Coyotes bidder thinks he can turn team around

After meeting with the NHL's board of governors Monday, Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer said he thinks his planned purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes will go through before the league's Dec. 31 deadline.

Matthew Hulsizer says his bid to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes remains on track and he's optimistic about the team's future.

The Chicago businessman met with the executive committee of the NHL's board of governors on Monday in Palm Beach, Fla., as the Dec. 31 deadline to complete the sale approaches.

While admitting that it wasn't a sound investment now, Hulsizer is confident he can turn things around in Arizona.

"It's been my experience that if you make a great product, hockey teams have a lot of value," he said. "Those things tend to grow over time. I tend to be a longer-term investor. As I look out 25 years, I think people will look back and say 'Hey, that might have looked smart.'

"Right now, it's not going to look smart for a long time, though."

The NHL has been running the Coyotes for 15 months after a U.S. bankruptcy judge ruled the league, and not BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie, could purchase the team. The NHL paid $140 million US and is reported to be selling it to Hulsizer for about $170 million.

The final major hurdle for the sale is a Dec. 14 council meeting in Glendale, Ariz., where a new lease agreement on the team's arena will be put to a vote.

"We've negotiated most of the lease and I think we're just waiting to sort of finalize that," said Hulsizer. "And then it will be released to the public shortly."

Hulsizer, 40, played NCAA Division III hockey at Amherst College and earned his money as a hedge fund manager. He plans to bring on minority partners and says they will "likely" include members of the Ice Edge group, which previously failed to purchase the team.

His personal role with the Coyotes will be limited to signing cheques, leaving the day-to-day operation of the team to a president he plans to hire.

"It will be somebody with experience and it'll be somebody who you guys would all look at and say 'Yeah, I get it, this is a person who is an 'A' player,"' said Hulsizer. "This is what we're going to try to do — we're going to hire 'A' quality people across the organization, we're going to try to put a great product on the ice and hopefully earn back the fans."

The Coyotes moved to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996 and have never turned a profit. If the deal with Hulsizer falls through, the NHL will start looking at relocation once the Dec. 31 deadline passes — and Winnipeg is thought to be at the top of the list.

Phoenix currently sits last in average attendance with slightly more than 10,000 fans per game. Hulsizer is adamant he can turn the sagging franchise into a money-making outfit over time.

"I think we're going to have to earn the fans back," said Hulsizer. "I don't think it's something people are going to immediately give us credit and say, 'Oh, there's a new owner and now [we'll show interest].' I'd love for that to be the case, but I don't think that's going to be the case.

"I think we're going to have to earn back their faith and I think we're going to have to show that by putting out a great product."

Hulsizer's meeting with the executive committee lasted less than an hour. More than anything, it was an opportunity to introduce himself to key members of the league.

"I think they wanted to know what kind of a guy I was," said Hulsizer. "I'm a hockey fan and a hockey coach and a hockey player. And I'd love to join the club."