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Coyotes are staying put

Glendale votes 5-2 to cover team losses for another year

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IF Phoenix Coyotes hockey was as popular as City of Glendale (Ariz.) council meetings, there would be no money worries for the troubled NHL franchise.

While millions of Canadians tuned in to Stanley Cup playoff hockey Tuesday night, there was also a crowd with its eyes on the soap operatic ways of Glendale's councillors as they pondered weighty issues such as liquor licenses and the plight of the Coyotes.

Glendale city council was faced with a vote on the issue of supplying the NHL with another US$25 million to cover Coyotes losses for the 2011-12 season.

The seven member council voted 5-2 in favour of the resolution in an attempt to buy itself another year on the clock in its quest for a franchise buyer that will keep the team in Glendale.

Thousands took part in a Winnipeg Free Press live blog and thousands more tuned in to the council session's live video feed. If only NHL commissioner Gary Bettman could have collected pay-per-view receipts.

The NHL purchased the Coyotes out of bankruptcy in 2009 and has since owned and operated the team.

A new buyer has been sought for the last 24 months. The only true cash offer for the team in that time has come from True North Sports and Entertainment. True North made the offer last spring with the intention of moving the team to Winnipeg.

The deal has never been taken off the table, with Bettman keeping it handy should Glendale representatives decide they've had enough and give up their fight for the Coyotes.

The league's deal with Glendale gave it the option to sell the team for relocation if a buyer was not found by Dec. 31, 2010.

But Bettman has not sold the team saying he believes a deal in Glendale can be reached. A failed vote Tuesday night would likely give Bettman the impetus to cut ties with Glendale, thus the interest from Winnipeggers. The league is not willing to continue covering expenses while a buyer willing to stay in Arizona is sought and charged Glendale with meeting that burden.

Bettman took a pass on the proceedings but sent his deputy Bill Daly, who was joined by Coyotes GM Don Maloney and a handful of other hockey executives. Prospective buyer Matthew Hulsizer was not present. Hulsizer has offered to put up $70 million of the NHL's $170 million asking price if Glendale would come up with the other $100 million.

This arrangement was deemed illegal by taxpayer watchdog The Goldwater Institute and its threat of a lawsuit stalled the sale.

Goldwater lawyer Nick Dranias spoke at the meeting telling council it was violating the state's constitutional gift clause which prohibits government from subsidizing business.

It's unknown if Hulsizer is still interested in purchasing the Coyotes due to conflicting reports regarding his status. The council chamber was filled with Coyotes fans in jerseys and the mood ran hot with one speaker telling council another attendee spit on him as a result of differing views.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

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