Owners change and the relationship between the Arizona Coyotes and the City of Glendale carries on like a soap opera. Meanwhile, team general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett keep chugging along.
For six years Maloney and Tippett have witnessed so many arena debates and votes that the latest drama isn’t interrupting their daily work. The city council voted to nullify the Coyotes’ lease at Gila River Arena on Wednesday night, something the team feels is “without merit.”
“We are disappointed with the city’s decision to violate its obligations under the agreement that was entered into and duly approved only two years ago,” the Coyotes said in a statement. “We will exhaust any and all legal remedies against the city of Glendale for this blatant violation of its contractual obligations to us.”
In hockey operations, however, it’s business as usual.
“This isn’t our first time at the dance, so to speak,” Maloney said in a phone interview earlier Wednesday. “We’ve been through this now for such a long time we’re sort of numb to it.
“It’s just a little white noise in the background for us. We’re quite confident that it’ll get settled and worked out the best way possible for us.”
Tippett, who will be back for his seventh season behind the bench, said he’s become “immune” to arena controversies.
“My focus has always been to control what I can control and that’s what happens on the ice,” Tippett said in a phone interview. “The business part of it and the legal wrangling and all that stuff that’s happened here, you’re aware of it, but it’s not something that comes into your day-to-day thought process.”
In an interview with Sportsnet during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman weighed in and expressed he is not troubled with the current situation.
“I’m actually really not concerned about the Coyotes, if I lived in Glendale I’d be concerned about my government because all this is about is an attempt to renegotiate a lease that was negotiated in good faith and validly adopted by the city council in Glendale less than two years ago,” said Bettman.
“If this is how Glendale does business, I think they’re going to have far more problems than dealing with the Coyotes.”
Bettman added that he believes hockey can still work in Glendale, with the right support.
“I think if they get a break, and outside forces such as government doing something that seems highly unusual and inappropriate, they didn’t need this, and frankly it’s inappropriate that the city of Glendale is trying to renege on their lease,” said Bettman.
Legally, lawyer Nick Wood said in a statement the City of Glendale is trying to “renege on a valid contract that was negotiated fairly and in good faith.” President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said in an email through a team spokesman that the city is trying to force the Coyotes to renegotiate their lease and that they “have no intention of doing anything in light of the provocative acts of the city.”
Amid the uncertainty, the Coyotes have met for months to come up with a blueprint for next season and the long-term future. First up is the draft later this month, where Arizona has the third pick.
Maloney has received significant interest from teams trading for the pick, including one recent offer that includes three pieces.
“We’ll just have to see where the offers come,” Maloney said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations on that pick early, and generally those deals get done on the draft floor or the night before the draft. That’s when we’re probably going to get our best offer.”
With Connor McDavid the presumptive No. 1 pick to the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel second to the Buffalo Sabres, the Coyotes’ spot is an envious one for teams looking to jump the line. The Coyotes could move down in the first round and pick up players who can help now or in the near future as they try to get back to contention.
“Are there two or three pieces that we say, ‘You know what, this is a way to accelerate our development as a franchise?'” Maloney said. “Keeping in mind that over the next four or five years we want to be where Tampa and Chicago are and really competing for a Cup.”
Arizona has missed the playoffs three years in a row, and there’s a hope to build a winner sooner rather than later in a market that needs a contender to work. Confidence in defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, goaltender Mike Smith and prospects like Max Domi, Christian Dvorak and Henrik Samuelsson has the Coyotes’ brass excited.
All this amid the swirling talk and actions of the City of Glendale that Maloney said has minimal to no effect on him.
“We’ve got to do our job and put a good team on the ice and get people excited again, have a good draft and try and find a way to be better next season.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press