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Coyotes, fans howl with joy

Team has 'a chance' now that Glendale has OK'd lease

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Jobing.com Arena, likely the home of the Phoenix Coyotes for  the next five years.

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Jobing.com Arena, likely the home of the Phoenix Coyotes for the next five years.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes have spent the past four years living with the financial restraints of being run by the NHL, making the best of the limited resources before them.

After Tuesday night's Glendale City Council vote in favour of an arena lease agreement with a prospective team owner, the Coyotes will finally be on even financial footing with the rest of the league.

"The only way you can win long-term is to have a strong ownership," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "Now that we have an ownership in place, it gives us a chance, gives us a little more of a chance to show that we know what we're doing."

The Coyotes had been searching for an owner since Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy in 2009. After numerous false starts with potential owners and constant rumours of relocation, the Coyotes found a perfect suitor in Renaissance Sports and Entertainment.

RSE, headed by George Gosbee, Anthony LeBlanc and Daryl Jones, reached an agreement to buy the team in May, a deal contingent upon reaching a lease agreement for Jobing.com Arena with the city of Glendale.

After a month of contentious negotiations that went through dramatic fluctuations over the final week, the lease agreement went to a vote Tuesday night with the outcome still very much in doubt.

Hundreds of Coyotes fans and Glendale residents packed the council chambers and an overflow crowd sat downstairs in the employee lounge watching on closed-circuit TV.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly attended the meeting, receiving a rare standing ovation as they entered the chambers. Coyotes COO Mike Nealy, Maloney and player Derek Morris also were there.

After some tense debate and a few concessions on both sides, the 15-year, $225-million lease agreement was approved by a vote of 4-3, setting off an enthusiastic round of thumbs-ups from the crowd in the chambers -- Mayor Jerry Weiers said clapping and cheering was not allowed -- and a huge sigh of relief from the Coyotes, their prospective new owners and their fans.

RSE has until Aug. 5 to complete its arena deal and purchase the team, which would be renamed the Arizona Coyotes sometime after next season, from the NHL.

"There have been ups and downs over the four years and the last four days, but we have stuck with it because we believe in hockey in this area," Leblanc said.

The NHL believed in Phoenix, too.

The league has fought to keep the Coyotes in the Valley of Sun, even joining in a court fight to keep the team from being moved to Hamilton, Ontario, after Moyes took it into bankruptcy.

Numerous potential owners have come forward over the years and the NHL consistently said it preferred to keep the Coyotes in Arizona.

As RSE and Glendale sparred over the details of the lease agreement, often publicly, the NHL gave them a firm date for a resolution. Bettman said last week that if the lease deal failed, the team probably would not play in Arizona anymore and the speculation was that the team would quickly be relocated to Seattle.

RSE made numerous financial concessions from the original draft of the lease agreement and made what appeared to be a vote-swinging move by partnering with Global Spectrum, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers, to manage Jobing.com Arena.

The Glendale council backed off demands for an out clause after five years when RSE said it was a deal killer, then voted in favour of the lease agreement, all but ensuring the Coyotes will stay in town.

The future, now with an owner ready to take over, looks much brighter than it had.

Over the past four years, the Coyotes have played under the constraints that come with being run by the NHL, forced to scrape by on a limited budget.

Maloney did well with what he had, building a team with undervalued players who fit coach Dave Tippett's defence-minded system.

Phoenix reached the playoffs the first three years without an owner, including the franchise's first NHL division title and trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2011-12. The instability at the top finally caught up to the Coyotes on the ice this past season, when they got off to a slow start once the lockout ended and never made a big push, finishing four points out of the West's final playoff spot.

 

--The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2013 D4

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