Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For nearly four years the Phoenix Coyotes
searched far and wide for an ownership group to finally deliver them from an
era of tremendous uncertainty.
That quest officially came to an end Monday when the NHL, which had owned and
operated the franchise since 2009, completed the sale of the Coyotes to
IceArizona. With the deal finalized the club now knows it'll be playing in
Glendale, Ariz. for at least the next five seasons, giving the Coyotes more
stability than they've had in quite some time.
The new ownership group, which is led by Canadian businessmen George Gosbee
and Anthony LeBlanc, has a prime opportunity to prove once and for all that
hockey belongs in the desert.
"It was a complicated transaction, probably one of the most complicated
transactions I've worked on in 21 years in the financial business," Gosbee
said in a conference call. "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."
Unlike the NHL, which was doing its best just to keep the franchise afloat,
the new owners should be able to focus more on putting a strong product on the
ice and not simply making sure the bills get paid. The fact that Phoenix was
able to make the playoffs for three straight years before last season was a
testament to the team's ability to play through distractions, but the Coyotes
could fare even better without the constant specter of financial ruin or
possible relocation hanging over their heads.
IceArizona purchased the Coyotes for $170 million and the sale also sets in
motion a $225 million lease agreement for Jobing.com Arena in which the city
of Glendale will pay the team $15 million annually for 15 years to operate the
building. If things go as planned and the projected revenues pan out, the club
is expected to reimburse Glendale to the tune of $9 million a year.
However, Gosbee and LeBlanc also have allowed themselves a way out should the
financial situation in Glendale become untenable. The new owners had a five-
year out clause built into the sale agreement and they can enact that
stipulation should their cumulative losses grow to $50 million over the next
The out clause was essential for the new owners, who felt the need to insulate
themselves from possible financial ruin should the Coyotes fail to make money.
Not a bad idea considering Phoenix has been ranked either last or second-to-
last in the NHL in average attendance in each of the last four seasons. Gosbee
and LeBlanc will beef up the organization's marketing division in an attempt
to solve the attendance problems, but time will only tell if those efforts are
successful or not.
"I think the onus is on us to put the product out there," LeBlanc said about
the out clause.
Although the Coyotes are anything but a safe bet as a financial investment,
the hockey side of things will remain in the steady hands of general manager
Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett. The duo found a way to make the best
of a bad situation while the franchise was under NHL control and somehow
managed to make it to the Western Conference finals in the spring of 2012
before bowing out to the Los Angeles Kings.
However, during last season's lockout-shortened campaign the Coyotes finished
10th in the West and four points out of a playoff spot. It was the first time
the franchise missed the postseason since Wayne Gretzky's last season as
Coyotes head coach in 2008-09. Despite missing the playoffs the Coyotes could
be in line for a rebound season with the ownership question finally answered.
In time, the hope is Phoenix's new owners will bring about an era of financial
stability that allows them to open the coffers and spend some money to lure
Maloney and Tippett have proven they can get a lot done on a tight budget, but
I'm sure they wouldn't mind having a little extra money to spend. Perhaps the
signing of centerman Mike Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million in early July --
before the new ownership deal was officially approved -- is the sign of more
free-spending days to come.
It's unlikely the Coyotes will ever be able to match the Philadelphia Flyers
or Detroit Red Wings of the world in spending, but at long last there is hope
they can start functioning like a healthy NHL franchise.
Gosbee and LeBlanc have five years to prove buying the Coyotes was a worthy
The clock starts now.
The Sports Network