In July 2013, the Glendale City Council voted—barely, by a 4-3 margin—to approve a complicated lease deal that was the last possible hope of keeping the Coyotes in Arizona. A new report from the Seattle Times reveals that the NHL had a contingency plan in place if the vote went the other way: moving trucks were literally standing by to relocate the team to Seattle.
Three sources with knowledge of negotiations confirm the Coyotes would have been bought by New York investment banker Ray Bartoszek and his partner Anthony Lanza and moved to Seattle as soon as the following day — playing up to three seasons at KeyArena — had the vote not passed.
"Most people don't realize how close we were to actually getting an NHL team,'' says former Seattle mayor Mike McGinn, who had been involved in the relocation talks.
The Bartoszek/Lanza group was mentioned as leading potential buyers at the time, as was a "framework" for a lease to see the Coyotes play at the KeyArena until a new arena could be financed a built, so this isn't out of left field. What is new is evidence that the NHL was ready to immediately pull the trigger on the sale and relocation if the Glendale vote had failed.
The league needed its 2013-14 schedule finalized and was serious about a firm deadline and no further negotiations.
"I understood that if Glendale didn't proceed, that we could get an NHL team,'' McGinn says.
That view is supported by an internal memo from the NHL Players Association dated June 27, 2013 — five days before the Glendale vote.
The memo, obtained by Forbes, told players unless the lease was approved, the NHL "would immediately pursue one of several backup alternatives which likely would entail a prompt relocation of the franchise. While there are several potential cities ... it appears that Seattle is the most likely."
Two sources with first-hand knowledge have confirmed New York investor Bartoszek had moving trucks on standby to relocate the team to Seattle. They say a Seattle financing specialist had helped Bartoszek line up local investors to own a small piece of the franchise.
To think the Coyotes were a single swing vote from loading its franchise onto a fleet of trucks in the middle of the night and abandoning the desert forever. (Perhaps incidentally, the Arizona Attorney General is investigating claims of irregularity in the Glendale City Council's voting process, specifically a secret negotiating session with the Coyotes that wasn't disclosed, in violation of state law.)
The Coyotes may not be too long for Arizona anyway, not with the NHL publicly and privately considering the value of a handful of potential new hockey markets. The lease that kept the Coyotes in Glendale contains an out clause: if the team loses $50 million over five years, the deal's off. According to the New York Post's Larry Brooks, the team claimed a $24 million loss last season alone.