After years of speculation that the franchise may move again, the Coyotes appear to be staying in Arizona after the Glendale city council voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to pass a lease agreement
with the prospective owners of the team.
During a text message conversation on Tuesday, one Coyotes player, exasperated by the franchise's saga, wrote, "Whatever happens, I hope things get settled and we don't have to talk about this story ever again."
His prayers may have been answered on Tuesday night.
After the Glendale city council removed a provision that would allow it to walk away from subsidizing the team if financial losses reached a certain level after five years, it voted 4-3 to pass a lease agreement with the prospective owners of the Coyotes, likely keeping the NHL team in Arizona for the foreseeable future.
Under the deal, Glendale, a Phoenix suburb, will pay Renaissance Sports and Entertainment $15 million US per year over 15 years to run Jobing.com Arena.
In exchange, RSE will turn over several revenue streams (parking fees and ticket surcharges, for example) that it believes will cover the city's costs. (Nashville's arena lease is based on a similar model.) RSE did keep its own "out clause," which can be activated in five years, but agreed to cover up to $6 million in annual losses if that escape route is ever activated.
As part of the agreement, the team will now be called the Arizona Coyotes, dropping the Phoenix name it carried since the franchise moved from Winnipeg in 1996.
In recent years, there was speculation of the financially troubled team moving to such places as Seattle, Kansas City, Quebec City, Hamilton and Winnipeg, before that city landed the Atlanta Thrashers franchise in 2011.
The NHL, which has owned the team since 2009 as several potential sales have failed to close, now has until Aug. 5 to close the deal with RSE, but that appears to be a formality. The only real question is whether the watchdog Goldwater Institute, which scuttled previous attempts at public financing of the arena, gets involved. You almost hope not, so everyone's case of "Phoenix Financial Fatigue" doesn't reach terminal levels.
All kidding aside, there are people whose job security is affected by the team's existence and it would be nice for them not to have to worry about employment every year.
There was opposition. Councillor Norma Alvarez called it a "sad day that we're going to put a [sports team] ahead of the future of Glendale."
RSE is led by two Canadians: Calgary's George Gosbee and Thunder Bay, Ont.'s Anthony LeBlanc. Gosbee, who unfortunately suffered severe damage to his home in the recent Alberta floods, was not in attendance. LeBlanc, who has made several attempts to buy the Coyotes over the last few years, was relieved.
"Over the last week, there were a couple moments where we thought we were at the cliff," LeBlanc told reporters, thanking the citizens of Glendale in the process. He added he would sit down with GM Don Maloney Wednesday to plot strategy for the upcoming season.
Despite the uncertainty, the Coyotes have been able to carry out important hockey-related business. Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett received extensions. Goaltender Mike Smith avoided free agency with a six-year, $34-million contract signed last weekend.
Next on the list is to upgrade the team's offence. Adding scorers tends not to happen cheaply. But that's the fun kind of gossip. The future of the Arizona Coyotes? Everyone will be happy to see that story go away for awhile.
Elliotte FriedmanElliotte joined CBC in October 2003 and is a commentator with Hockey Night in Canada.
As part of his duties with Hockey Night in Canada, Friedman hosts Inside Hockey, a feature airing every Saturday during Scotiabank Hockey Tonight that tells the stories of the people and places that shape the game of hockey. Always committed to giving viewers the inside story, fans call follow him throughout the regular season and playoffs on Twitter.
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