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Potential Coyotes owner makes strong case at meetings

by | Staff Writer

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- If and when businessman Matthew Hulsizer gets to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL, it won't be for the purpose of moving the franchise any time soon, commissioner Gary Bettman insisted at the conclusion of the league's annual Board of Governors winter meetings.

"Whenever anyone buys a franchise, they are typically bound by a lease of a certain term and we typically require a new owner to commit to a certain time," Bettman said. "If anybody is speculating that this is a short-term play, they are off the mark completely."

Hulsizer left a very good impression with the other owners. (Getty Images)  
Hulsizer left a very good impression with the other owners. (Getty Images)  
Hulsizer, a wealthy 40-year-old financier from Chicago who played hockey at Amherst College and now coaches a kids-level team, met with members of the board's executive committee at the outset of the meetings. According to Bettman, Hulsizer provided them with enough of a comfort level to ensure he will be unanimously recommended for approval should his purchase offer get to the full board.

"He came across as someone committed and passionate about the game and who understands the challenges of operating a franchise what needs to be done in Phoenix," Bettman said. "He gave the owners in the room a very good assessment of what he sees as both the challenges and the opportunities for hockey in Arizona and he's enthusiastic about his ability to meet those challenges."

First though, Hulsizer must complete negotiations with the city of Glendale on a new lease for the Arena.

Hulsizer's bid to buy the team the league has owned since it went into bankruptcy before last season stalled about three months ago when the two sides hit an impasse over the price. The NHL is said to be looking to get $165 million for the team, about $25 million more than Hulsizer was rumored to be willing to pay. But sources said the city, stuck between a rock and a hard place, will make up the difference in lease concessions.

Glendale is already on the hook to the NHL for the first $25 million of this season's losses and in theory has until Dec. 31 to finalize things or risk the league looking to relocate the franchise. A standing offer for the team is in place from a group in Winnipeg, where the Coyotes originally resided. And another former NHL precinct -- Quebec City -- is also eyeing a chance to get back into the league.

But the city of Glendale is loathe to allow it to happen at its expense, lest it leave empty an arena that cost taxpayers nearly $180 million to build less than a decade ago.

For his part, Hulsizer was optimistic the deal would be completed by the end of the year and that the team can be successful in the long run in the desert.

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"This is not a home-run investment for us, but it's been my experience that if you make a great product, hockey teams have a lot of value," Hulsizer said after a get-acquainted session with the executive committee Monday. "Those things tend to grow over time. I tend to be a longer-term investor. As I look out 25 years, I think people will look back and say 'Hey, that might have looked smart.'

"Right now, it's not going to look smart for a long time, though."

The Phoenix sale wasn't the only ownership situation on the agenda. The governors approved the transfer of Calgary owner Harley Hotchkiss' shares to his partners as part of his estate planning.

Among the other matters dealt with -- during what Bettman described as a routine meeting -- included a review of hockey operations, specifically with regard to dealing with head shots and shootouts, with the commissioner contending that both situations are satisfactory at the moment.

There was also an update on the league's media situation (television deals with Versus and NBC are set to expire); a discussion of the salary cap, which is expected to rise about $3 million next season; a discussion on the new All-Star Game format; and a preview of the four-part HBO 24/7 series that will debut next week and feature the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins leading up to their New Year's Day Winter Classic clash.

"The governors started clapping when it was over," Bettman said. "To see the investment that HBO was making in our game, the insight and access they were giving, even though there were 28 teams that weren't Pittsburgh or Washington, they appreciated how good this could be for the game."

After the meeting, Bettman was asked if there was any concern among the governors about the topics surrounding the embarrassing leak of private emails from league disciplinarian Colin Campbell.

"None whatsoever," Bettman said. "This obviously seems to be a bigger issue outside the room than inside, because while it was going on, the expressions of support were constant, universal and unqualified.

"But it didn't come up in this meeting."


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