GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Phoenix Coyotes spent four years looking over their shoulders as numerous potential owners came forward then fell away.
Rumors of relocation cropped up, the team supposedly headed back to Winnipeg, where it originated, or to someplace new like Seattle.
Finally, after all the fits and starts, distractions and innuendo, the Coyotes finally have an owner — and a home.
IceArizona completed its purchase of the franchise from the NHL on Monday and received approval from the league’s Board of Governors, keeping the Coyotes in the desert for the foreseeable future.
Completion of the sale triggers a $225 million lease agreement for Jobing.com Arena reached last month by the city of Glendale and Renaissance Sports and Entertainment, managing partner of IceArizona,
“I’m ecstatic,” new Coyotes chairman and governor George Gosbee said on a conference call. “It was a complicated transaction, probably one of the most complicated transactions I’ve worked on in 21 years in the financial business, but a lot of hard of work and support kept us going through the process. Now we can start focusing on what matters and that’s building a winning organization here in the Valley.”
The Coyotes have been operated by the league since former owner Jerry Moyes took the franchise into bankruptcy in 2009.
The team handled the off-ice distractions the first three years by reaching the playoffs, including the franchise’s first NHL division title and appearance in the Western Conference finals in 2011-12. A looming resolution to the saga — the NHL was likely going to move the franchise if the RSE deal fell through — finally took its toll last season, when the Coyotes finished four points out of the West’s final playoff spot.
RSE, headed by Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc, will finally give the franchise some much-needed stability and allow it to compete on even financial ground with the rest of the league.
“The National Hockey League believes in Arizona as an NHL market and that these new owners can provide the Coyotes the opportunity to secure a stable, long-term future in Glendale,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
The ownership saga started when Moyes took the team into bankruptcy in a failed attempt to sell it to Blackberry founder Jim Balsillie, who would have moved the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario. The NHL and Glendale fought the plan in court and the team was sold to the league later that year.
The Coyotes appeared to have an owner in place when Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer was set to buy the team two years ago, but his bid was thwarted by the conservative watchdog group Goldwater Institute, which warned potential bond buyers to stay away from Glendale’s proposed arena deal because of a looming lawsuit.
A group headed by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison reached an agreement with the NHL to buy the team last year, but his deal fell apart when he was unable to secure finances before a lease-agreement deadline with Glendale in January.
RSE went through contentious negotiations with Glendale on a lease agreement before the City Council approved it in a special session on July 3. The deal was spurred by RSE’s partnership with Global Spectrum, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers and manages 113 facilities around the world.
The lease agreement went into effect with Monday’s sale of the team and approval by the Board of Governors.
“The reality is we’ve always believed in the market, we’ve always believed in the opportunity,” said LeBlanc, the Coyotes’ new alternate governor who was part of an early attempt to purchase the franchise.
RSE’s involvement helped stabilize the franchise even before the lease agreement with Glendale was approved.
Before the vote, the Coyotes were able to sign general manager Don Maloney, assistant general manager Brad Treliving and coach Dave Tippett, along with most of his staff, before the lease deal was completed. Phoenix also signed top goalie Mike Smith to a long-term deal and, once the lease agreement was in place, RSE gave the front office the financial freedom it didn’t have in four years of being run by the NHL, allowing the team to sign front-line forward Mike Ribeiro.
“We thank the Coyotes’ devoted fans for their patient, perseverant support,” Bettman said. “We are extremely pleased that a positive resolution has been achieved for the fans, the city, the Coyotes and the League.”
The team’s name will be changed to Arizona Coyotes sometime after next season.