Top Shelf: Jilted Coyotes begin owner search anew

For over three years, the Phoenix Coyotes have been owned and operated by the National Hockey League. That arrangement is not about to change anytime soon after the latest prospective buyer missed a deadline to buy the troubled franchise.

Greg Jamison had until Thursday evening at midnight to complete the purchase, but the deadline came and went with no sale to announce.

So, now it's back to the drawing board for a club that somehow has managed to achieve a surprising level of success on the ice while battling bankruptcy and other financial difficulties over the past few years.

Other suitors like Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf failed in attempts to buy the Coyotes before Jamison, but this latest botched sale stings the most.

Jamison, the former part owner and CEO of the San Jose Sharks, made assurances time and time again that raising the money to purchase the Coyotes would not be a problem. In late November, after agreeing to a 20-year, $308 million lease agreement with the city of Glendale, Ariz., to take control of Arena, Jamison said he would complete the sale within 30-60 days.

Many people took Jamison at his word and it seemed like this was a done deal until doubt began to creep in this week. Rumors began floating that Jamison didn't have the money and when Glendale mayor Jerry Weiers reported before the deadline on Thursday that an attorney for Jamison called him Wednesday night looking for an extension, the sale seemed as good as dead.

Sure enough, the deadline passed without any good news to announce and Jamison has been labeled a fraud or worse by folks who had a lot riding on his ability to successfully purchase this team.

There's also the case of longtime Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who tested free agency last summer but ultimately chose to stay with Phoenix. Doan said all along he wanted to remain a member of the only NHL franchise he's ever played for, but another reason he decided to re-up with the Coyotes was due to assurances from Jamison's camp that the club was going to stay in Glendale.

Now that the Jamison bid has imploded the future of the franchise in Arizona is once again in jeopardy and one wouldn't expect Doan is happy with the turn of events.

Jamison delivered a prepared statement upon failing to reach the deadline, and in it he claimed "our journey to purchase the Coyotes will continue." Of course, it's more than a little bit delusional for Jamison to think he'll ever get a second chance at buying this club. After all, it wasn't just Doan he let down, Jamison left an entire community of people in the lurch.

The city of Glendale is being crushed under the weight of debt largely created by its ownership of Arena and it needs somebody to rescue them. Jamison was supposed to be the man to deliver Glendale from its arena problem. He was supposed to buy the nearly 10-year-old building from the city and Glendale would pay him $15 million a year to operate it.

Now, with Jamison failing to meet the deadline to raise the funds for Arena, the city is left in ownership of its white elephant.

There will be shortage of suitors to buy the Coyotes in Jamison's wake, but selling this franchise will never be easy as long as the NHL insists the prospective owner promises to keep the team in Glendale.

For some reason, the NHL believes it can turn the desert into a viable hockey market despite 16-plus years of evidence to the contrary. Since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996, the Coyotes have constantly struggled to make ends meet and low attendance is one of the biggest factors creating the financial issues.

Despite making the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and getting all the way to the Western Conference finals last spring, the Coyotes are dead last out of 30 NHL teams in attendance this season. On average, the Coyotes are drawing 12,406 fans a night through five home dates, or more than 2,000 less a game than the 29th-ranked Columbus Blue Jackets, who are never a good measuring stick for success.

With Jamison exposed as an unsuitable owner, the lingering question is how will the NHL proceed with the sale of the Coyotes. If they open up the market place to include ownership groups that want to move the franchise to somewhere like Seattle or Quebec City than a deal could be made in a matter of months. But, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would have to renege on his promise to keep the team in the Phoenix area for that to happen and that seems highly unlikely at this stage.

In fact, Weiers said he was contacted by Bettman on Thursday morning and he ensured Glendale's mayor that the NHL is still committed to keeping the team in Glendale. Not surprising, considering the existence of a team in Phoenix is tied directly to Bettman's legacy. As we saw during the lockout, the commissioner is not the type of person who caters his decision-making to outside demands and he'll do whatever he can to make hockey work in Glendale despite the ominous signs that it never will.

The Jamison farce should have signaled the end of the NHL's Phoenix experiment, but Bettman will make sure that it doesn't.