Phoenix Coyotes sale saga illustrates far-too-familiar NHL ownership problems

Christian Petersen

The collapse of Greg Jamison's ownership bid isn't just a familiar failure for the Coyotes. It's a familiar failure in the history of botched NHL ownerships.

It's past the point of a broken record, and it's well beyond farce: Once again, another much-hyped opportunity for the Phoenix Coyotes to find new ownership has fallen through.

Greg Jamison, who reached a lease agreement with the Glendale City Council long enough ago that several members have been ousted by voters because of it, has missed the final deadline to get the financing together to close a deal to buy the club from the NHL. Jamison's request for an extension was denied by new Glendale mayor Jerry Weiers.

People rightly see this as just another chapter in the tragedy that has dragged Coyotes fans, players and staff through hell for three and a half years. But in reality it's just another chapter in a far broader, far longer-running comedy: The NHL's endless and often fumbling quest to find competent, able-funded owners for its many franchises.

Forget Jerry Moyes, who was lured into a situation that put him in over his head and losing millions per year on the Coyotes. In the last 15 years alone, similar situations have played out for the New Jersey Devils, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, Dallas Stars, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning.

You know, to name a few.

Jamison is of course not the first potential Coyotes owner to fail to follow through. Moyes himself was lured into ownership by developer Steve Ellman, who was chasing a land deal that moved the Coyotes out to suburban Glendale in the first place. Long after their split dragged the Coyotes into bankruptcy, Matthew Hulsizer either didn't have the cash or the patience for Glendale, or both.

The common belief is that Jamison is simply short of cash, though there are some suggestions, such as by Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal, that Jamison's obstacle is not finances but rather issues of team control with his fellow investment partners.

Regardless, that's precisely the point here: The NHL consistently advances with ownership partners who either don't have the money to sustain a franchise or can't conjure it up without complex multi-party ownership groups that ultimately can't form a cohesive, unified ownership group for long.

  • The Devils reportedly narrowly avoided bankruptcy last month when owner Jeff Vanderbeek finally wrested control of the team from unhappy partners and restructured the team's debt with unhappy bankers.
  • The Blues were sold last year after a drawn-out process that saw former lead owner Dave Checketts unable to meet the financial demands under which he purchased the team.
  • The Thrashers moved to Winnipeg a season ago after years of the Atlanta Spirit Group ownership battling each other in court.
  • The Sabres were bought two years ago by Terry Pegula after years of budget ownership by Tom Golisano, who himself rescued the team from owners headed to prison.
  • The Lightning were bought in 2010 by Jeff Vinik after a drawn-out search to rescue them from the comically inept partnership of Hollywood producer Oren Koules and former NHLer-turned-land-huckster Len Barrie.
  • Prior to all that, the Senators were rescued from bankruptcy and the Predators and Oilers were saved only by large multi-party local ownership groups that were strained just to keep these teams afloat. The Panthers have been owned by a rotating cast of fleetingly interested characters, and the Stars were put in limbo when Tom Hicks' sports empire collapsed around him.
  • The late '90s "ownership" of the Islanders by fraudulent John Spano is the stuff of legend, and itself interrupted years of poor management by a four-man crew, half of whom later ended up in prison.

In several of these cases, most notably the Sabres and Lightning, a single billionaire eventually swooped in -- or was coaxed in -- to save the day and put their franchise on solid footing. In many respects, that is the ideal solution for a league with high expenses but very disparate revenue levels among its 30 teams.

The problem is finding such hockey-loving billionaires. Too often, the NHL has settled for much less. Too often, the league has been either naive or in blatant denial about the weaknesses of the new partners it chooses.

So the latest disappointment is nothing new to Coyotes fans as they near four years of this drama. It's also nothing new to the NHL as a whole.

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