NEW YORK – The Phoenix Coyotes could be down to their final five days of existence.
With the future of the team hanging in the balance, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman set a July 2 deadline for city officials in Glendale, Ariz., to wrap up a lease agreement that would save it.
If that doesn’t happen, the NHL is prepared to move the Coyotes before next season.
“If the council doesn’t approve it so that this transaction can close, I don’t think the Coyotes will be playing there anymore,” Bettman said Thursday after a meeting of the NHL’s Board of Governors.
They were the strongest comments yet from the commissioner, who had previously refused to set any sort of deadline for the transaction. However, with the start of the 2013-14 season now just three months away, it’s time to get some answers.
At issue is the city’s lease agreement with Renaissance Sports & Entertainment — which recently reached a deal to buy the Coyotes from the NHL — to run Jobing.com Arena.
The ownership group headed by Canadian investors George Gosbee, Anthony LeBlanc and Daryl Jones has been in negotiations with the Glendale city council over the management fee it would receive to run the building.
While Bettman updated the NHL board on the Coyotes situation Thursday, no votes were required. The league is essentially waiting to hear what the city decides — and doing all it can to crank up the heat on that decision.
“I find it difficult to conceive of why, if the council turns this down, we would want to keep the team in Glendale any longer,” said Bettman. “We will then — if they turn it down — have to deal with the possibilities and the options that will be available to us and they are numerous.”
The leading candidate for relocation remains Seattle, although deputy commissioner Bill Daly noted that Quebec City couldn’t yet be ruled out either.
Neither of those cities currently has a building as large and modern as the rink where the Coyotes currently play. A new arena is currently under construction in Quebec while plans for a new building in Seattle are up in the air.
The relocated Coyotes could find a home at KeyArena — which formerly had the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics as its chief tenant — although the building wouldn’t be able to seat more than 13,000 and would require temporary ice-making machinery to be installed.
Still, Daly said “we believe it can” play host to a NHL team.
The NHL is believed to have prepared multiple schedules covering the range of possibilities and won’t tinker with the approved realignment plan even if the Coyotes are moved next year, according to Daly.
The official schedule should be released by mid-July.
Another lingering item that is close to resolution is the continued participation of NHLers in the Winter Olympics.
Bettman said he was granted approval by the board to formalize a deal with the NHL Players’ Association, International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation that would send players to Sochi in February — an agreement the commissioner hopes to conclude during a meeting in New York on Monday.
Beyond that, there was no formal action taken by the board during its annual end-of-season meeting. Proposed rule changes spanning from mandatory visors to shallower nets to smaller goaltending equipment won’t be made official until the NHLPA’s executive board meets next week.
Meanwhile, Brendan Shanahan acknowledged that he declined an opportunity to join the Calgary Flames front office earlier this month. The NHL’s director of player safety will continue to work for the league.