The clock is ticking towards a final decision about the future whereabouts of the Phoenix Coyotes.
The city council in Glendale, Ariz., is set to vote on whether it will agree to cover the NHL's losses, about $20 million to $25 million US, while the League continues to finalize the sale of the franchise.
The losses would be the result of all the uncertainty surrounding the future of the franchise, making the team unable to sell tickets and sponsorships for next season.
If Glendale decides to put up the money, it would buy the city time, keeping the Coyotes in the desert for at least a year. After that, it's still anybody's guess.
"My bet is on Winnipeg," Hockey Night in Canada's Pierre LeBrun told the Hotstove segment on Saturday night.
"If they don't have a guarantee that the city of Glendale is picking up these losses, then the [Coyotes] are moving."
But before Jets' fans start rolling out the red carpet and dancing around the corner of Portage and Main, LeBrun added that while Winnipeg may be the front-runner, it's not the only contender.
"There's no written agreement. Quebec City and Kansas City, even though they'd be underdogs, [the NHL] would still look at them."
HNIC analyst Glenn Healy threw cold water on the notion that the Coyotes would end up anywhere but Winnipeg. Gate receipts were down 30 per cent last year in Phoenix, he added.
"You can't exist in the NHL with that," Healy said. "In my mind it's clear — it has to be Winnipeg."
"It's time to say 'square peg, round hole, we're moving on.'"
Of course, there are still proposals on the table to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, and if a deal is reached, the $20-25 million in bailout money would likely become a non-issue.
Prior to Tuesday's Glendale City Council meeting, the Ice Edge group, which recently re-entered the Coyotes' sweepstakes, will attempt to negotiate an exclusivity deal making it the only contender to keep the team in Arizona. That memorandum could be signed on Monday, LeBrun said.
It would effectively take Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf out of the picture, although he has yet to confirm anything. The NHL also still believes Reinsdorf remains in the running, LeBrun said.
On April 13, city council approved a memorandum of understanding with Reinsdorf, but rejected the Ice Edge agreement.
Since then, however, it appears that the city of Glendale has had a change of heart, determining it won't be able to secure a long-term lease with Reinsdorf, LeBrun said.
The Ice Edge group has also demonstrated a strong interest in hockey.
"I think they were looking at Atlanta, Nashville [when it seemed like they had lost out on Phoenix]. These guys want an NHL team. Now they're back in on Phoenix," LeBrun said.
If Glendale decides to exclusively endorse Ice Edge, and cover the NHL's interim losses, the money would come out of a new tax on sports and entertainment.
But given the dismal economic climate in Arizona, bailing out a sports franchise is unlikely to be very popular, and could result in lawsuits, Healy said.
The one issue that could be forcing Glendale's hand, is the 18,000-seat Jobing.com Arena, which the city built specifically for the Coyotes in 2003.