CHICAGO -- The long, tortuous ownership saga of the Phoenix Coyotes is entering its final phase.
The city of Glendale, Ariz., must come up with a new lease agreement to ensure the sale of the team within the next two weeks, or the NHL is expected to begin the process of relocating the team.
Speaking before the start of the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday night, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly would not commit to a specific deadline after which the league would move to relocate the team. However, they gave enough broad hints to make it clear the city of Glendale must agree to a lease agreement with a new ownership group by its next council meeting on June 25.
"Maybe," Bettman said, when asked whether a decision needs to be made before the meeting. "Stuff's going to happen."
The city of Glendale is discussing a new lease agreement with an ownership group that includes Anthony LeBlanc, formerly of the Ice Edge Group, which long has pursued ownership of the team, and Calgary-based financier George Gosbee. It's possible the city will decide whether to move forward with an agreement or walk away from the process by the end of this week.
The situation at this stage is quite simple. If the city is willing to agree to a lease that will pay management fees in the neighborhood of $15 million a year to the ownership group for the life of the lease, the sale of the team will go through and the Coyotes will remain in Jobing.com Arena. If the city doesn't agree to such a lease agreement, the sale will fall apart and the league will be forced to relocate the team before the start of next season.
The NHL is holding off on its schedule pending the sale, and the league's board of governors is set to meet in New York on June 27, two days after the council meeting.
"Yes, it certainly means it's possible that the team won't play there next year," Daly said. "Look, we're in the short strokes in Phoenix now. The ownership group we've negotiated a deal with has been negotiating with the city of Glendale. I think everybody knows kind of what's on the table. And I think the puck pretty much is in the city of Glendale's end with respect to how they want to deal with it."
Neither Bettman nor Daly would speculate on where the Coyotes would go if a lease agreement is not reached, although they did say the phone continues to ring with interested parties.
"We're still focused on making it work with the Coyotes staying in Arizona," Bettman said. "I don't want to begin a process, particularly publicly, where there's going to be a lot of speculation as to where the team might go if it moved because all that would do would be to unfairly raise expectation in places, and I don't want to do that to fans in those communities."
Quebec City and Seattle would appear to be the odds-on favorites for relocation if the deal in Glendale falls apart.
The NHL has operated the Coyotes since they were purchased out of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 2009 after former owner Jerry Moyes' attempt to sell the team to BlackBerry founder Jim Balsillie, who wanted to move the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.