BOCA RATON, Fla. – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has faith in the Phoenix area as a hockey market. He just doesn’t see the City of Glendale and Gila River Arena as economically feasible to house the Arizona Coyotes.
Bettman relayed these beliefs to reporters at the NHL’s general managers meetings, a day after he sent a letter to the Arizona state legislature in regards to a bill that would provide $395-million in public-private funding to get a new arena built, with more emphasis on public funds than private.
In that letter he said the team’s location in Glendale at Gila River Arena “was not economically capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise.”
He also said the Coyotes, “must have a new arena location to succeed. The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale.“
On Wednesday, Bettman said that the league wants the team to stay in the Phoenix metropolitan area, but that under no circumstances did he see Glendale under ias a viable option.
“I don’t want it misconstrued. We are not giving up on the Coyotes in the Greater Phoenix Area. The fact that the Coyotes are even having discussions about moving out of Glendale is because the City of Glendale chose to terminate the long-term agreement they had with the team. Had they not terminated that agreement we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Bettman said. “The Coyotes are looking at the numerous options they have in the Valley and we expect one of them to go to fruition. The purpose of the letter was there is a bill pending and I believe the City of Glendale was lobbying, saying if the other municipalities, the senators from those municipalities don’t approve it, then the team will have to stay in Glendale. That’s not going to be the case. The team has got a number of options and is going to pursue them so nobody should think that team is moving other than out of Glendale. But short-term they’re going to stay in Glendale while they’re pursuing the options.”
In November, the Coyotes announced they had entered an agreement with Arizona State to build a new arena in Tempe – closer to the team’s fan-base in the East Valley. But ASU, which started play as a Division-I college hockey team this season, pulled out of the deal, which again forced the Coyotes to figure out their arena options. AEG, which owns the Los Angeles Kings, currently manages the arena so the Coyotes won’t have a problem staying there until they find a home. The problem is that it’s not economically sustainable for them.
Arizona’s most recent uncertainty has come about because in the summer of 2015, the City of Glendale backed out of their lease with the team. The Coyotes have played in the arena in Glendale since 2003.
Over the last eight years, Bettman has gone to great lengths to keep the Coyotes in the Valley. At one point the NHL even owned the Coyotes as Bettman tried to find a buyer.
The Phoenix metropolitan location has the 12th biggest population in the United States and the local youth programs have started to produce NHL players.
Auston Matthews, who was raised in Scottsdale, was the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Draft last summer by the Toronto Maple Leafs and has excelled as a rookie this year.
“I think it’s a great market. I think the players love playing there. I think it’s good for the league,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. “I think you see Auston Matthews and that type of a story, you just go to the youth hockey rinks in Arizona, you know it would be a terrible thing if we left at this point. I would say that’s the wrong statement for sure.”
Bettman was asked whether after eight years of team financial struggles if it was time for the NHL to stop looking to help the team stay in the area. He scoffed at this notion.
“We think it’s a good market. We think circumstances have come together consistently where there is always been an issue,” Bettman said. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if Glendale didn’t cancel the long-term lease.”
Overall, Chayka expressed gratitude that Bettman was willing to put as much weight as possible behind the team’s attempt to land a new arena.
“I thought it was good. I thought it kind of brought to light a few issues. One is that we’re not going anywhere short-term. Two is we had a long-term agreement with Glendale that they canceled and there’s a lot of options in the greater Phoenix area,” Chayka said. “For us a group we just have to find the right fit and is economically feasible and sustainable long-term and I think that’s god for the organization, that’s good for the league, that’s good for everybody. That’s what we’re looking for.”
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