The most critical week in the history of the Phoenix Coyotes franchise is potentially upon us.
I say potentially because, if there's one thing we've learned during this soap opera over the past 20 months, it's never to speak in definite terms when sizing up the situation in Glendale, Ariz.
Just three Saturdays ago, everyone involved in the process believed the sale would close without a hitch. That was before the Goldwater Institute finally made its impact. Now, the whole thing is hanging on by a thread.
After my colleague Scott Burnside did a bang-up job in his column examining the Coyotes situation this past week, I made a few phones calls Friday and Saturday to update things for my "Hockey Night In Canada" Hot Stove segment.
Here are the latest developments, via several sources involved in the process:
• The next 7-10 days may possibly decide the fate of the franchise -- either the bonds will finally be sold and the sale could finally close to keep the team in Phoenix, or the bonds won't be sold and the league will be forced to make a difficult decision on whether to relocate the team to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season. There is still no official deadline for this to be resolved, but the belief is the process is already living on borrowed time. It doesn't seem this can drag on past the end of March/early April.
• Right now, the team's future in Phoenix seems ominous, but it's not over yet.
"I don't think this is dead by any means," said a source involved in the situation regarding the Coyotes. Said another source, "It could still be salvaged, but my gut feeling is that it's toast."
• The Goldwater Institute believes the terms of the sale to Matthew Hulsizer are a bad deal for local taxpayers, and it won't budge from that stance. The issue now is whether the NHL and the City of Glendale can find investors for the bonds despite Goldwater's legal threats.
• Meanwhile, multiple sources told Burnside the City of Glendale is expected to file suit Monday against Goldwater and specific members of the public watchdog's board.
• Instead of a broad-based bond sale to numerous investors, the effort now is to find two or three big wheels to buy the bonds.
• On the Atlanta front, if there is enough of a grassroots effort to try to find local ownership, it may buy the Thrashers at least one more season in Atlanta. Having said that, one source told us Saturday: "If the Coyotes stay in Phoenix, then the Thrashers may very likely head to Winnipeg unless they can find local ownership in a huge hurry."
• If the Coyotes move to Winnipeg and Thrashers also need to relocate a year from now, Quebec City is not guaranteed to be in line the way Winnipeg is now. Quebec City will have competition from Kansas City, Houston, Seattle and Portland.
• If the NHL decides to pull the plug on Phoenix, it still has to complete a franchise sale with the True North ownership group in Winnipeg. There have been suggestions the NHL and True North already have a "deal in the drawer," but that's not accurate. Still, it's not expected the deal would take long to work out.
• People will ask why Winnipeg may succeed in its bid to land either the Coyotes or Thrashers. The prospective ownership group there has been patient; it played by the rules and kept a low profile. Those are all keys in gaining entry to the NHL's private club.
• Conference realignment is not needed if the Coyotes move back to the Winnipeg. Both cities are in the West. If Atlanta moved to Winnipeg, Detroit and Columbus would be the two clubs hoping to move to the Eastern Conference.
• Finally, the ownership uncertainty has truly affected the Coyotes' on-ice planning. First, the club couldn't add payroll at the trade deadline, which Hulsizer would have allowed had he officially been in charge. Second, contract talks still haven't begun with UFA-to-be Ilya Bryzgalov, and the team risks losing him come July 1 with every passing day.
This and that ...
• The Bruins and Rick Curran, the agent for Tomas Kaberle, recently had a short chat to say: Let's talk again at some point in the future regarding a possible extension. No exact time frame is in place.
• Leafs rookie goalie James Reimer has been the toast of the town during the team's surprising run after the All-Star break. It just so happens he needs a new contract after the season since he'll be a restricted free agent July 1. Both sides have communicated, but it sounds like real negotiations will wait for the offseason.
"I think so," Reimer's agent, Ray Petkau, told ESPN.com Saturday. "They're not in a hurry and we're not in a hurry. Reims is an easy-going kid."
• Speaking of free-agent goalies, Craig Anderson has been gold since going to Ottawa from Colorado. He's an unrestricted free agent July 1. The team and the player's agent, Justin Duberman, have had a few conversations but no real contract talks yet. That's expected to happen over the next few weeks.
• There are big plans in the works for the lead-up to the Toronto Maple Leafs' 100-year anniversary season in 2016-17. There have been preliminary discussions between the Leafs and the NHL that would possibly see the team host an All-Star weekend and an NHL draft leading up to the anniversary. But the Leafs are hoping to make it a trifecta of events by hosting an outdoor game. For that to happen, BMO Field (home of the MLS' Toronto FC) would need to be expanded, something that is tentatively planned to happen at some point over the next five years.