GLENDALE, Ariz. – Phoenix Coyotes general manager Don Maloney stood at a podium deep inside Jobing.com Arena and talked about his contract extension, his priorities over the next few months and the future of the organization.
Just five miles down Glendale Avenue at City Hall, the NHL’s hierarchy and a potential new ownership group met with members of the Glendale City Council to discuss a new arena lease agreement, the final hurdle in a four-year quest to keep the franchise in Arizona.
Yes, both are encouraging steps toward finally giving the Coyotes some long-awaited stability.
But with as many times as this saga has offered false hope in the past, it might be better to wait until all the papers have been officially signed before getting too excited.
“The positive is that the NHL is meeting Glendale and there is going to be some sort of resolution in the weeks ahead,” Maloney said during a news conference on Tuesday. “Whatever that means, we don’t know, but we know we’re moving forward in that area.”
Maloney has been at the franchise’s helm for six seasons, the past four working with the financial and operational restraints of being run by the NHL. He was successful at pulling just the right strings, putting together a team that made the playoffs three of the past four seasons, including having the best year in franchise history.
Despite having one of the most unenviable front-office positions in all of sports, Maloney wanted to stay with the Coyotes and took a leap of faith that the ownership issue would be resolved, agreeing to a long-term contract extension last week.
The Coyotes added more stability on Tuesday, exercising contract extensions on associate coach Jim Playfair and goalie coach Sean Burke.
Head coach Dave Tippett, who attended Tuesday’s news conference, is expected to sign a deal to stay with the organization in the next few weeks and Maloney is hoping to work out deals to keep the rest of the support and scouting staffs.
There are also numerous players to re-sign, including No. 1 goalie Mike Smith and forward Boyd Gordon, who both become free agents on July 1.
What happens with all those deals will likely hinge on what happens with the ownership situation.
Last week, the NHL agreed to sell the team to Renaissance Sports&Entertainment, a group headed by Canadian investors George Gosbee, Anthony LeBlanc and Daryl Jones. Their deal is contingent upon reaching a lease agreement for Jobing.com Arena with the city of Glendale.
The potential owners joined NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in Glendale on Tuesday, meeting first with Glendale Mayor Jerry Weier, then with City Council members to begin lease-agreement talks.
“We had a number of constructive meetings today with the Mayor, various members of the City Council and the acting City Manager,” Daly said in a statement. “Everyone involved in today’s discussions shares the desire and ultimate objective of transitioning the ownership of the Coyotes and safeguarding the franchise’s long-term future in Glendale. We expect that representatives from the Renaissance group will begin meeting with the City to see if a mutually agreeable lease arrangement can be forged expeditiously. We will have no further comment pending completion of that process.”
It’s an encouraging step, but the organization and its fans have been close before, only to be disappointed.
The Coyotes have been operated by the NHL since they were purchased out of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 2009 following former owner Jerry Moyes’ attempt to sell the team to Blackberry founder Jim Balsillie, who wanted to move the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario.
Since then, the franchise has had numerous suitors, most recently former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison. His bid fell through in January, when he was unable to pull the necessary funds and investors together to meet a lease agreement deadline with Glendale.
Numerous potential owners cropped up after that, but the NHL went with RSE, which has several partners who were part of a previous effort to buy the team under the name Ice Edge Inc.
RSE and the NHL moved toward finalizing the deal with Tuesday’s initial meeting with Glendale officials.
“The City Council will not be making a decision regarding the Coyotes until all pertinent information has been collected and reviewed and all the available options have been thoroughly studied,” the city said in a statement. “This includes several bids the city is expected to receive this Friday (May 31) from qualifiedvenue managers interested in operating the city owned Jobing.com Arena. Glendale is committed to moving forward on a plan that is in the best interests of our city and our citizens.”
While RSE and the NHL work on a deal with Glendale, Maloney will continue running the team as he has the past four years without an owner. He’ll do it, though, with an eye on the future, knowing an owner could be in place and finally loosen the purse strings.
“We’ve been going kind of sideways the last two or three years in regards of really building something lasting,” Maloney said. “We’ve sort of been in survival mode here for quite some time and we know with the right, stable group, the hockey side is in very good position.”
Maloney’s first priority will be to sign Tippett.
A master technician and one of the game’s best defensive minds, he came to the desert in the midst of the ownership chaos in 2009.
Playing with a roster low on front-line talent, he moulded the Coyotes into his grinding style, leading them to the playoffs three straight seasons and the franchise’s first NHL division title and trip to the Western Conference finals in 2011-12.
Tippett would have no trouble finding a job elsewhere, but has maintained all along that he likes the group in Phoenix and hopes to stay with the Coyotes.
“We’re just going to see how it plays out over the next few weeks,” Tippett said. “I came here on a leap of faith and I’m not going to jump off that. We just want to make sure that all the pieces are in place here so ultimately you have a chance to win.”
Finally landing an owner would be the biggest piece toward that.