Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Bettman ultimatum

NHL commissioner will tell Glendale, Hulsizer to do deal now -- or else

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The NHL is preparing to put a gun to the City of Glendale's head and will again use Winnipeg as the bullet.

Reports that Matthew Hulsizer's $170-million bid to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes is dead may be premature but it appears there is only one chapter left to be played out in this saga.

Expect the next move to be the NHL's. It will involve positioning the city of Winnipeg against Phoenix in a manner reminiscent of last spring's leverage play by commissioner Gary Bettman.

Sports radio talk in Toronto on Wednesday had the deal in the desert near or at the end of the line and the Free Press has a Glendale source stating Hulsizer has pulled any concessions he's made off the table and reverted to his original proposal to the NHL and City of Glendale.

The next move will be Bettman's and it will likely come in the next five to 10 days. He'll need Winnipeg's help again and it's quite possible that talks between the league and True North have begun anew.

The NHL has painted itself into a bit of a corner by waiting this long to resolve the sale and now runs the risk of having to announce relocation of the franchise during a playoff run. It would be bad enough to make such an announcement in the first round but even worse to make it in the Stanley Cup final.

It's unlikely Bettman will wait that long to pull the trigger. Expect the commissioner to get in front of this one in the latter stages of the opening round. Bettman will give Hulsizer and the City of Glendale one final crack at closing a deal.

Mark Chipman and his partner David Thomson are still interested in an NHL franchise they would bring to Winnipeg and operate out of the MTS Centre.

Playing stalking horse for the NHL a second time will, however, come with some strings says a U.S.-based attorney with experience in sports franchise transfer-of-ownership deals.

The lawyer, who has been involved in NBA and NHL relocations deals, demanded anonymity but said the next few steps will be common practice in terms of the league's arrangement with True North.

According to the source, True North will require financial and contractual guarantees to sign a purchase offer that Bettman can then take to Arizona and use to prod Glendale and Hulsizer.

Before True North signs a deal, they'll want exclusivity, a firm timeline, board of governor approval and likely a seven-figure compensation -- called a breakup fee -- should the deal sour at the last moment.

True North will insist Bettman only shop their deal to Hulsizer and that no other party be allowed in at the last minute. The NHL will have the opportunity to use this leverage with Hulsizer alone. If he can't or won't buy the team -- then it's Winnipeg's.

The NHL made its choice to relocate to Winnipeg a long time ago, if needed. Any talk of other markets has been silliness. The league is once again working with Winnipeg and no one else. That won't change.

The deal will have a small window. Once True North signs off, the NHL will have a firm deadline which it will need to work within. Bettman will tell Glendale and Hulsizer they have a certain number of days -- certainly less than seven -- to conclude their deal. If it's not consummated within the agreed term -- the agreement in principle between the NHL and True North will come into effect.

Board of Governor approval, required for any relocation, will need to be signed off on before this agreement is signed. Should Bettman's leverage play in Glendale work a second time and prompt the city and Hulsizer to act, True North will be compensated for its role and efforts. Our source says a sum in the neighbourhood of $5 million would be the norm for a deal of this size.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

nhl playoff coverage c6

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2011 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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