Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There's still a fighting chance

Coyotes may yet wind up in 'Peg

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is saying everything the good people of Phoenix want to hear but he remains fully prepared to yank the Coyotes out of the desert if his demands are not met.

A source involved in the negotiations in Arizona told the Free Press on Wednesday that moving the Coyotes could still be the NHL's only solution.

"The NHL is still nervous and if they don't have something rock-solid in the next couple of days they'll move the franchise," said the source, who requested anonymity.

"They definitely need a guarantee any future losses in Phoenix will be covered by the City of Glendale and they need it quickly. The city is still working on what they need to do for the NHL. I don't think it's a slam dunk but I do think it will get done. But there has to be movement. Gary (Bettman) can't risk the owners' money. They won't have it."

There is real concern the Goldwater Institute, a taxpayers' watchdog lobby, will attempt to block the City of Glendale's plans to deliver up to US$25 million to the NHL as insurance for future losses incurred by the Coyotes.

Goldwater lawyer Carrie Ann Sitren told the Globe and Mail Wednesday it is illegal for the city manager to cut a deal without a city council vote of approval. Glendale gave city manager Ed Beasley authority to negotiate a deal with the NHL.

"By delegating the power and responsibility of (council) to the city manager, the city has violated the law," said Sitren.

Any delay in the handing over of bridge financing could cause the NHL to balk at remaining in Phoenix.

True North Sports and Entertainment and the NHL have agreed on a Friday deadline for franchise-relocation talks for the 2010-11 season, adding to Bettman's sense of urgency.

If Glendale does not have bridge financing to assure Bettman the NHL is free and clear of any future losses, the league will find itself in a difficult spot.

After Friday, it will be too late for True North and the NHL to come to an agreement that would have an NHL franchise ready for play in Winnipeg this fall.

True North and the NHL have worked quietly to put together the framework of a deal should negotiations to keep the Coyotes in Glendale fall apart and, while talks have slowed, the lines of communication remain open.

The NHL's work to keep its franchise in Glendale resulted in Tuesday's council vote to provide a US$25-million insurance policy.

The league requires Glendale to put in place a financial mechanism (bank note or line of credit) to cover any losses incurred by the Coyotes should the NHL be forced to operate the team for one more season.

The one certainty in this entire process is the NHL will not put any more money into the Phoenix franchise. At this point they have no owner in place for the coming season but the insurance policy buys them time to continue looking for one with no financial risk during the 2010-11 season. Bettman told Hockey Night in Canada on Tuesday the NHL "can't be in a situation where it all comes apart in July or August because then we'd be stuck for another year."

The most likely sticking point that could cause the NHL to abruptly change course in the next 48 hours would be the city's failure to document its intention to cover losses for the coming season. Council voted to give city manager Beasley the authority to secure the financial guarantee for losses up to $25 million.

The Winnipeg relocation deal would include an ownership group that consists of the Chipman family and billionaire Toronto businessman David Thomson.

The Chipmans have built a business empire under the leadership of patriarch R.M. Chipman, operating a successful pro hockey franchise for 14 years, as well as financing and building a new arena in downtown Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, True North has been preparing to operate its AHL franchise this coming season, with ticket and sponsorship renewal forms having been sent out.

The Moose, however, have not moved forward on player recruitment at the usual pace. Mid-February until July 1 is the busiest time of the year for GMs at both the AHL and NHL level, as teams attempt to re-sign their own players while also exploring the free agent market.

The Moose had no comment on this subject on Wednesday but it's clear they have been hesitant to commit to players for the coming season in order to avoid burning bridges.

Agents would be reluctant to sign a deal with the Moose for fear the contract would become void if the franchise were to become dormant.

Likewise, the Coyotes will have 10 players eligible for free agency July 1 and Phoenix GM Don Maloney is in no position to stall.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

TUrner: a confederacy of dunces C2

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 13, 2010 C1

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