The Ice Edge investment group has signed a letter of intent to purchase the financially floundering Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL with a long-term commitment to keep the team in Arizona.
The league and Ice Edge announced the agreement in brief statements on Friday.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said much remains to be done before the sale closes but the league pledged to work closely with Ice Edge "to bring the sale to conclusion as expeditiously as possible."
Ice Edge chief executive officer Anthony LeBlanc said, "Ice Edge has committed to keep the Coyotes in Glendale for the remaining term of the original lease."
There are 26 years left on the Coyotes lease to play at Jobing.com Arena, which was built for the hockey team by the City of Glendale.
In an email exchange with The Associated Press, LeBlanc said there would be no "out clause" that would allow Ice Edge to break the lease.
"We believe in this team and the demographics of the Valley," he said, a reference to the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area.
Glendale issued a statement praising the initial agreement and looked forward to the sale closing.
"The transfer of ownership and possession to Ice Edge Holdings is a major and final step in establishing the long-term presence of hockey in Glendale," the city said.
The league bought the team in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for about $140 million US after two other potential bidders, including Ice Edge, withdrew, largely because they could not reach an agreement on a reworked lease with the city.
Deal worth an expected $150 million
The Ice Edge deal is expected to approach $150 million, the amount it had said the group would be willing to spend.
The NHL board of governors could act on the ownership proposal at its meeting next week.
Ice Edge is a group of American and Canadian investors with five majority owners — LeBlanc, Daryl Jones, John Breslow, Keith McCullough and Todd Jordan.
LeBlanc is a former executive at Research In Motion, the BlackBerry manufacturer founded by Canadian Jim Balsillie. Balsillie mounted a spirited, persistent bid to buy the Coyotes in bankruptcy court and move the team to Hamilton, Ont.
Breslow is a Las Vegas-based businessman and former Nebraska state auditor who owned three per cent of the Coyotes when the team went into bankruptcy protection.
Judge Redfield T. Baum eventually threw out Balsillie's offer, saying he was unwilling to overrule the NHL owners who had overwhelmingly rejected the Canadian as an owner. LeBlanc has said that Balsillie has nothing to do with Ice Edge.
The other potential bidder in bankruptcy court, a group headed by Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf, did not pursue the team after the NHL purchased it.
Owner Jerry Moyes took the team into Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 5 with the plan to sell it to Balsillie.
What followed was an often-bitter six-month court fight involving dozens of high-priced attorneys as the NHL and the City of Glendale fought the move.
After Balsillie's bid was rejected, Moyes finally accepted the NHL offer, even though it would result in his receiving only a tiny portion of the $300 million he said he invested in the franchise.
Jones, the Ice Edge chief operating officer, said at an Oct. 10 Coyotes game in Glendale that hockey can succeed in the desert with a successful team on the ice along with better management and promotion.
"We're doing this because we think we can make it work, so we're not even contemplating the idea of moving the team in five years, 10 years," Jones said at the time. "As investors, if we're not making money in five or seven years, I think we're going to have to look and think hard at our plan."
The Coyotes are off to a surprisingly strong start, winning five in a row before a 3-2 shootout loss at Los Angeles on Thursday night. However, crowds at Jobing.com Arena have been sparse.