December 22, 2018 | 8:30am ET
BY DAVID PAGNOTTA, The Fourth Period
COYOTES SALE INCHING CLOSER, FUTURE UNCERTAIN
TORONTO, ON -- The wheels have been in motion for months and it now appears the Arizona Coyotes are in the process of being sold.
On Nov. 6, I reported an ownership change was coming for the Arizona Coyotes. At the time, I had been told a sale may happen around the end of the calendar year or early-2019 and one league source had indicated the parties were still going through the “due diligence phase.”
Earlier this month, following the Board of Governors meetings in Georgia, it seemed negotiations were getting a tad bumpy and the hope was a deal would come by the end of the regular-season.
It seems things have been smoothing themselves out and we could get official word as early as next month.
According to one well-placed league source with close knowledge of the situation, the process of selling the Coyotes is considered “active” and “could be resolved relatively soon.”
There is still no set timeline as to when current owner Andrew Barroway will finalize his deal with this purchaser – I’ve not yet been able to confirm if it’s a group or an individual buying the majority of the club – and it’s still unclear if he’ll have a piece of the franchise when all is said an done. Either way, a sale is coming and the spotlight on team’s future in Arizona is about shine once again.
Let’s make one thing clear, the League’s focus is to keep the team in Arizona. This new prospective owner/ownership group knows and understands that. But how long the Coyotes remain in the Greater Phoenix area is centered on the pursuit of a new arena.
Barroway has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to find a new home for the Coyotes. He’s come close, but things always seemed to fall apart. It’s believed selling the franchise may spark discussions and help the team’s hunt.
In my estimation, if a new arena is not in the works and built within the next three-to-five years, the Coyotes’ tenure in Arizona will come to an end.
And that’s where Houston comes into play.
There has been a ton of recent speculation surrounding Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta’s interest in the Coyotes and his desire to bring an NHL franchise to Houston. He sparked further buzz on Dec. 14 at a Coyotes away game against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden when he reiterated to at least one reporter – John McClain, who covers the Houston Texans for the Houston Chronicle – his desire to purchase the Coyotes.
For what it’s worth, I dug a little further into the matter and one NHL source told me that while Fertitta has indeed met with the League and discussed the possibility of owning an NHL franchise and housing a team in Houston, their last official meeting was at least six months ago.
“Rest assured, nothing going on,” the NHL source said with respect to Fertitta buying the Coyotes right now.
So any link tying this Coyotes sale to Fertitta doesn’t seem to hold much water, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t keeping tabs on the situation. It’s entirely possible he scoops in if a new arena in the Phoenix area isn’t in the cards in a few years.
As the holidays swoop in, I don’t expect much more news on this sale until early-January, at the earliest. But it’s coming and the hope is it gets the ball rolling on a new facility in the not-too-distant future.
MORE DRAMA IN OTTAWA
As if the last 12 months haven’t been enough of an eye-roll in Ottawa, the latest hoopla surrounding Eugene Melnyk’s LeBreton Flats project, which included a new home for the Senators, just about takes the cake.
To make a long story short, Melnyk sued his then-partner John Ruddy of Trinity Development Group Inc. for $700 million, citing an “egregious conflict of interest” after their plans fell apart. Ruddy then counter-sued Melnyk for $1 billion on Tuesday, claiming Melnyk wants a “free arena” for the Senators and doesn’t have the funds to go ahead with the project. And as I was told after this month’s BOG meetings, their arrangement with the National Capital Commission, who own the land, terminated its deal with Melnyk and Ruddy on Wednesday.
You can be sure the NHL is watching this situation ever so closely – especially after they were kept out of the loop, for the most part, that Melnyk’s deal was falling apart, I was told from a League source.
According to the source, the NHL had no further clarity on the developments going into their BOG meetings earlier this month and called the Senators’ current situation both “dire” and “complicated.”
It appears some of the NHL’s other owners are frustrated by these turn of events, as it could affect the team’s overall valuation.
On July 28, I reported the Senators were presented with an offer to sell the team. While Melnyk engaged in talks, he ultimately rejected the proposal. At the time, I was told the pitch was well below what Melnyk or the NHL would consider as market value, which is now believed to be around $600 million to $700 million for the Sens – how this latest development affects the numbers remains to be seen.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged the report, at the time, but told me via email he did not “equate an offer to purchase the Sens with an intention or desire to sell the team.” Soon after, Melnyk reestablished his commitment to keeping the Senators.
Another cause for concern is the suggestion in Ruddy’s countersuit that Melnyk’s company, Capital Sports Management Inc., and effectively Melnyk himself, “is not financially sound.”
On July 27, one day prior to my report, the Senators announced a $135 million refinancing loan that has a six-year term credit with multiple financial institutions on both sides of the border. On Oct. 19, they entered into a $30 million five-year revolving credit facility with the Bank of Montreal’s Corporate Finance Division.
Things have certainly changed since the season started – for example, players have told me Melnyk’s presence around the locker room has been uncharacteristically and noticeably minimal – and one has to wonder what happens now.
As is my understanding, there are at least two groups interested in pursuing the purchase of the Senators – the previous group and another one – but it’s unclear if either of them have recently expressed their intentions to Melnyk or the NHL. Could Melnyk reconsider his position? Perhaps, though I’m sure he’ll argue against that.
COULD DOLAN SELL THE RANGERS?
On Monday, ESPN came out with its interview with New York Rangers and Knicks owner James Dolan, who is also the chairman of Madison Square Garden, in which he said he would consider selling the Knicks if the right offer presented itself.
“You hear numbers all the time,” Dolan said in response to the possibility of selling the Knicks. “...I think people have sent feelers out, but never any that were pursued. Yeah, (the feelers are) around that number ($5 billion), but those thing, it’s like a stock price. It’s only important if you’re going to buy or sell.”
Dolan has put up the New York Liberty of the WNBA for sale, and according to a very well placed source, he would also consider selling the Rangers for the right price.
In his interview with ESPN, he cited “a responsibility to your shareholders” as to reasons why he’d consider selling the Rangers or Knicks.
With a $5 billion tag hovering around the Knicks, I’ve been told a $2 billion figure on the Rangers would likely result in a meaningful conversation.
Dolan has investigated what the Rangers are actually worth, as he’s believed to have hired a form of representation to determine a full valuation of the franchise and what levels of interest there may be out there.
This in no way means he’s seriously considering selling the Rangers, but he’s doing his due diligence, as anyone in his position would have to do.
CRAWFORD MAY BE DONE
Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford is out indefinitely with a concussion and there is a strong chance he’ll be shut down for the remainder of this season.
Crawford, who has one-year remaining on his contract after this season, suffered his latest concussion Sunday and there is legitimate concern over the future of his playing career.
The Montreal native has been seeing a specialist this week and neither he nor the Blackhawks want to rush a decision. He’s not eligible to return to action until Dec. 27 at the earliest, but given the level of concern over his overall health, that would surprise quite a few people.
There is no timetable as to when an official decision will be made, but there is significant internal talk over shutting him down and shifting the focus from playing to fully recovering – and given the team’s performance this season, you can’t blame the team for moving in this direction, if the doctors feel it’s the best move for the netminder.