The Coyotes are likely staying in Arizona, so Winnipeg should start looking for a different team, Mayor Sam Katz said Wednesday.
After weeks of speculation that the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes would be moving back to Winnipeg imminently, Katz told reporters following Wednesday's council meeting that he believes such a move is unlikely to happen, as it would prompt legal action.
"Do I believe the Coyotes are coming to Winnipeg? My answer would be no," Katz said. "I believe the Coyotes will stay in Phoenix. I happen to know some of the commitments that were made when they went there, and there were commitments that, if they were not fulfilled, there could easily be a lawsuit."
Katz did not identify the commitments to which he was referring, and declined to expand on his comments.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said he didn't know what commitments Katz might be talking about.
"I can't say that I know what he is referring to," Daly said via e-mail Wednesday.
Nick Dranias, constitutional policy director for the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, a taxpayer watchdog group trying to block the Coyotes' sale to would-be buyer Matthew Hulsizer, was equally baffled by Katz's claim.
"It doesn't make any sense to me," Dranias said. "If he's talking about obligations or agreements that were reached before the Hulsizer deal, that would have come out during bankruptcy."
Much of the team's dirty laundry was aired during 2009 bankruptcy proceedings that ended with the NHL taking over the team, and Dranias said any agreements in place before that process would not only have become evident at the time, they would very likely have been voided by it.
"It would seem to me there would be no binding agreements right now that would prevent them from moving," he said.
Dranias said it's possible — albeit unlikely — that the league has since entered into private agreements with the likes of suppliers or sponsors, but that Goldwater wouldn't know because those deals wouldn't be a matter of public record.
A spokeswoman for the City of Glendale, where the Coyotes play, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Katz did say Wednesday that Winnipeg is suitable and ready for an NHL team.
"I think you have to start looking at some of the other potential franchises," he said, without naming any.
The mayor's comments renewed speculation the Atlanta Thrashers may be the team that relocates to Manitoba.
Katz lamented that Winnipeg has been "used" in past negotiations between potential NHL owners and the league, and stated that he does not want to see this happen again.
Katz also poured cold water on a rumor that a rally will be held at Portage and Main Friday to announce the NHL's return.
"Don't believe rumours," he said.
— With files from Paul Friesen