Commentary

Finish line in sight for Coyotes deal

Updated: May 8, 2012, 12:10 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

Phoenix CoyotesMatt Kartozian/US PresswireCoyotes fans have reason to be hopeful after Gary Bettman's announcement on Tuesday.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A Phoenix Coyotes fan entering the rink looked at me, knew Gary Bettman had just delivered a media update, and with almost no expression asked the only question that mattered.

"So is this thing finally done?" the fan asked.

Well, no, not yet.

A process that has dragged on for three years is still not at the finish line. But if you believe the NHL commissioner and prospective Coyotes owner Greg Jamison, they can at least see the finish line in the distance.

But there's still work to be done on this, baby.

Both parties announced Tuesday that they had agreed to pursue a purchase agreement, which of course is different than announcing they had agreed to a purchase agreement outright.

One source told ESPN.com that both sides agreed "conceptually" on the sale agreement and the sale price will be $170 million if and when they can put this thing to bed.

"I would hope that it can be counted in weeks as opposed to months," Bettman said at the pregame news conference when asked for a specific timeline of when this would be completed.

What remains to be seen is if Jamison's bid won't fall apart when it's time for his investors to actually sign on the dotted line. All signs point to his group being in line financially, but until that moment of truth, one doesn't fully know.

"With the group that Greg has assembled, he is comfortable the financial wherewithal is there and we'll continue to do our due diligence as we do with any franchise ownership transfer," said Bettman.

"We have a group that is excited about going forward as the owners of the Phoenix Coyotes," said Jamison, a former CEO of the San Jose Sharks. "We have a group that cares deeply about the National Hockey League. We have a group that cares about hockey, cares about youth hockey and we look forward to being a part of this team and to help this team continue to be successful. It has been some interesting times, some ups and some downs, but the future we believe is very bright for participants and fans and sponsors and suite holders."

Another major hurdle is finalizing a lease agreement with the city of Glendale. Jamison said Tuesday night that meetings have already taken place with the city and he hopes to have something in place in weeks rather months.

The fact that the city manager for Glendale was on hand at Tuesday's news conference is a good sign. When the time comes to vote and pass the lease agreement at city hall, sources close to the situation said they believe Jamison has four of the required seven votes to get it through.

What remains to be seen is what kind of long-term commitment Jamison will ultimately give cash-strapped Glendale. If he pushes for any kind of out clause in his lease agreement, that could certainly scuttle the deal.

Ah, but what about the Goldwater Institute? The conservative watchdog group single-handedly scuttled Mathew Hulsizer's bid a year ago with the threat of lawsuit over what it felt was an illegal lease agreement that would rip off local taxpayers.

Goldwater issued a statement early Tuesday saying it would wait until the sale and lease agreements are finalized and study the details before deciding how to react.

One source close to the situation predicted Goldwater would back off this time, because this lease agreement won't include the same kind of subsidies from the Hulziser agreement that made the watchdog rise up.

Having said that, another source told ESPN.com that the proposed framework for the lease agreement between Jamison and the city would see the new Coyotes owners paid between $15 million to $20 million a year to run Jobing.com Arena. So the question is: Would Goldwater consider that a reasonable charge for the city to pay? That's where it's going to get interesting, I think.

"I assume everybody will do what they have to do when the time comes and we'll deal with it. But the way this deal is structured is different than the way that deal [Hulsizer] was structured, so if there is third party interference, it won't be something that should stop us at the beginning," Bettman said. "We should be able to proceed and hopefully prevail."

And finally, what of Quebec City? Hockey mad fans in La Belle Province were hoping to steal away the Coyotes.

The door isn't totally shut on that option because Jamison's bid could still go off the rails. But one source handicapped Quebec City's chances of landing the Coyotes now at 10 percent.

In the end, another typical snapshot of this franchise's murky existence here in the desert: no deal is done yet, but things look promising for the locals.

If I'm a Coyotes fan, I'm not believing it until it's signed, sealed and delivered. But I might be a bit more hopeful than I have been throughout this ordeal.