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Thursday, May 3, 2012
Coyotes closer to staying in Phoenix?

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Phoenix Coyotes could be nearing a sale, which would keep the team in the desert, the club's president and chief operating officer said Thursday.

"Things are moving pretty quickly and a lot of work is being done,'' Mike Nealy said in an interview with ESPN.com and QMI Agency of Canada. "I wouldn't be shocked if we saw something next week. I wouldn't be panicked if it didn't happen, but I'm looking for the near term."

Standing outside the Coyotes' dressing room at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday, Nealy said that a group led by former San Jose Sharks executive Greg Jamison is potentially close to a deal.

"I'm still in a situation where I believe it is going to happen,'' Nealy said. "A lot of this is in the hands of the NHL, of course, as the owner and they are working with the Jamison group. ... Things are going well with both Jamison and the City of Glendale because he has to work out a deal with the city, the city has to have a deal with him that the NHL is comfortable with, and I think that's getting there. The money has to be there, and I think that is getting lined up, so we could be looking in the near future.''

There have been rumors that a sale to Jamison's group is all but done, but NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly stopped short of saying that Thursday.

"We are continuing to work with Greg Jamison and with the City of Glendale to move the process forward," Daly said via email. "We remain hopeful that we can get a deal done, and we can move forward from there to close the transaction and transition ownership locally. Having said that, nothing is done yet, and no timeline for completion has been established.''

The team has been without an owner since 2009 and run by the league since. If a deal can't be struck soon to sell the team locally, there is interest in having the Coyotes relocated to Quebec City. But Nealy believes the odds are that the Coyotes will stay put.

"I'm planning for next year, we're renewing tickets, we're making plans for next year and, so, I fully expect it," the top Coyotes executive said. "I know it's not a guarantee, but I would say I'd put a high probability on it."

Aside from a sale agreement, Jamison also needs an arena lease agreement approved by the NHL and by the City of Glendale.

"Before anything can happen, it all has to be there,'' Nealy said. "It's kind of a triangle there. Certainly you have to have the money for the team and satisfy the NHL and what they need out of it. The deal has to be comfortable enough to the league with the city that, 'OK, this lease makes sense and we can live with that, the viability of the team going forward, we're comfortable with that.' The money is there, the lease is good, the city is comfortable and the city agrees to the lease with the said owner, and then you're in business and you close it and move forward. It would be good timing for that, as we're in the second round here and hoping that would just give a boost to everything."

Nealy said the City of Glendale could discuss the arena lease agreement as early next week.

"Next week is a possibility,'' Nealy said. "As far as the City of Glendale, they certainly are shooting to be able to do something early next week. They have a council meeting scheduled for Tuesday and they'd like to do that. Certainly the NHL wouldn't have anything against that. So if those three pieces can come together and that's all in the mix, it could happen.''

Another potential obstacle could be provided by the Goldwater Institute, a nonprofit watchdog organization that helped sink Matthew Hulsizer's bid to buy the Coyotes a year ago. Goldwater threatened litigation because it felt the proposed lease agreement violated state laws concerning subsidies for private business.

Asked whether he feared Goldwater's renewed interest in any deal between the city and Jamison, Nealy didn't think it would be as big an issue this time around.

"I guess you can't ignore that, but I think the deal points that I'm familiar with -- and I don't have all the information about what's all out there -- I think some of the concern Goldwater had with the previous deal, those things are probably not there this time around," Nealy said. "I don't think we can stop them from asking questions or trying to stop something, but I don't think the economics of a deal that's out there right now would warrant that. That's my opinion. They could surface. They haven't. We'll see, but I think it could work out and if they surface, they surface and we'll navigate that."