- Associated Press - Monday, May 7, 2012

PHOENIX (AP) - The Phoenix Coyotes are a step close to having an owner after three years of waiting.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Monday that the league has reached a preliminary agreement to sell the team to a group headed by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.

Bettman said the league and the group will work toward reaching a formal sales agreement while Jamison negotiates with the city of the Glendale on a new lease for Jobing.com Arena. Bettman said he hopes to have the sale completed in a matter of weeks, not months.

“We didn’t have a formal announcement to make; this is more of an update to where things are,” Bettman said before Phoenix and Nashville played Game 5 of their best-of-seven playoff series. “But we think things are on track and see light at the end of the tunnel. This is a path, based on everything we know, we’re comfortable pursuing.”

Jamison still must complete negotiations on a lease with the city of Glendale, always the nagging issue in the league’s attempts to sell the team, which the NHL purchased out of bankruptcy. The sale also would have to be approved by the league’s board of governors.

The anticipated announcement of the tentative agreement first was reported by the Phoenix Business Journal.

“It’s been some interesting times, some ups and some downs, but the future we believe is very bright,” Jamison said. “The future is bright for participants, for fans and sponsors and suite holders, and we’re excited about it.”

Monday night provided a dramatic backdrop to such an announcement, with a packed house on hand to watch the upstart Coyotes try to close out their Western Conference semifinal series with the Predators. Phoenix leads the series 3-1.

Behind general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett, the team has managed to make the playoffs each of the three seasons it has been owned by the NHL. But this season marked the first time the franchise advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 1987, nine years before it moved from Winnipeg to Arizona.

Jamison has been in talks for some time on a new lease for the use of Jobing.com Arena, and terms of that lease could still run afoul of a conservative watchdog group, the Goldwater Institute, that stymied a previous attempt to sell the franchise a year ago. The city would pay an annual feel to the Coyotes for operation of the arena, a figure that the Goldwater group could see as a thinly disguised subsidy and a violation of the Arizona Constitution.

Any new lease would have to go before the Glendale City Council. Several reports have four members of the council agreeing to the general framework of a deal with Jamison.

The Coyotes have not made money since they moved to Arizona, a trend Jamison hopes to change.

“You have to have goals, things you think you can accomplish,” Jamison said. “We firmly believe that a good path has started in recent years and we want to build on that. It’s basically just good hard work. It’s exciting and this is a product we believe in”

Then-owner Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy three years ago with the intention of selling it to Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie, who wanted to move the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario. The league vehemently opposed the plan and, after two prospective buyers pulled out, the NHL was the lone bidder to purchase the team out of bankruptcy.

The league has long said it wanted to find a buyer to keep the team in Glendale and the city committed $25 million each of the past two seasons to help cover operating losses. If recent attempts to find a buyer fell through, the NHL would be clear to finally determine whether to move the franchise elsewhere.

The league believed it had a deal in place last year to sell the team to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer, only to see it fall through when the Goldwater Institute inserted itself into the debate and warned potential bond buyers to stay away from the Glendale offering because of a looming lawsuit.

Bettman said he believed that deal was legally sound, but the threat made it impossible to complete it. He said the deal with Jamison’s group is vastly different than the deal with Hulsizer and that he doesn’t anticipate any problems with a “third-party interference.”

“If we do, we’ll deal with it as it comes,” Bettman said.

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