Gary Bettman: Coyotes sale blocked

Updated: March 9, 2011, 12:53 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday night that the conservative Goldwater Institute "has placed a cloud on the bonds" needed to complete the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer.

"I quite frankly don't know who the people there report to or are accountable to," Bettman said, "but it fascinates me that whoever is running the Goldwater Institute can actually substitute their judgment for that of the Glendale City Council by, in effect, overturning a duly enacted resolution of the city and one that was enacted in public session."

Glendale mayor Elaine Scruggs said March 3 that the Goldwater Institute had "taken the unprecedented step" of warning bond-rating agencies that the city's agreement on a new lease for the Coyotes to play at the city-owner Jobing.com Arena violated the Arizona constitution.

In response to Scruggs, the Goldwater Institute pointed to an Op-ed piece in Thursday's Arizona Republic by institute president and chief executive officer Darcy Olsen saying it would be wrong to give Glendale "a free pass" to break the state's prohibition on government entities subsidizing private enterprise.

Bettman This situation is far too serious for such game play.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on the Goldwater Institute's interference in the sale of the Coyotes

The City of Glendale was poised to file suit against Goldwater over what it alleged was illegal interference in the attempted sale of the municipal bonds critical to keeping the Coyotes in Arizona. However, the city held off as discussions aimed at getting the bonds sold and a lease agreement finalized continued Monday, a source told ESPN.com.

Glendale's legal department is still prepared to file suit against the institute and individual board members if talks run aground or if the deal falls through.

Bettman, who traveled to Phoenix with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on Tuesday to meet with city and team officials, said his request to meet with Olsen was rejected, though Olsen did offer to join Bettman for a joint news conference.

"This situation is far too serious for such game play," Bettman said. "My hope is somehow Goldwater and Glendale can find a way to get this done, promptly."

Olsen issued a reply to Bettman on Wednesday: "It sounds like Commissioner Bettman is playing a game of his own: Hide the ball."

Olsen said Tuesday his organization had offered to meet with Bettman, Hulsizer and Scruggs in a setting "open to journalists to ensure transparency for the public."

"To date, only Mr. Hulsizer has indicated an interest in meeting," Olsen added, saying his group has no information regarding the negotiations. "Whatever the outcome, we continue to hope that all parties will respect the [state] constitution and render legal action unnecessary."

In an interview with the NHL Network on Tuesday, Bettman said the clock is ticking.

"We're hanging in there, our commitment is as strong as ever, but time is running out, and if something doesn't happen, we're going to be close to the end," Bettman said in an interview with the NHL Network on Tuesday night. "The bonds need to get sold; it's as simple as that."

However, Bettman would not give a specific timetable on the sale.

"That would just be an invitation for the Goldwater Institute to tough it out. We're going to hang in there as long as possible, but our time is not infinite, and at some point we're going to have to start exploring our alternatives."

The NHL has the right to begin relocation of the team at any time, and if the bond issue drags out much longer without a resolution, or if the deal falls apart for any other reason, the NHL will move swiftly to announce the team will move to Winnipeg for the start of the 2011-12 season.

Glendale must sell $116 million in bonds to provide Hulsizer with money to complete the transaction. Hulsizer would buy the team from the NHL, which purchased the Coyotes in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the fall of 2009.

Bettman said the bonds remain the one obstacle left to be cleared.

"Based on what we have been told by the bond underwriters, the market for these bonds -- solely because of the Goldwater threat -- has been impacted," Bettman said. "In light of their conduct in this matter, I question whether this is really an organization that is concerned with the public interest despite a mission statement that calls for expanding free enterprise and support for the public interest."

Hulsizer said during the telecast of a Phoenix game in his hometown Chicago that the concerns raised by the Goldwater Institute are raising interest rates on the bonds Glendale has to sell.

"The rate that the city would have to pay is unnecessarily high," he said, "to the tune of $100 million over the next 30 years. That is due to the Goldwater Institute's questions."

The Coyotes have lost tens of millions of dollars virtually every season since moving from Winnipeg in 1995.

Bettman said it is the NHL's continued hope that the sale to Hulsizer can be completed.

"There is a deal structure for Matt Hulsizer to buy the Coyotes from the league," he said. "There are arrangements in place approved that would enable the Coyotes to live happily ever after in Jobing.Com Arena and that would ensure that the arena doesn't go dark."

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

ALSO SEE