is open.
I was told this week that such a deal “could move quickly.”
I know this is not good news for Thrashers fans. The fact is there is a possibility Atlanta could lose an NHL franchise for the second time. A move may not come in time for next year. It may not come at all. The search does continue for a local buyer with at least two groups expressing interest in keeping the team here. However talks have not moved past the preliminary stage. Perhaps Tuesday’s news out of Arizona will speed up the process.
I expect a lot more will be known in the next 7-10 days.
Colleague Tim Tucker and I continue to report this story and will bring you any news as there are developments.