Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Oilers arena talks get testy

When it comes to hockey, fans in Edmonton have more than just the lockout to worry about these days.

If and when a new CBA is reached and the NHL returns to rinks across North America, it's a given that the Edmonton Oilers will once again hit the ice at Rexall Place. Beyond that though, the future of the team in the City of Champions is at least a bit up in the air.

It's overly premature to say that the Oilers are on the way out, but without an agreement on a new downtown arena, that might just be the case.

Things have been getting a bit testy between the city and the Katz Group lately, starting with a request from the group last week for more public money for the proposed development. That request was turned down, information about it was leaked to the media and this week, the rarely heard from owner of the Oilers decided to speak up.

"The information was part of a confidential, ongoing negotiation and a confidential briefing to council," Katz told 630 CHED's Oilers Now. "It didn't come from us, so you have to ask really, who leaked it and what they were trying to do by facilitating such a leak."

The good news is that both sides are still committed to getting a deal done and both say they're hopeful that an agreement can eventually be reached. The bad news is that without a new downtown rink, the Katz Group says the Oilers likely won't be able to stay in Edmonton. Katz said on Tuesday that public money is key to this project and pointed to recent history to try and prove his point.

"There's only one NHL arena in Canada built entirely with private funding that hasn't been a disaster, and that's the ACC in Toronto, where they have Canada's largest media market and both an NHL and an NBA team," explained Katz. "Everyone else has lost their shirts, their buildings and their teams, so this has to be a private-public partnership."

"What matters here is whether we can come to an agreement on a partnership deal that will enable Edmonton to sustain the Oilers for the long term, secure the arena, and deliver all these great things for the benefit of all Edmontonians."

Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is denying that any leaked information came from his side and is calling on the Katz Group to come to City Hall and release its full position to the public. In a statement released on Tuesday, Mandel said the city is at a "significant crossroads" and having the Katz Group clarify its position is the only way to move things along.

While it might sound like things are heading in the wrong direction here, there are definitely some things to keep in mind: first of all, both sides will absolutely benefit from this project going ahead and it genuinely sounds like they both want to make it happen. Secondly, this whole thing could easily be chalked up as nothing more than a normal part of the negotiation process, with both sides doing whatever they can to get the best deal.

Now, I'm no genius (not even close, actually), but if you want to know what I think will happen going forward, here it is:

The city will meet with the Katz Group soon, the two sides will go back and forth a bit before getting on the same page with a few concessions made on each end, and then a rink that is slightly more expensive than the agreed upon $450-million price tag will be built. I think both sides know that they will live to regret it if they let this slip away, and that will be one of the motivating factors for getting a deal done in the near future.

Then again, what do I know?

What do you think: Will the Oilers get a new rink, or will they be forced to skip town when the lease at Rexall Place expires in 2014?

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