NHL denies Phoenix-area report

Updated: March 30, 2010, 8:49 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The NHL says it has no agreement to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Winnipeg or anywhere else if owners cannot be found to keep the team in Arizona.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly says that the league's focus remains on keeping the team in Glendale and "based on the communications and information" the NHL is receiving, those involved continue to be highly confident that the transaction can be completed.

Daly issued the statement Monday in response to a report in the Phoenix Business Journal that Toronto billionaire David Thomson has an agreement in principle to potentially move the franchise back to Winnipeg if a buyer to keep the team in Arizona can't be found.

The Winnipeg Jets moved to Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 and the team has never turned a profit in the desert.

"At this point in time the National Hockey League has no 'deal' in place to move the Coyotes' franchise to Winnipeg -- or to any other city for that matter -- in the event a transaction cannot be timely consummated in Glendale," Daly said.

"We have had ongoing discussions over time regarding their potential interest in owning an NHL franchise ... and potentially bringing an NHL franchise back to Winnipeg," Daly continued. "It remains an intriguing possibility and one we would consider given appropriate circumstances, but there is nothing new to report on that front at this time."

Sources told ESPN.com Monday that Glendale officials could examine a proposal for a revamped lease with potential owners Ice Edge Holdings in an on-camera session Tuesday evening.

There have been repeated reports the Ice Edge financing is on shaky ground, but the head of Ice Edge Holdings says his company remains on track to purchase the Coyotes, despite widespread speculation that the acquisition is in trouble over financing.

Chief executive officer Anthony LeBlanc also says the company has hired former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods to finalize a new lease agreement with the city of Glendale.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Monday night, LeBlanc quoted Mark Twain in saying, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

If the proposed changes (designed to improve revenue streams for both the team and the municipality) are approved by the committee, the proposal then would be taken to the full city council for approval. Sources told ESPN.com that once a new lease is approved, financing should quickly follow.

"Ice Edge continues to work closely with the city of Glendale and the NHL to finalize all required pieces of this very complex transaction," LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc called hiring Woods "the final piece of the puzzle to bring everything to closure."

Although the NHL and the City of Glendale have discussed a timeline for coming up with a new lease agreement, sources told ESPN.com on Monday no current deadline existed.

The Winnipeg Jets moved to Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 and the team has never turned a profit in the desert.

The NHL bought the Coyotes in U.S. Bankruptcy Court last year after an attempt by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie to buy the team and force a move to Hamilton, Ontario, was rejected. The league has said it would look into moving the team if no local owner is found by June. Any sale that would keep the team in Arizona would require a new lease agreement with the city of Glendale.

Daly's statement did not address widespread reports, none substantiated, that a group headed by Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of baseball's Chicago White Sox and the NBA's Chicago Bulls, has re-entered the situation and could replace Ice Edge as a local buyer. Reinsdorf withdrew a bid in bankruptcy court last year, citing the inability to reach a suitable agreement with Glendale.

Attorney John Kaites, who represented Reinsdorf in the earlier negotiations, has not responded to an e-mail seeking comment.

On the ice, the Coyotes have been one of this season's surprise success stories. Under coach Dave Tippett, who was hired in late September after Wayne Gretzky resigned from the post, the Coyotes have clinched their first playoff berth since 2002 and, entering Monday's action, had the third-best record in the NHL behind Washington and San Jose.

Entering Monday, Phoenix was 47-23-6 through 76 games and fighting for home-ice advantage in the first round of the postseason.

The team has played to consecutive sellout home crowds.

LeBlanc called the Coyotes' success "one of the best sports stories in recent memory."

Information from ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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