The NHL has told the City of Glendale to sell the Phoenix Coyotes to a buyer willing to keep them in Arizona by Dec. 31 or the team will be moved to Winnipeg.
True North Sports and Entertainment, a group led by Mark Chipman and David Thomson, have had the framework of a relocation deal in place with the league for some time, and is the third party to which the league is referring in an agreement reached between the NHL and the City of Glendale on Friday.
A document the league sent to the City of Glendale last week says the NHL has "a bona-fide offer from a viable purchaser who would relocate the hockey team to another market for the 2010-11 season and contemplates that the owners (the NHL) would break even on their investment in the team through the end of the 2009-10 NHL season as well as the NHL potentially receiving a relocation fee."
Representatives of True North had no comment, but the Free Press has learned they are the third party to which the league refers in the agreement.
On Friday, the City of Glendale reached an agreement with the league to cover operating costs up to US$25 million to keep the Coyotes in Jobing.com Arena for the 2010-11 NHL season.
The league has held discussions with the Ice Edge group and Jerry Reinsdorf, who owns the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox. Both say they want to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix.
It is believed Ice Edge isn't interested in further talks without exclusivity that would make it the only prospective buyer to keep the team in Arizona.
The NHL's Winnipeg Jets were moved to Arizona in 1996. It was like a knife in the heart to the city, which put up a valiant fight to keep the team in Winnipeg. Many feel the city has never fully recovered.
The Phoenix Business Journal reports the Coyotes have lost as much as $50 million a season since moving south.
According to some reports, the NHL had already made a tentative schedule that included a team in Winnipeg for the 2010-11 season.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has steadfastly maintained he wants to keep the franchise in Phoenix.
"Over the years we've had an interest from Winnipeg, and I think that's great," Bettman said recently. "But we're not going to address that interest by taking away a franchise from another club."