In an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report on Monday night during the Coyotes’ open house at Jobing.com Arena, Nealy said he was hopeful the NHL Players Association and owners can resolve differences. That’s before the NHL said it would lock out players beginning this Saturday at 11:59 p.m.
Taking the usual political and diplomatic stand, Nealy deferred questions about the state of the talks directly to the principals. Though the Coyotes are one of 30 teams at the bargaining table, Nealy merely indicated the good of the game is at stake, but differences must be resolved.
“I’m optimistic we’ll see something get done,” he said. “After all, other agreements have been resolved at the 11th hour, and I hope this is the case as well.”
As far as identifying issues dividing the parties, Nealy deflected that neatly to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Bill Daly, deputy NHL commissioner. “That’s for the parties to understand and resolve,” he added.
At the heart of the talks, the league and players must decide how to divide a pot of $3.3 billion, and that’s up from the $2.1 billion from seven years ago. No formal talks have been held since Aug. 31.
In addition, Nealy has two additional issues pressing for resolution.
First, the state of the franchise.
Former San Jose Sharks’ CEO Greg Jamison heads a group who wants to the buy the Coyotes from its present owner, the NHL. It’s no secret the NHL does not want to run this or any other franchise, but is waiting for Jamison and his group to formally come forward.
It was reported earlier this summer that Jamison’s group was $20 million short of the NHL’s $175 million asking price. By late August, Jamison’s group had secured the $20 million to complete the sale, but other issues surfaced.
Still, the deal remains outstanding because of a complex cluster of issues involving a potential sales tax and the legality of a $324 million subsidy to Jamison to operate Jobing.com Arena over the length of a 20 year agreement with the city of Glendale, site of the Coyotes home rink.
Then, there’s the future of Phoenix captain Shane Doan, the last attractive free agent. To this point, Doan has not made a commitment regarding his future, and has said on several occasions he wants to remain in Phoenix.
Still, the 35 year-old, who scored 22 goals and picked up 28 assists in 79 games, says he will sign with a team before the end of this week.
Some contend he would wait until an agreement between the players and owners is reached before making a commitment.
Not the case, says Nealy.
“I don’t think the talks are an issue here,” Nealy pointed out. “If Shane wanted to sign elsewhere, he would have done so. Look, he’s been here a long time. Presidents have come and gone, the economy has been up and down and Shane Doan is still skating with Phoenix. He could have gone some time ago if that was his choice.”
The failure of Jamison’s group to acquire the team also puts a strain on the NHL. Not in the business of running a franchise, the league is on the brink of operating the Coyotes for the third straight year.
To keep the Coyotes in the American southwest, the city of Glendale has subsidized the Coyotes by giving the NHL $25 million in each of the past two years. That will not happen for the 2012-13 hockey season.
If the Jamison deal falls through, the league would run the franchise for the next year, and then consider other options. “Yes, that’s a reasonable assumption,” Nealy said.
For now, the trifecta of the franchise’s future, the state of the CBA talks and the status of Shane Doan seem like a perfect storm pounding Jobing.com Arena and its inhabitants.
For the record, Doan’s name plate still hangs above his dressing stall in Jobing.com Arena. As with last season, he retains his spot between defenseman Keith Yandle to his right and winger Mikkel Boedker to his left.
Nealy says the Coyotes season-ticket sale for the 2012-2013 season is the strongest since 1999. That was the Coyotes third year in the desert, and the team played in the U. S. Airways Arena, current home of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.
During the Coyotes open house on Sept. 10, potential season-ticket buyers were allowed on the floor of the arena. If there was an agreement between the players and management in place, the ice would likely be in place and training camp about to start.
Without a lockout, the Coyotes are scheduled to open camp in Jobing.com Arena on Sept. 18, and their first preseason game at Jobing.com Arena is slated for Sept. 24. They are scheduled to open the regular season on Oct. 13 at home against Dallas.
If an agreement is in place, Nealy said ice operation would begin later this week and be in place for the official start of training camp.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.