Will They Stay or Will They Go? Either Way, The Drama Will End Soon in Phoenix

One thing Gary Bettman said to me last year when I asked him a few tough questions about possible relocation was that there were certain questions he wasn’t going to answer because he did not want to “incite hysteria” among some fans. Over a year after he told me that, I understand why he said that to me. Hysteria is at the max right now as rumors continue to fly in the desert (and the Great White North) regarding the Phoenix Coyotes transaction to businessman Matthew Hulsizer, what the Arizona watchdog group Goldwater may or may not do, etc.

Commissioner Gary Bettman (cr: captcanuk@flickr)

As we wind down closer to a decision on where the Coyotes will call home next year, we have gone from a ton of rumors last week to the quiet after the storm. We heard a single rumor come out of the last week or so which was reported by John Shannon and Pierre LeBrun. That rumor was in regards to the bond sale that has been holding up the completion of the transaction in Glendale. According to this latest rumor, the bond market in the desert has improved and there is now “cautious optimism” in regards to selling the bonds to complete the transaction to Hulsizer. Most of you heard Pierre LeBrun give this a quick mention on CBC’s Satellite Hot Stove this past Saturday. If there is any truth to the optimism on selling the bonds, it’s still far from over. However, this would be a huge development in the process. When Gary Bettman pointed his finger at the camera telling Goldwater, “We’re going to hang in there,” you thought there might be one last push to complete this deal. Bettman has been placing all of the blame on the Goldwater institute saying that they have placed a “cloud” over the bonds and making them near impossible to sell to investors with the threat of a lawsuit looming.

What does all of this mean you ask? Well, even if the City of Glendale is able to sell the bonds there’s still the possibility of a lawsuit from the Goldwater Institute which would all but ice any chances of a return to Arizona next season. Gary Bettman said in his press conference in Glendale that he isn’t sure whether or not Goldwater even has a lawsuit. So now it becomes a question of whether or not they will sell the bonds and put the ball in Goldwater’s court, basically a “put up or shut up.” I had the opportunity to pose a couple of these head scratching questions to Darcy Olsen a couple of days ago. Olsen is President of the Goldwater Institute. After all, Bettman did make some valid points.

Justin: A lot of “possibly’s” and “maybe’s” have been thrown around as far as a potential Goldwater lawsuit toward the City of Glendale (should the transaction close). Does Goldwater foresee any way they would not pursue litigation should the bonds sell and the transaction be closed with the framework of the deal that is currently out there?

Darcy Olsen: We have been combing through more than 600 pages of documents received in the past 5 days from the city. As soon as we have all the facts, we will determine the next course of action. From everything we have gleaned so far, the deal appears to violate the law. No city is above the law and we will not hesitate to enforce the law should that be required.

Justin: [Bettman] also said Goldwater wants to “tough it out” until a deadline so that the deal would be killed and questioned whether there were even grounds for a lawsuit. He also received advisories from two independent law firms who read over the deal and said it was legal. Can Goldwater say definitively that they disagree with the conclusion of the attorneys that Mr. Bettman was informed by that said deal is “legal”?

Darcy Olsen: Not definitively yet. As I stated before, we have not been privy to the relevant documents, but we are moving as speedily as possible to reach a definitive conclusion.

Winnipeg is anxiously awaiting a verdict (cr: Andy Terletski@Flickr)

Judging by the statements above it’s difficult to make a prediction on what would happen should Glendale be able to sell the bonds and force Goldwater’s hand. In Olsen’s first response to me she echoed a lot of what has been going around in the media in regards to Goldwater feeling the deal is completely illegal. However, she does not say definitively that she can go on record as disagreeing with Bettman’s advisors. One would think Goldwater would have had the time to read the 600 pages and know what they want to do far in advance of any bond sale. The people of Winnipeg, Manitoba where the team could relocate for next season are hoping that the Goldwater Institute has their highlighters out when going through these documents they’ve received from Glendale. The people of Phoenix and Glendale are hoping they’re already in the shredder.

If the bonds are able to be sold due to the cautious optimism we’ve heard about this week (and that’s a huge if), Coyotes fans will need to pray that Goldwater doesn’t have anything highlighted and ready to file suit the second the bonds sell. Time is running short for this team to play in Glendale next season. With an estimated $40 million in losses this year, the NHL will be on the hook for about $15 million since the City of Glendale only agreed to cover $25 million in losses for the season. The NHL will NOT allow this situation to drag on much longer and they will not finance this team another dime beyond this season. Even if the bonds sell, if Goldwater files suit immediately after, the fans in Winnipeg can start celebrating, because the lawsuit would drag on past the deadline which is needed to prepare for next season.

The only two questions left are:
1.) Will Glendale be able to sell the bonds and force the hand of the Goldwater Institute?
2.) Will Goldwater file suit once the bonds are sold?

UPDATE 3/14/11 9:30 PM:

Darcy Olsen made probably the biggest statement yet regarding Goldwater’s position. She told Brahm Resnik in an interview with 12News in Arizona that she was “99 percent” sure the institute would sue. That makes things sound considerably worse for hope in Glendale.

Those are the only two things left, and we’ll have our answer soon. It will be weeks, not months. Stay tuned.

For Hockey News/Discussion, Feel Free to Interact With and Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/justinflyer

  • Schuyler

    Adrian, I can’t really say if it was because the team did a poor job of marketing or if the local media didn’t think it newsworthy. I went to school six hours a day Monday through Friday and I also worked a full time job, so I rarely caught the news. At that time I had never been introduced to hockey and it simply wasn’t of any interest to me. I can say honestly that 99% of my peers would say the same thing. Growing up in Indiana, or anywhere in the mid-west for that matter, there are only rare pockets of true hockey fans and until one of them takes the time to share their passion for it, explain and defend the sport, you wouldn’t even know it ever existed. Thanks for that! I’ve never heard of the Racers or the WHA. It would be very cool to come across an old Wayne Gretzky sweater.

  • Schuyler

    Thanks Justin.. I lived in Glendale for two years during college. (2006-2008) At this time I was not a fan of Hockey, at all. The sport simply did not exist. Since moving back home (Indiana) for work and to eventually continue my education, I have become a fan of hockey (this happened last season and now I’m hooked).The Coyotes have become my favorite team. From what you’ve said and from my education in law, I would have to agree with you. I am not convinced that the Coyotes will be staying in Glendale. I am by my own admission a rookie fan, but I would sure like to see the Yotes remain in Arizona. It is my opinion that their presence in that region would be a long-term investment with great return, but if they go anywhere, my only hope is that the NHL and Indianapolis could work something out. Conseco Fieldhouse maybe?

    • http://HockeyIndependent.com/blog/PenguinsMarch Adrian F.


      You mentioned when you lived in Glendale that “the sport simply did not exist”. I’m curious: was it because the Coyotes did a poor job at marketing the team or was it because local media didn’t think hockey and the team were worthy of coverage?

      p.s. I bet if you look hard enough in Indianapolis, you might be able to find some old vintage Indianapolis Racers WHA memorabilia – perhaps an old Wayne Gretzky sweater from when he played there as a teenager.

  • Justin Johnson

    Hi Schuyler.. Goldwater actually announced today they will sue if/when the deal closes. They believe it to violate two laws of the Arizona Constitution, which requires that no Arizona government “shall ever give or loan its credit in aid of, or make any donation or grant, by subsidy or otherwise, to any individual, association, or corporation. . .” The release goes on to mention The Goldwater Institute prevailed in a similar case against corporate subsidies last year in the Arizona Supreme Court.

    Goldwater is suing plain and simple because they believe it violates the law and they think the taxpayers are going to get shafted. They also made points about Buffalo’s new owner buying the team with all private money. If you had to ask me now, I am pessimistic that the team can remain in Glendale for next season.

  • Schuyler

    I haven’t heard any reason(s) as to why Goldwater would sue. What would the benefit of that be? Anyone..

  • http://burningantsblog.com/slewfooters James Conley

    Good read.