Coyotes bidder sees hope in desert

Phoenix Coyote's Taylor Pyatt (2nd R) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the...

Phoenix Coyote's Taylor Pyatt (2nd R) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia on November 21, 2010. (REUTERS/Ben Nelms)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:41 PM ET

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Matt Hulsizer wants to own the Phoenix Coyotes.

No, really, he does.

That's good news for the NHL, which has been holding the bag for more than a year now, and bad news for Winnipeg's chances of repatriating its franchise.

The 40-year-old Chicago financier is forging ahead to buy the money-losing franchise with his eyes and his wallet wide open.

Hulsizer met the 10-member NHL executive committee Monday morning to pass muster and emerged to say he expects the deal to buy the club from the league will close by the end of the year.

The last step will be having a new lease arrangement for Jobing.com Arena approved by the city of Glendale, Ariz., at a council meeting Dec. 14.

The sale price is expected to be about $170 million, allowing the league, which paid $140 million to buy the Coyotes out of bankruptcy, to recoup that expenditure and the losses it has rung up running the Coyotes for the past 15 months.

The Coyotes have been losing an estimated $20 million a year, but Hulsizer is looking at the franchise as a long-term investment.

"It has been my experience that if you make a great product, hockey teams have a lot of value," he said. "Those things tend to grow over time. I tend to be a longer-term investor. As I look out 25 years, I think people will look back and say 'hey, that might have looked smart.'

"Right now, it's not going to look smart for a long time, though."

Some would wonder if it ever will, given the location of the rink in suburban Glendale and the Coyotes' difficulty in drawing crowds, even with their respectable record. They are last in the league in attendance with an average of 10,410 fans a game, less than 60% of capacity.

Maybe having the uncertainty of their ownership situation removed will convince some fans to get on board, but, really, how many?

"I think we're going to have to earn the fans back," Hulsizer said. "I don't think it's something people are going to immediately give us credit and say, 'Oh, there's a new owner and now (we'll go to the game).' I'd love for that to be the case, but I don't think that's going to be the case."

Hulsizer, who was the captain of the Amherst College hockey team, said becoming an NHL owner wasn't something he thought about as a kid playing hockey in the driveway.

"I played hockey in my driveway 30, 35 years ago -- and I'm shooting against the garage," Hulsizer said. "I don't think I said I want to grow up and be an owner. I did want to be a player, but I'm certainly obviously flattered and honoured (about being considered for ownership).

"I don't know that I would have ever thought I could afford to be an owner."

Hulsizer founded PEAK6 with his wife, Jennifer Just, in 1997 and the financial services firm includes a hedge fund, a trading firm and an on-line brokerage service.

He said he would own the "vast" majority of the franchise with IceEdge Holdings -- which had taken a run at buying the Coyotes -- expected to hold a minority position.

Hulsizer said Coyotes general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett will remain in their positions should he complete the deal.

"I'm an investor, I'm writing a cheque. I'm not running the team, I'm not running the arena. We're going to hire the best people in the world to do that," he said.

In which case, somebody give him the number for former Senators president Roy Mlakar.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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