After Tuesday night's Glendale City Council vote in favor of an arena lease agreement with a prospective team owner, the Coyotes will finally be on even financial footing with the rest of the league.
"The only way you can win long-term is to have a strong ownership," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "Now that we have an ownership in place, it gives us a chance, gives us a little more of a chance to show that we know what we're doing."
The Coyotes had been searching for an owner since Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy in 2009. After numerous false starts with potential owners and constant rumors of relocation, the Coyotes found a perfect suitor in Renaissance Sports and Entertainment.
RSE, headed by George Gosbee, Anthony LeBlanc and Daryl Jones, reached an agreement to buy the team in May, a deal contingent upon reaching a lease agreement for Jobing.com Arena with the city of Glendale.
After a month of contentious negotiations that went through dramatic fluctuations over the final week, the lease agreement went to a vote Tuesday night with the outcome still very much in doubt.
Hundreds of Coyotes fans and Glendale residents packed the council chambers and an overflow crowd sat downstairs in the employee lounge watching on closed-circuit TV.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly attended the meeting, receiving a rare standing ovation as they entered the chambers. Coyotes COO Mike Nealy, Maloney and player Derek Morris also were there.
After some tense debate and a few concessions on both sides, the 15-year, $225 million lease agreement was approved by a vote of 4-3, setting off an enthusiastic round of thumbs-ups from the crowd in the chambers - Mayor Jerry Weiers said clapping and cheering was not allowed - and a huge sigh of relief from the Coyotes, their prospective new owners and their fans.
RSE has until Aug. 5 to complete its arena deal with Glendale and purchase the team, which would be renamed the Arizona Coyotes sometime after next season, from the NHL.
"There have been ups and downs over the four years and the last four days, but we have stuck with it because we believe in hockey in this area," Leblanc said.
The NHL believed in Phoenix, too.
The league has fought to keep the Coyotes in the Valley of Sun, even joining in a court fight to keep the team from being moved to Hamilton, Ontario, after Moyes took it into bankruptcy.
Numerous potential owners have come forward over the years and the NHL consistently said it preferred to keep the Coyotes in Arizona.
But as efforts to find an owner dragged into a fourth year, the league started intimating relocation might be an option.
As RSE and Glendale sparred over the details of the lease agreement, often publicly, the NHL gave them a firm date for a resolution. Bettman said last week that if the lease deal failed, the team probably would not play in Arizona anymore and the speculation was that the team would quickly be relocated to Seattle.
RSE made numerous financial concessions from the original draft of the lease agreement and made what appeared to be a vote-swinging move by partnering with Global Spectrum, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers, to manage Jobing.com Arena.
The Glendale council backed off demands for an out clause after five years when RSE said it was a deal killer, then voted in favor of the lease agreement, all but ensuring the Coyotes will stay in town.
"We wanted to make sure this franchise finally had the chance to move forward, and with ownership committed to making this team a success," Bettman said from the council chambers Tuesday night. "Today is all about the Coyotes and staying in Arizona for the long haul."
The future, now with an owner ready to take over, looks much brighter than it had.
Over the past four years, the Coyotes have played under the constraints that come with being run by the NHL, forced to scrape by on a limited budget.
Maloney and his staff did well with what they had, building a team with undervalued players who fit coach Dave Tippett's defensive-minded system.
Phoenix reached the playoffs the first three years without an owner, including the franchise's first NHL division title and trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2011-12. The instability at the top finally caught up to the Coyotes on the ice this past season, when they got off to a slow start once the lockout ended and never made a big push, finishing four points out of the West's final playoff spot.
Now that they have owners, ones who appear willing to spend to make the team a winner, the Coyotes can go after players previously out of their reach and keep more of the players they have.
"What I'm excited about is that the group that's put together is all sort of hockey people," Maloney said. "Their background is in hockey and they know to have a good product, at some point you have to pay. So we have to get them engaged, show that we know what we're doing, and when that happens then I believe they'll put more in the kitty and that's always good."