Commissioner Gary Bettman will hold a news conference at approximately 9 p.m. ET in Glendale, Ariz, where he's expected to announce a tentative deal by the NHL to sell the Phoenix Coyotes to former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.
Jamison still must complete negotiations on a lease with the city of Glendale, always the nagging issue in the league's attempts to sell the team, which the NHL purchased out of bankruptcy. The sale also would have to be approved by the league's board of governors.
The anticipated announcement of the tentative agreement first was reported by the Phoenix Business Journal.
"Doesn’t this mean he takes over the team right away? Not likely," CBCSports.ca’s Tim Wharnsby said during the daily Hockey Night Online show on Monday.
"The timing to me is very strange but I think there’s some ulterior motives that they [the NHL] just want to push this ownership story to the side and let the Coyotes try to succeed on the ice, and see how far they can go this year. And they don't want it hanging over their heads. I think right now they can announce the tentative deal and then they can always back track later and say 'the financing fell through' [if it doesn't work out]. We’ll all know that the money situation in Phoenix has not been great."
Monday night would provide a dramatic backdrop to such an announcement, with a packed house on hand to watch the upstart Coyotes try to close out their Western Conference semifinal series with the Predators. Phoenix leads the series 3-1.
Behind general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett, the team has managed to make the playoffs each of the three seasons it has been owned by the NHL. But this season marked the first time the franchise advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 1987, nine years before it moved from Winnipeg to Arizona.
Jamison has been in talks for some time on a new lease for the use of Jobing.com Arena, and terms of that lease could still run afoul of a conservative watchdog group, the Goldwater Institute, that stymied a previous attempt to sell the franchise a year ago. The city would pay an annual fee to the Coyotes for operation of the arena, a figure that the Goldwater group could see as a thinly disguised subsidy and a violation of the Arizona Constitution.
"They expect to be a fly in the ointment this time around, also," said Wharnsby. "I’m sure they’re going to request certain documents once this deal gets closer to being done. They don’t want the taxpayers to have to pay any further money. Already, city council has voted by a slim margin of 4-3 that 17 million US will be earmarked to the Jamison group to manage [the arena]. Is that a good investement? There are different studies commissioned by Glendale — that’s an area that’s really been hit hard by the recession."
Any new lease would have to go before the Glendale city council.
The Coyotes have not made money since they moved to Arizona.
Then-owner Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy three years ago with the intention of selling it to Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie, who wanted to move the franchise to Hamilton, Ont. The league vehemently opposed the plan and, after two prospective buyers pulled out, the NHL was the lone bidder to purchase the team out of bankruptcy.
The league has long said it wanted to find a buyer to keep the team in Glendale and the city committed $25 million each of the past two seasons to help cover operating losses. If recent attempts to find a buyer were to fall through, the NHL would be clear to finally determine whether to move the franchise elsewhere.
"I’m sure the league thinks it is a good deal but there has to be a lot of skepticism right now just because we’ve been down this road before," said Wharnsby.