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Coyotes await ownership's next move; With work to do, team may be leaving desert

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The curtains at Arena are all pulled back, revealing 17,000 empty seats and concrete where the ice once was.

Behind the benches, deep within the inner workings of the quiet arena, Phoenix's players clean out their lockers, go through season-ending physicals, meet with the coaches and front office staff.

After a second straight season of adversity and a disappointing sweep out of the playoffs by Detroit, the Coyotes have nothing left to do but wait.

And there's no games, no practices to take their mind off the ownership situation. There's just facing the reality that the franchise could move from the desert in the next few weeks and there's nothing they can do about it.

"It's a hard time of the year, regardless. It's no fun," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said Friday. "It changes everything, especially when you don't win. It's one of those things; it's a tough time of the year and with everything going on, it adds to it. You wish you were still playing."

A lot is riding on what happens next.

Strapped by the financial constraints of being run by the NHL the past two seasons, the Coyotes need to settle the ownership issue before they can move ahead.

Phoenix had a couple of solid signings in the offseason by adding veteran Ray Whitney and Eric Belanger, but couldn't hold on to defenseman Zbynek Michalek or center Matthew Lombardi. The financial situation also hampered the franchise at the trade deadline, leaving the Coyotes essentially as minor players.

Phoenix needs to get the ownership issues resolved before getting too deep into the offseason. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, a cornerstone of the franchise, is an unrestricted free agent who'll likely have plenty of high-dollar offers that the Coyotes will need to match.

The team also would like to lock up breakout star Keith Yandle, keep young left winger Lauri Korpikoski and a handful of other players, not to mention securing contracts with coaches and finish off an affiliate deal that's been put on hold for months.

"It's something that needs to be resolved for us to go forward," Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said. "To have a strong, winning organization, you need to have strong leadership from the top. We're going to get it."

The Coyotes are hoping to get a resolution in the next few weeks.

Potential owner Michael Hulsizer has the framework of a deal in place to buy the franchise and keep it in the desert, but a lawsuit threatened by the conservative Goldwater Institute has put it on hold. Hulsizer joined a meeting between the City of Glendale and officials from Goldwater on Thursday in hopes of getting a deal worked out, though the sides don't seem any closer to a resolution.

Until they do, the offseason to-do list gets put on hold.

"There's a ton of issues that need to be worked out in time, but right now it's kind of a holding pattern," coach Dave Tippett said.

Once the deal is done, whichever way it goes, one of the top priorities will be to sign Bryzgalov.

Bryzgalov has bristled at the idea of going to Winnipeg, a rumored landing spot for the franchise.

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