It's been a long time coming, but the longest running soap opera in the modern NHL has finally reached a conclusion.
From NHL press release:
"The National Hockey League believes in Arizona as an NHL market and that thesenew owners can provide the Coyotes the opportunity to secure a stable, long-term future in Glendale," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We thank Mike Nealy, Don Maloney, Dave Tippett, team captain Shane Doan and all the players and staff for consistently going 'above and beyond' on behalf of the franchise during this long and complex process. We thank the Coyotes' devoted fans for their patient, perseverant support. We are extremely pleased that a positive resolution has been achieved for the fans, the city, the Coyotes and the League."
City of Glendale's statement on sale (per Craig Morgan):
"The city of Glendale is very pleased with the announcement from the National Hockey League (NHL) that IceArizona Acquisition Co., LLC has finalized its purchase of the team. The city is looking forward to working with IceArizona to continue the long-term presence and success of the Coyotes in Glendale. As we move forward, the city and team will focus on building momentum for this season by welcoming new and returning fans to Glendale's Sports and Entertainment District and supporting the many shops and restaurants that make up this important economic engine for the city.
"We want to thank the dedicated fans for their ongoing support of the team and the city of Glendale. As the anchor tenant for Jobing.com Arena, the Coyotes play more than 40 home games in our city that annually attract more than 500,000 fans and we are looking forward to many successful years ahead."
This morning the NHL Board of Governors overwhelmingly approved the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to IceArizona, formerly Renaissance Sports & Entertainment. The $170 million purchase, partially financed through loans from the Fortress Investment Group and the league itself, demonstrates the NHL's fervent desire to make private ownership of the Coyotes as successful as possible.
The City of Glendale also played a major role in the completion of the transaction by approving a 15 year, $225 million lease agreement of publicly owned Jobing.com Arena with IceArizona. In addition to providing the Coyotes, IceArizona has partnered with Global Spectrum to operate the arena and attract additional events, such as concerts and expositions.
That isn't to say that the new ownership group won't have its fair share of challenges. Attendance has lagged ever since the team formally entered bankruptcy protection four years ago, and the team has struggled financially. Although most indicators have trended upwards, the question remains if IceArizona will have enough time to dig out of the hole before financial losses cause the team to be more trouble than it's worth.
But there are many reasons to be optimistic. Anthony LeBlanc, who has been involved in negotiations to purchase the team in numerous capacities over the years, has been around long enough to have a thorough understanding of the franchise's challenges, and other partners like Daryl Jones have done an outstanding job on social media of making Coyotes fans believe that IceArizona is committed to them.
Some of the less commonly utilized metrics also reflect positively on the future of the team. Youth hockey in Arizona continues to grow, and several prospects from Arizona are poised to either play major roles on NCAA and CHL teams or make the step into the big leagues. Additionally, with teams like the Suns and the Cardinals entering rebuilds, the Coyotes are arguably in the best position, among any team in the Valley, to compete for a championship; and if the Phoenix market loves anything, it's a winner.
The final reason to be optimistic can be summed up in the following tweets:
Now we can all just be hockey fans and talk about trades, free agents and games on the ice. Thank God!— Tim Greene (@CoyotesAvs12) August 3, 2013
There are, understandably, many fans across the Valley who have been hesitant to invest emotionally in a team that could be playing in another country the next year. Developing a serious passion for the game isn't hard, but it takes time and commitment. Dedicated fans are some of the best ambassadors for the franchise, because they are the ones who generate buzz, who talk excitedly about hockey around the office and who drag their friends out to games.
Stable ownership is a major factor in turning that buzz into long-term enthusiasm. Stable ownership makes the Coyotes a competitive destination for top free agents like Mike Ribeiro. Stable ownership provides the marketing and advertising that gets people talking about the team, but most importantly, stably ownership creates positivity, and positivity is infectious.
So will NHL hockey in Arizona succeed? A lot of people are taking a leap of faith to try and make that happen. But, for the first time in long time, the Phoenix Coyotes are going to get a fair shot to try.