The Glendale, Ariz., City Council Monday signed a 15-year, $225 million lease agreement with the prospective new owners of the NHL Phoenix Coyotes, keeping the team in that suburb of Phoenix. It was considered a bit of an upset that the agreement was reached and the prevailing wisdom was that the franchise was going to be moved, with Seattle said to be the leading candidate for the relocation.
But, according to a highly placed Portland Trail Blazer source, the Blazers were closely monitoring the situation, had been in discussions with the NHL and were ready to make an offer for the franchise in order to move it to Portland's Rose Garden, if the lease in Glendale didn't work out. The interest by the Blazers was considered serious, by the team and the NHL, with much time spent on financial analysis and projections. It is believed the team could consolidate several of its operations to serve both basketball and hockey while adding another full-time tenant for the arena.
Trail Blazer owner Paul Allen was said to be fully on board with the acquisition of the team, as long as the price and terms made financial sense. The Phoenix team is currently owned by the NHL and is valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million. The Trail Blazer source said, "Allen continues to be very supportive of investing in things that are good for the Portland market."
It is not the first time the franchise has shown an interest in acquiring an NHL team for an arena that is considered at least as well-suited for hockey as it is for basketball. The Trail Blazers actually thought they were very close to closing a deal to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins in the late 1990s but former player Mario Lemieux stepped up to put together an ownership group in the 11th hour that kept the franchise in the steel city.
Phoenix has been a problem market for the NHL. The arena in Glendale is considered remote for many Phoenix fans and the lease terms have been difficult. The NHL wants to keep the franchise in the West and a team in Portland or Seattle would be a nice travel partner for the current franchise in Vancouver. Long term, the league is said to be interested in franchises in both Seattle and Portland, setting up the regional rivalry that has been so integral in the growth of northwest soccer franchises.