NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Coyotes still in limbo

'Out clause' could see teamed moved from Phoenix in five years

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PHOENIX -- Raise a glass. The Phoenix Coyotes will die a natural death. Like cockroaches and Keith Richards, they belong in a survival manual.

The franchise will become the Arizona Coyotes in 2014, a transition that will represent an enormous victory for the principals involved, the ones who kept the team in Glendale through a difficult process.

The entire community might even wear party hats if we could convince the new owners to make one final gesture:

Ditch the out clause that could reignite relocation fears within the next five years, one that keeps a clock hanging over this hockey team.

"I don't understand all the attention it is getting," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "The fact of the matter is, every contract has a term. And this term, for it to be invoked, requires the ownership group to lose $50 million, which I assure you they have no intention of doing."

Two of the new owners -- George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc -- also have bemoaned how the out clause has become a source of negativity spoiling an otherwise festive transaction. But they negotiated the clause. If it's such a non-factor, why was it so important to begin with?

Risky proposition

Truth is, the Coyotes must still be a risky proposition, or they would have attracted other big-money investors. Without a spike in business, it couldn't be that hard to show $50 million in losses.

Besides, smart accountants can perform magic tricks, if they really want to leave.

"Nobody's playing any games with that," Bettman said. "When you have this type of clause, you can't play accounting games. The fact of the matter is it would require them to lose a real $50 million, and as I said, they have no intention of doing that whatsoever.

"And frankly, they're not incentivized to do that. The best outcome is for the community and fans, the business community, to support the franchise and have this be the huge success we all believe it can be."

Translation: By the time the out clause can be invoked, there will already be another team in Seattle. There will be nowhere left to go.

For the moment, I choose to believe in Bettman, who deserves a round of applause and some benefit of the doubt. For many of his own reasons (legacy, television market, etc.), he fiercely guarded our interests.

That's more than David Stern has ever done for us. As a result, Bettman might have found his perfect retirement home, the rare NHL city that will actually cheer his attendance at games.

Other big winners:

Shane Doan. His decision to re-sign with the Coyotes will stand as the ultimate exhibit of Valley loyalty. A captain who won't leave a sinking ship? With Doan, clich©s really do come true. It would have been a shame if he were forced to regret such a heart-felt gesture. Instead, he'll likely retire as one of the best ambassadors we've ever known.

Don Maloney. Over the four years of chaos, he was more than an excellent general manager. He was the de facto owner. He was given a budget and complete autonomy by Bettman, and he put the team in the Western Conference final. Just imagine had he won the Stanley Cup under those conditions. He will now report to Gosbee, his first real boss in years.

Dave Tippett. Most coaches despise distractions, but the bankruptcy saga provided a forum for Tippett to prove he's among the very best coaches in the NHL. LeBlanc is on record as saying his group wouldn't have purchased the team had the popular coach left, which made Tippett the most important free agent on the market.

"We were extraordinarily fortunate that we had a group of people, starting with Mike Nealy, Don Maloney, Dave Tippett and everybody who worked off the ice, and the players on the ice, especially captain Shane Doan, who were all committed to this community and trying to make it work," Bettman said. "Without their dedication, without their willingness to really do everything possible to make it work under these difficult circumstances, it wouldn't have worked."

-- Arizona Republic

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2013 B2

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