Coyotes’ future is coming to a head

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 PM ET

The NHL has reportedly drawn up a tentative 2010-11 schedule that includes a team in Winnipeg.

However, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, reached by the Sun Tuesday, wouldn’t confirm or deny those reports, which have Winnipeg joining the Northwest Division, alongside Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Minnesota.

The reports — one by the CBC, another by the Toronto Star — say the Colorado Avalanche would move to the Pacific Division.

Considering the shaky state of the Phoenix Coyotes, it wouldn’t be unusual for the NHL to be looking at contingency plans.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the league also has contingency schedules that include Las Vegas and Kansas City, two other cities thought to be potential NHL markets.

NHL teams typically get a very rough draft of the schedule in May, after which it’s adjusted several times until a final version is released in July.

“We have not seen a preliminary schedule, yet,” Bob Hunter, an executive with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, told Sun Media, Tuesday. “We just heard about this story flying around the internet.”

The future of the Coyotes, purchased out of bankruptcy for $140 million by the NHL last fall, is coming to a head, with the league and city of Glendale, Ariz., scrambling to find owners who’ll keep the team in the desert.

Two groups in the running have so far been unable to come to an agreement, causing the NHL to ask the city to cover the team’s losses next season, should a deal not be reached. The league reportedly lost between $20 and $30 million running the Coyotes this season. The league will be in a legal position to relocate the franchise after June 30, and it’s believed Winnipeg tops the list of potential sites.

The city has an NHL-ready arena, albeit a small one with capacity of some 15,000, and an ownership group headed by Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports, and backed by billionaire David Thomson.

Chipman has long cultivated a relationship with the NHL, ensuring the league knows he’s interested should the right deal come along.

Just what terms that deal would entail, including the price he’s willing to pay for a franchise, Chipman has never revealed.


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