NHL determined to keep Coyotes in Phoenix

The NHL says it has no agreement to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Winnipeg or anywhere else if owners cannot be found to keep the team in Arizona.

Deputy commissioner downplays reported agreement to move team to Winnipeg

The NHL says it has no agreement to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Winnipeg or anywhere else if owners cannot be found to keep the team in Arizona.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly says that the league's focus remains on keeping the team in Glendale and "based on the communications and information" the NHL is receiving, those involved continue to be highly confident that the transaction can be completed.

Daly issued the statement on Monday in response to a report in the Phoenix Business Journal that Toronto billionaire David Thomson has an agreement in principle to potentially move the franchise back to Winnipeg if a buyer to keep the team in Arizona can't be found.

The league has been in talks with Thomson and Mark Chipman, who heads the company that owns the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Daly acknowledged, "regarding their potential interest in owning an NHL franchise and potentially bringing an NHL franchise back to Winnipeg."

"It remains an intriguing possibility and one we would consider given appropriate circumstances, but there is nothing new to report on that front at this time," Daly said.

Never turned a profit

The Winnipeg Jets moved to Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, and the team has never turned a profit in the desert.

The NHL bought the Coyotes in U.S. Bankruptcy Court last year after an attempt by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie to buy the team and force a move to Hamilton was rejected. The league has said it would look into moving the team if no local owner is found by June. Any sale that would keep the team in Arizona would require a new lease agreement with the City of Glendale, a Phoenix suburb.

Ice Edge Holdings, a partnership of Canadian and U.S. businessmen, has an agreement in principle to buy the team and has had negotiations with Glendale, but there has been widespread speculation that the group has had trouble finding the necessary financial backing.

Chief executive officer Anthony LeBlanc also says the company has hired former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods to finalize a new lease agreement with the city of Glendale.

In an email to The Associated Press on Monday night, LeBlanc quoted Mark Twain in saying "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Reinsdorf seeking deal?

Daly's statement did not address widespread reports, none substantiated, that a group headed by Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of baseball's Chicago White Sox and the NBA's Chicago Bulls, has re-entered the situation and could replace Ice Edge as a local buyer.

Reinsdorf withdrew a bid in bankruptcy court last year, citing an inability to reach a suitable agreement with Glendale.

Lawyer John Kaites, who represented Reinsdorf in the earlier negotiations, has not responded to an email seeking comment.

Daly's statement did not mention Ice Edge by name.

"Our focus continues to be on completing a transaction with local ownership that is committed to operating the team in Glendale," he said. "Based on the communications and information we are receiving on a regular basis, the stakeholders involved continue to express a high level of confidence that that can be successfully achieved."

On the ice, the team is having its best regular season in franchise history. The Coyotes, under first-year coach Dave Tippett, have clinched their first playoff berth since 2002 and, entering Monday's action, had the third-best record in the NHL behind Washington and San Jose.

The team has played to consecutive sellout home crowds.