LAS VEGAS – We don’t know much about the next owner of the Arizona Coyotes, but apparently Alex Meruelo has money. Lots of it. He owns a bank, so presumably access to funds will not be a problem. He also owns an island off the coast of Spain – yes, an island. And according to the super-reliable website Celebrity Net Worth, Meruelo has a net worth of $2 billion.
That’s the good news, because when it comes to this franchise, there has been an historic trend of owners who have had a serious case of the shorts. The bad news is he doesn’t have a suitable place for the Coyotes to play, even though the people who approved his membership into the NHL’s Board of Governors and annual croquet game seem to think he’ll be able to succeed where so, so many others have failed. “I think he’s committed to try to get a new arena in the right location and making it work,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “He is a person of substantial means and he’s very good, if you look at his career, in turning around businesses and making them successful, so I think this is an extraordinarily positive step for the Coyotes and their fans in Arizona.”
Bettman, however, would not go near what will happen if Meruelo fails to come up with an agreement for a new arena. “I’d rather not go there because I’m not going to issue threats,” Bettman said. “He has told us, including in his interview with the executive committee, that he very much likes Arizona, he wants to make it work there and he’s going to try very hard for that to be the case. Obviously, the club is not viable long-term in Glendale, but hopefully we don’t get to that point.”
One thing working in the Coyotes’ favor in all of this is their lease with Gila River Arena in Glendale. It runs on a season-to-season basis and all the Coyotes have to do in order to renew it is state their intentions by Dec. 31, something they could do in perpetuity because the arena is operated by AEG, owners of the Los Angeles Kings. AEG is more than happy to continue to accommodate its league partner until such time as the Coyotes tell them they are leaving. So if Meruelo is successful in securing an arena deal, extricating the Coyotes from their Glendale obligations will not be difficult.
Meruelo declined to speak after the meeting, citing through a spokesman that the deal has not yet been finalized. But the 55-year-old son of Cuban immigrants who tried to purchase the Atlanta Hawks in 2011 is yet another breath of fresh air for the Coyotes. A sale price was not announced, but Forbes recently valued the Coyotes at $300 million. If the sale price is announced, expect it to come in somewhere about $500 million, but that includes about $300 million of debt.
Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly also said there should be some resolution on video review and rule changes very soon. Bettman said the board approved the rule changes and changes to video review that were recommended by the competition committee last week, so now all that remains is the input and approval of the GMs, who will be meeting Thursday afternoon in Vancouver prior to the draft. “There will be a lot of specificity (Thursday),” Daly said. “I don’t anticipate we’ll have a problem with the GMs.”
Eight days ago, the league’s competition committee made a number of proposals, including changes to the coach’s challenge and expanded video review, including as it relates to a referee’s ability to review some of his own calls on the ice. Under normal circumstances, either the GMs make recommendations to the competition committee or vice-versa before it is brought to the Board of Governors, but the way the calendar fell this season that wasn’t possible. “We’re a little backwards,” Daly said. “But everything was approved today by the board, subject to what approvals we need from the GMs.”
Amid reports that the salary cap could be lower than $82 million for next season, Bettman said he anticipates the league will be getting together with the NHL Players’ Association “in the next few weeks” to determine exactly where the cap will be set. This past season, the cap was set at $79.5 million and until recently, it was expected to go up to at least $82 million.
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