Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Coyotes deal looking shaky

NHL running out of reasons to keep franchise in desert

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TORONTO -- Bonds are failing. Lawsuits are pending. The media is in a froth. Denials are being issued. Tweeters are tweeting.

Confused? Hopeful? Frustrated? Mistrustful? That should cover it all. But don't worry -- there will be new emotions coming down the pipe as the absurdity in Phoenix continues and Winnipeg hockey fans stay glued to the action -- or come unglued. Right now it's hard to say.

The only thing certain about the Phoenix Coyotes is they have a game Tuesday in San Jose against the Sharks. Anything else you hear or read -- take a deep breath and hold your nose because there's as much chance of it being a piece of something stinky as the truth.

The NHL owns the Coyotes and it is trying to facilitate a sale of the team to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer for US$170 million. Hulsizer either can't or won't spend that much money on the Coyotes so he's worked out a deal with the City of Glendale that will see the Phoenix suburb of 250,000 people front him $100 million for the purchase plus kick in another $97 million for future operating losses.

It's reminiscent of a deal written up on a cocktail napkin and soaked in tequila. Keep it away from the matches for fear it bursts into flame.

Glendale plans to sell $125 million in bonds and then hand a quick $100 million to Hulsizer. The city will then recoup its money by charging for parking at Coyotes games. Laughable? To everyone on the planet it seems but the folks in Glendale who cooked up this schemozzle.

The U.S. municipal bond market is testy at the moment and Glendale -- to this point -- has been unable to sell its bonds to institutional buyers. If that fails, as some in the Canadian media are suggesting has already happened, it will have to turn to private investors and offer much richer returns than the rumoured six per cent yield on the table right now.

Figure on Glendale needing to come up with somewhere north of $7 million a year just to cover the interest on the bond issue. Maybe more. All this from some parking stalls at Coyotes games.

Taxpayer lobbyists at the Goldwater Institute believe the deal contravenes Arizona constitutional law and are considering seeking an injunction.

On Wednesday afternoon, Toronto radio personality Bob McCown told his listeners he had information that the public bond offering had failed and Glendale would now turn to private investors.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Free Press in an email the report was "totally false."

McCown told his listeners his information came "right from the horse's mouth," and the veteran sportscaster has a solid reputation in the industry. For McCown to pop such news on the country's top-rated sports show, he had some information from a source he trusts.

Like we said, it's hard to know who or what to believe on this deal.

All the while Winnipeg waits with an arena dubbed NHL calibre by commissioner Gary Bettman and with an ownership group in True North Sports and Entertainment willing and ready to write a cheque for the Coyotes.

Nothing has changed for Winnipeg hockey fans -- the NHL remains committed to keeping the Coyotes in Arizona and has said or done nothing to suggest that will change.

But the deal the NHL has pinned its last gasp in the desert on struggles to conclude and has been on the clock since Dec. 31. Does the NHL have a deadline for putting this to bed? Of course.

Bettman is gambling $170 million of his owners' money on this deal. He needs his horse to come limping in soon or grab his cash and place it on a new pony stabled up north.

True North to be precise.

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2011 C1

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