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Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 7:35 PM ET
STFU and post that article, stop wasting time!
- Marwood

If you guys weren’t so cheap you could subscribe and read it.
NewYorkNuck
Vancouver Canucks
Location: New York, NY
Joined: 07.11.2015

Feb 16 @ 7:36 PM ET
Did you read the article in "The Athletic" about the bizzaro-world of the Arizona Coyotes ownership....what a mess that franchise is
- Pacificgem


Just went and read it. Messy ass situation. I hope they just move that team and find new owners...
Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 7:36 PM ET
It was a Friday night, four days before the 2020 NHL Draft, and members of the Arizona Coyotes’ front office, scouting department and hockey operations staff arrived at team president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez’s $3.45 million, Tuscan-style mansion in Cholla Gardens, a tony community within the Paradise Valley suburb of Phoenix.

Gutierrez was still settling into his new home, which remained sparsely furnished. Large folding tables were pulled together so the staff members could dine as a group on the catered meal. Coyotes employees, along with a smattering of family members, spent the night taking in the views of Camelback Mountain and touring Gutierrez’s 11,639-square-foot home, with its six bedrooms, walk-in wine room and stone wall accents.

For most NHL teams, optimism peaks in the days before the draft. Any disappointment from the past season, any organizational shortcomings, are obscured by the ephemeral jolt of hope that comes with injecting new talent into the franchise. The future always looks brighter in the halcyon days before the draft.

Despite the challenges of an unorthodox draft (held virtually in October because of COVID-19), a lack of high picks (the team traded away its first-round and third-round selections and was docked a 2020 second-rounder and 2021 first-round pick when the NHL found the club violated its combine testing policy during the 2019-20 season) and recent reports of financial lapses, including missed player and arena loan payments, the mood was upbeat. Wine bottles were uncorked and beers passed around, and attendees chatted as they made trips back and forth to the buffet.

The casual yet intimate vibe was in line with the organizational ethos espoused by Alex Meruelo, the team’s owner, who took control of the franchise in July 2019. Meruelo’s rise to the owner of a major professional sports franchise is a distinctly American tale: He is the son of Cuban immigrants who reportedly fled Cuba for Miami in 1961, with a box of cigars his parents’ sole possession. According to a 2011 profile in the Los Angeles Times, Meruelo earned $5,000 a month working at a tuxedo shop at age 16, purchased a failed pizzeria while in college, and he turned that single Huntington Park, Calif., outpost into a regional chain with 50 locales that by the 1990s generated millions in sales. He eventually amassed commercial real estate properties, construction outfits, media broadcasting companies and, more recently, casinos. When he took over the Coyotes, he promised the franchise would not only become a winning organization, but also a “family.”

It felt that way that evening at Gutierrez’s home. Even though Meruelo was not in attendance, his adult son, Alex Jr., was there. Inside jokes were shared, old stories were retold and there was a sense of possibility for the long-floundering organization. The Coyotes had been plagued for years by unstable ownership and near-constant rumors of relocation, yet the team recently made the postseason, and Meruelo’s arrival and vision for the future buoyed hopes for revitalization. But the transition had not come without its warts, with Meruelo’s first year of ownership marred by controversial turnover in the front office, fraying relationships with corporate partners, and growing financial losses, exacerbated by COVID-19. Considering the travails of the previous year, the evening was a welcome respite.

But within weeks of that dinner, any optimism the draft might have created had cratered. The Coyotes faced widespread criticism for the decision to select, with their first pick (in the fourth round), a prospect who had been convicted in juvenile court of the racist bullying and taunting of a Black disabled classmate when they both were in junior high school. The team eventually renounced the rights to the drafted player, but the decision to pick him sparked finger-pointing and paranoia, as leadership assessed how the misstep could’ve happened. The controversy became the most public pockmark of several simmering issues within the organization – a turbulent transition in business operations, contentious financial disputes between the team and its contractors and vendors, a rash of terminations and resignations of key employees and upheaval within the front office.

And the tumult has only intensified.

This article is based on interviews with more than 50 people, including current and former employees that span multiple departments as well as people who have business relationships with the club. Those interviews revealed a wide range of concerns that have surfaced since Meruelo took control of the team 18 months ago, including what many have described as a “toxic” workplace environment and financial troubles that far exceed what has previously been disclosed. Further, representatives from law firm Seyfarth Shaw met with some Coyotes employees in early January, The Athletic has learned, and asked them about potential financial irregularities, workplace culture, at least one case of alleged sexual harassment, and other matters.

The NHL and the Coyotes declined interview requests. Presented with a list of questions about the organization and management, a league representative and one from the team reiterated that they would not be providing comments for this story.

Meruelo’s acquisition of the Coyotes was supposed to portend a new era for the team. Instead, people within the organization and across the NHL are now wondering if the league erred in approving his purchase.

“If I was talking to a future employer, I’d say it’s been a learning experience,” said one employee. “If I was being frank with you, I’d say it’s a poopshow.”


Alex Meruelo (Scott Cunningham / NBAE via Getty Images)
The Coyotes were not Meruelo’s first foray into trying to buy a sports franchise. In August 2011, he announced an agreement to purchase a majority stake in the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks pending Board of Governors approval. The deal fell apart just a few months later. According to one report, the league felt the deal was too highly leveraged. Multiple sources told The Athletic the NBA harbored doubts about Meruelo’s ability to withstand operating costs and did not receive the financial assurances needed to assuage those concerns. Meruelo said there were key labor issues that led to a mutual decision to terminate the deal.

Meruelo purchased a 95 percent stake in the Coyotes in July 2019; on paper, his status as a billionaire entrepreneur with a reputation for taking on and revitalizing distressed businesses was appealing to the league, which has been steadfast in seeing hockey thrive in the desert. Considering Meruelo’s reported wealth (recently estimated at $2 billion), he appeared to have the deep pockets necessary to stabilize the franchise. He also expressed to the NHL a desire to secure for the team a new arena, an important sticking point considering the league has said remaining at Gila River Arena in Glendale is not viable.

Meruelo is also the first Hispanic owner to hold a majority stake in an NHL club – one located in a market that is 42 percent Hispanic or Latino. Gutierrez, who worked with Meruelo previously at The Meruelo Group as chief investment officer and is a longtime confidant of the Meruelo family, became the league’s first Latino CEO and team president. Both men expressed a desire to connect with the Hispanic/Latino fan base.

The team unveiled a number of initiatives to achieve this goal – forming an advisory board, hosting theme nights at the rink and launching initiatives to honor Hispanic Heritage Month, and making efforts to engage with its Spanish-speaking base through merchandising items like Spanish-language jerseys and social media accounts.

When Meruelo held his first news conference, he was refreshingly candid, if not a little brash. He said he “sure as poop wanted to win,” and he later wore a shirt emblazoned with that slogan to team functions (the team marketed the shirt via its official Instagram account). Some felt that boldness was just what the franchise needed, a shakeup that could revitalize the team’s fortunes in a challenging market. He held his first staff-wide meeting last winter, where he called a projected revenue loss of $53 million unacceptable, according to multiple people in attendance. He detailed a plan to steer the team toward profitability within two years with increased ticket sales and sponsorships, a cut of expansion fees from the new Seattle team (slated to be distributed in April 2021) and cost-saving measures, including reducing player payroll.

Within the Coyotes offices at Gila River Arena, the new ownership’s methods raised eyebrows. Several employees felt there was a lack of understanding about what makes running an NHL team, which operates as a community asset and relies on long-standing partnerships and relationships, different from a private business. The cost-cutting measures that may have cushioned the bottom line of the Meruelo Group’s other business ventures – the group’s CFO once bragged about drilling down on the cost of napkins – have different implications within an NHL franchise. The new leadership team, including Luis Armona and Armando Delgado from the Meruelo Group, scrutinized even the smallest of expenditures. Armona, nicknamed “Hurricane Luis” around the office, was at one point flummoxed by the fact that the team was charged for suite catering at games and apparel and merchandise from the team’s retail partner.

According to two employees, Armona banged a conference table and shouted: “Free! Free! Free! No one makes money off the Coyotes. They only exist because of us!”

Outbursts from those at the very top of the organization were not uncommon; multiple employees detailed profanity-laced dressing-downs by Meruelo, whose vexation could be provoked by such commonplace matters as loss projections or mentions of how other teams around the league do business. (Meruelo envisioned himself as an owner in the mold of the Lightning’s Jeff Vinik but also bristled when compared to him.) Multiple employees said he barked at them if they called him “Alex,” insisting he be addressed as “Mr. Meruelo.”

In news articles and internal meetings, Meruelo often touted his unorthodox comportment as “passionate,” but that oft-repeated notion rang hollow to some. One employee referenced an instance when a senior employee was berated by Meruelo in a meeting of approximately 20 others, for a variety of issues.

“It was painful. You wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” said one attendee.


Last March, shortly after the NHL shut down for COVID-19, Meruelo affirmed his commitment to paying employees through the end of the regular season: “We pride ourselves on treating all our staff and players like they are part of our family. … I value my team members and am committed to making sure that everyone remains safe, secure and part of our great team.” In April, the team announced it was furloughing half of its staff due to pandemic-related financial issues. In May, the Arizona Republic reported that promises to pay the arena’s part-time and hourly staff members had not been met. The team and arena management company, in response to the report, said they would “finalize our support plan that will be executed within the next 30 days.” The team then released a second statement later the day the report was published that said the club “provided their agreed upon contribution to Gila River Arena this week.”

In July, after prospect Tyler Steenbergen did not receive his bonus on time, his agent, Rick Valette, sent a strongly worded email (the contents of which were shared with The Athletic) to the team over what he called a “serious breach” of contract. In September, The Athletic reported that a handful of players did not receive their signing bonuses on time.

The NHLPA got involved, though the players’ association did not issue a formal grievance because the issues were quickly rectified. The union had previously been engaged with the organization over financial issues during the playoff bubble, as players were not issued per diem payments mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.

In September, Gutierrez described both of these snafus as “process” failures. When asked why signing bonus procedures did not get resolved between the gaffes in July and September, he cited “change at our CFO level. That transition definitely had some challenges.”

Some of the missteps have been blamed on a lack of familiarity running an NHL team, but those familiar with Meruelo’s approach to business operations insist this is a feature, not a bug.

“They basically took how they managed radio stations, pizza chains and casinos and used that same playbook for a hockey team,” said one former employee.

The team’s relationships with corporate partners, vendors and suppliers eroded as Meruelo Group executives applied what appeared to be a specific strategy: call up the partner, vendor or supplier, and ask that entity to “work with them.” This was often the starting point of a process in which Meruelo’s associates would haggle over line items in invoices or portions of a contract; it was also not uncommon for Meruelo associates to use the threat of litigation as leverage to get out of paying outstanding invoices or to make payments at drastically reduced costs. Over the course of reporting this story, The Athletic identified and spoke with eight vendors with whom the Coyotes had outstanding or past due balances or negotiated their debt to a lower amount.

“They default on a bill and then chisel you down to what you accept and then they pay you,” said one vendor.

One executive at a company that provided services to the team, said that once his unpaid invoices started stacking up, months before COVID-19, he feared he wouldn’t be paid at all. He eventually got a call from one of Meruelo’s associates, who questioned a litany of items on each invoice, asking who had signed off on an expenditure or whether someone who no longer was working for the organization had authorized it. The vendor felt defensive and flustered, which he now suspects was the intent.

Eventually, against legal advice, the vendor agreed to be paid a lesser amount. Afterward, he says he felt as if he had been duped. “You could tell they’ve done this a million times,” the vendor said. “That’s the feeling I got.”

According to a lawsuit filed in Clark County, Nev., the Meruelo-owned SLS Las Vegas Resort and Casino failed to pay a local public relations firm roughly $22,000 for work it did in April and May 2018. According to the complaint, a representative for SLS Las Vegas failed to pay for months then asked in November 2018 to be given a discount on the debt owed. Asked to provide grounds for the discount request, SLS Las Vegas did not respond, the complaint says. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for next week.

Some vendors are resigned to never getting the full amount for services rendered; others say they have asked league officials to intervene and help settle the debt.

“This is a group of people not acting honorably on the basis of business, not treating people and their partners with respect,” said one vendor. “If those are the borders that define a dumpster fire, then there is indeed a fire burning within the borders of this dumpster.”

Paradigm Ventures Southwest, which served as the team’s private airline charter company, filed a lawsuit for breach of contract in Maricopa County Superior Court in July. In the complaint, Paradigm alleges that the Coyotes owe $257,406.25 for services provided during the 2019-20 season, and an additional $19,305.47 in taxes. The Coyotes requested this suit be consolidated into its own lawsuit against Paradigm, filed the month prior, for breach of contract stemming from the Federal Aviation Authority’s emergency order revoking the operating certificate for Paradigm Air Operators Inc. for “allegedly operating dozens of unauthorized charter flights using unqualified pilots and when it lacked required air carrier management and safety personnel.” (Paradigm’s attorney Dennis Wilenchik said of the Coyotes’ initial suit: “We deny that anything alleged in their complaint has anything to do with the successful flights for them. And, we believe our contract covers that point too as being irrelevant.”) The two cases have since been consolidated. According to Paradigm’s most recent counterclaim, filed on Jan. 8, 2021, the current unpaid invoices total $298,026.92.

In September, a longtime Coyotes employee, David Paris, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Arizona against the team for failing to pay wages and withholding overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The lawsuit claims that the Coyotes failed to pay Paris, who worked for the team in sales from October 2003 to August 2020 and served as a premium seating manager for approximately the last five years of his employment. In a court filing last week, the Coyotes denied the allegations, arguing that they did not commit any “oppressive, willful, wanton, fraudulent or malicious act … with respect to (Paris).” Paris, when reached by phone, declined to comment. (A scheduling conference is set for late April.)

In September, Gutierrez declined to comment about outstanding balances with vendors and independent contractors but stressed the need for “context” concerning the economic crisis, stating the organization needed “to course correct some of the business arrangements that have historically hampered the financial prosperity of this organization.”

When asked whether “course correcting” meant not honoring contracts, he responded: “I think in business, especially when you’re facing changed circumstances, you’re constantly talking to your partners and your service providers about what is the appropriate cost structure. And that, by the way, is happening across the board in multiple industries.”

The Coyotes have routinely grappled with questions about the team’s commitment to staying in Glendale. Kevin Phelps, Glendale’s city manager, confirmed in September that the team had a balance from the 2019-20 season lease agreement with ASM Global for Gila River Arena that was overdue by several months. After The Athletic report, the Coyotes paid that debt. “We have no issues with how we work together,” said Chuck Steedman, ASM’s executive vice president of strategy and development. “We have a great relationship with them.”

As the stories of unpaid debts circulated, it reinforced the idea that issues that had long plagued the Coyotes had returned. One of the stories that made the rounds in NHL circles occurred during the postseason bubble, while the Coyotes were in the hub city of Edmonton. During one game that was on the precipice of heading to overtime, a request to expense pizza was denied.

Gutierrez, a polished, Harvard-educated Meruelo loyalist, noted in September that there is a critical distinction between financial instability and change.

“This has been a challenged enterprise,” Gutierrez said. “We are making changes to improve it. Those changes take time.”

As recently as September, the NHL downplayed issues raised about the new ownership group. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, when asked about the Coyotes during his annual news conference before the Stanley Cup Final, said that Meruelo’s group was “the strongest ownership it’s been under as long as I can remember. … I think they’ll be fine.”


The Coyotes’ selection of Mitchell Miller (No. 4) in the 2020 NHL Draft exposed more problems within the organization. (Codie McLachlan / The Canadian Press via AP)
About a month after Bettman’s vote of confidence, it became clear that things were not fine.

On Oct. 7, the Coyotes used their first pick of the 2020 draft, a fourth-round selection, to tab Mitchell Miller, a defensive prospect. Miller had been convicted of abusing and bullying a Black, developmentally disabled classmate at age 14. According to the police report of the incident, Miller also called his classmate the “n-word” and told him to “go pick cotton.”

At least 10 NHL clubs had removed Miller from their draft list, according to The Athletic’s reporting. Teams harbored concerns not only about the heinous act, but also about Miller’s willingness to take responsibility for his behavior.

In a pre-draft meeting in June, the Coyotes also deemed those factors disqualifying. The stance of the organization at that time was that Miller was undraftable, according to several people who attended those meetings.

But between the June meeting and the October draft, there was upheaval within the Coyotes front office. Most notable was the team’s divorce with GM John Chayka in July. Chayka’s surprising and acrimonious exit right before the Coyotes entered the NHL’s postseason bubble came just a few months after another critical, albeit less-scrutinized, departure – that of team president and CEO Ahron Cohen. Though Cohen’s exit sparked some external curiosity, Chayka’s served as the first public flare of internal turbulence. That dispute, which stemmed from Chayka’s conversations with another organization and his desire to pursue a potential job opportunity elsewhere, has since been adjudicated by the league; Bettman assessed a year-long suspension against Chayka for conduct he deemed detrimental to the league and game, including improperly terminating his contract, seeking employment with another NHL organization, and abdicating his duties toward the end of his contract, according to multiple sources (Chayka, when asked about the suspension, declined to comment).

During the team’s postseason run, assistant GM Steve Sullivan stepped into the leadership void in an interim role; Bill Armstrong was then named Chayka’s successor in September.

Armstrong entered the fold having come from a recent Stanley Cup-winning organization, the St. Louis Blues, where he began working as an amateur scout in 2004. There, the former AHL coach and defenseman (who amassed 1,443 penalty minutes in his nine-season AHL/IHL career) worked his way up to director of amateur scouting in 2010 and was named assistant GM in 2018.

During his ascent, Armstrong gained a reputation as a hard worker – a guy who grew up helping his dad in the junkyard and carried that work ethic through to his post-playing career (one person said he was known to sneak in workouts at the airport during layovers on travel days). He’s known to have high expectations, and he isn’t shy about sharing those. In Arizona, he has vowed to create a “no excuses organization,” insisting on finding players who are willing to “bleed in the desert.” Some appreciate the hard-charging approach, while others consider his management style rigid and inflexible. Around the league, people view him as a sharp player evaluator with a good feel for the game and also an opportunist, adept at managing up. (When asked in a Q & A following his hire: If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be? Armstrong answered Gutierrez, his boss, adding: “He is by far the most fascinating human being I have ever met in my life.”)

In one of his first interviews after his hire, Armstrong, when asked about the status of a pair of front office staff members who worked under Chayka, referenced a “circle of trust” and said: “I’m going to trust you until you give me a reason not to. And if you give me a reason not to, it’s probably not going to be pretty.”

Both staff members have since been terminated.

In an email distributed shortly after Armstrong took over as GM, hockey operations employees were warned that “unauthorized distribution of any club information will not be permitted and is grounds for disciplinary action, up to immediate termination.” In that email, which was obtained by The Athletic, employees were asked to sign an acknowledgment form consenting to these terms. (“I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of something like that,” said one longtime executive with over 30 years of NHL experience.)

In November, agitated that organizational information had been obtained by The Athletic, Armstrong contacted this reporter, offering a theory that his daily schedule and other files had been stolen from his computer. He warned that the person who he surmised was responsible would be going to jail. After delivering a lecture on journalism ethics, Armstrong asked this reporter what she thought would happen if he were to tell general managers around the league how she did her job.

Some who have worked for Armstrong insist that an already turbulent environment created by the changeover in ownership grew increasingly chaotic and dysfunctional under the new GM. Chayka’s tenure was far from unblemished – the illegal prospect testing scandal happened under his watch – but there was the sense internally that he tried to shield employees from the tension with the new owner over financial matters and day-to-day operations. Armstrong has not provided the same buffer, according to those who have worked for both.

Multiple employees have said they reached out to the NHL about issues in the workplace, to document what they were experiencing and, in some cases, to seek help.

Prior to interviewing with the Coyotes, Armstrong acknowledged he received texts from friends and cohorts from around the league warning him about taking the job in Arizona given some rumblings about financial issues cropping up, according to his interview on “The Full 60” podcast with Craig Custance. Ultimately, he said he was won over by how he saw Meruelo treat others, both friends and family members and employees. He also felt Meruelo’s experience in a variety of industries convinced him that the ownership group was solid, noting that Meruelo had obtained a gaming license for his casinos, and even owned a bank.

“You can’t just be some cowboy in the desert doing your own thing on your own terms,” Armstrong said in the podcast. “They’re respected businesspeople.”

However, during interviews for the Coyotes GM position, multiple GM candidates said they felt that Meruelo, Gutierrez and Alex Meruelo Jr. displayed a general lack of awareness about the requirements of the job. Those candidates said they were uncomfortable with Meruelo Jr.’s apparent level of influence over hockey operations despite his limited understanding of organizational hierarchy, the salary cap and day-to-day operations. Meruelo Jr., whose title is strategic advisor of business and hockey operations, was deferential in the first few months after his father purchased the team – shy and eager to learn – but grew increasingly hands-on and emboldened, sources say. He took a more active role in player evaluation despite his lack of experience in professional hockey. Those within the hockey operations department gave him assignments to help him learn some of the nuances of player evaluation, but employees said that he’d lose interest in those quickly. His penchant for scrolling through YouTube videos unrelated to hockey during the workday was well known around the office.

One person who interviewed for a front-office role after Armstrong was hired said he was turned off by the team’s disorganized approach to fill the holes in its staff.

“It was like their hair was on fire,” the person said. “Everything about it was chaos.”

As criticism of the Miller pick intensified, the organization first tried to tie the pick to its efforts at inclusivity and said it was committed to working with Miller.

“We are willing to work with Mitchell and put in the time, effort, and energy and provide him with the necessary resources and platform to confront bullying and racism. This isn’t a story about excuses or justifications. It’s a story about reflection, growth, and community impact. A true leader finds ways for every person to contribute to the solution. We all need to be a part of the solution,” read a team statement.

When the criticism didn’t abate – the story made national headlines – the Coyotes changed course and renounced Miller’s rights.

The blame for the Miller debacle would shift daily within the team offices, with senior leadership determined to understand how Miller could have been drafted, and others looking to make sure they didn’t receive the blame. (Armstrong was prohibited from participating in the draft as part of the terms of his agreement once he left St. Louis; he said he spent the time in a different part of the arena, in the coaches’ room.) Eventually, a mental performance consultant came under scrutiny, a peculiar development considering she had never before been considered a key decision-maker. That mental performance consultant was not included in any scouting meetings once the front office personnel changed over. And before that, in a June pre-draft meeting, she shared concerns about Miller’s honesty and transparency about the incident and recommended against drafting him, according to several people in that meeting. But some individuals zeroed in on her, regardless.

Her time in the crosshairs eventually ended. On Jan. 27, the team touted the mental performance consultant’s skills and expertise as integral to the organization. But some employees were unsettled by how she was treated.

The Miller fiasco and the club’s reaction further undercut the “family” culture Meruelo said he wanted to create, and an undercurrent of paranoia permeated the office.

The Coyotes hold a bi-monthly company-wide call – “Pack Update” – which include departmental happenings and activities and “howl-outs” for certain achievements. The constant reinforcement of the concept of “family” on these calls has become hard to square with reality. Employees are frustrated with a change in health benefits, the pressure to work in the office rather than remotely, and what feels to some like an implicit directive to attend games, despite COVID-19 concerns.

Last week, another high-profile termination was announced, that of Steve Sullivan, the assistant GM and executive vice president of hockey operations. A former NHLer, who played 1,011 games in the league and won the Masterton Trophy in 2009, Sullivan declined to comment on the matter. Stacy Gabriel, his attorney, said she will be filing a demand for arbitration with the commissioner’s office.

“It’s our position that the Coyotes breached the contract – he has an employment agreement and they breached that agreement – and we intend to pursue remedies through the arbitration process,” Gabriel said.

Those who have hung on to their jobs feel they have little recourse in reporting their concerns; the constant specter of being fired has cast a pall over the office. During the past several months, employees in hockey operations, finance and administration have left the club, either by resignation or termination.

Said one former employee, remarking about the change since Meruelo assumed ownership: “You don’t understand the value of culture until you saw it deteriorate.”

During a two-day span during the first week of January, two individuals associated with law firm Seyfarth Shaw met with Coyotes employees in Glendale. It is not immediately clear what prompted their involvement.

According to multiple employees who met with these individuals, one topic discussed was sexual harassment, both in broader terms of workplace atmosphere and about one incident specifically, including the team’s holiday party in December 2019, held at a local restaurant. At the party, an employee of the Meruelo Group allegedly made an unwanted sexual advance toward a female Coyotes employee. This incident was widely discussed within the organization; five employees told The Athletic that they had heard about it. (The female employee declined to comment when reached by telephone.)

Among the other matters Seyfarth Shaw representatives have asked about:

The accuracy of financial documents provided to third parties, such as banks and private lenders, required to meet specific loan obligations.
The accuracy of financial reports the organization sent to the league, which reflect team revenues and can potentially impact player salaries and the salary cap.
The team’s appropriation of monies from the Industry Growth Fund allotment provided by the league, which is given to all 31 teams, “to help fund programs and initiatives aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in the game, as well as promoting social justice and racial equality,” according to the NHL/NHLPA’s collectively bargained Memorandum of Understanding.
The general workplace culture of the organization, including allegations of intimidation and threats made against current and former employees.
Health policies and procedures, particularly relating to COVID-19 protocols and internal compliance.
Separation agreements with former employees, including Paris, the sales manager who is suing the team for what he alleges are unpaid wages.
The team’s public and private troubles have overshadowed moves the organization should be celebrating. Shane Doan, the most beloved player in team history, returned to serve as the chief hockey development officer; the club named Lyndsey Fry, the former Olympian and Arizona native, who has been instrumental in the club’s youth programs, as its new radio analyst; she’s just the fourth woman to fill that role for an NHL team; and the team’s decision to embrace the popular Kachina jersey to commemorate its 25th anniversary has elicited deserved plaudits.

But those moves have done little to mitigate the declining morale within the organization.

One of the perks of working for an NHL club is the relaxed, team-like atmosphere where employees were allowed, and encouraged, to wear club apparel during the season to promote a sense of camaraderie in the office. One employee used to throw on a Coyotes sweatshirt without a second thought.

But now?

“It just repulsed me.”
Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 7:41 PM ET
I agree.


- bloatedmosquito

Steelers never won a Super Bowl wearing that hot mess, always white or black as the main color with maybe a touch of “gold” trim. Yellow as a base color is just horrible.

Lee Trevino would never use yellow tees, bad luck!!
neem55
Vancouver Canucks
Joined: 02.02.2012

Feb 16 @ 7:43 PM ET
It was a Friday night, four days before the 2020 NHL Draft, and members of the Arizona Coyotes’ front office, scouting department and hockey operations staff arrived at team president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez’s $3.45 million, Tuscan-style mansion in Cholla Gardens, a tony community within the Paradise Valley suburb of Phoenix.

Gutierrez was still settling into his new home, which remained sparsely furnished. Large folding tables were pulled together so the staff members could dine as a group on the catered meal. Coyotes employees, along with a smattering of family members, spent the night taking in the views of Camelback Mountain and touring Gutierrez’s 11,639-square-foot home, with its six bedrooms, walk-in wine room and stone wall accents.

For most NHL teams, optimism peaks in the days before the draft. Any disappointment from the past season, any organizational shortcomings, are obscured by the ephemeral jolt of hope that comes with injecting new talent into the franchise. The future always looks brighter in the halcyon days before the draft.

Despite the challenges of an unorthodox draft (held virtually in October because of COVID-19), a lack of high picks (the team traded away its first-round and third-round selections and was docked a 2020 second-rounder and 2021 first-round pick when the NHL found the club violated its combine testing policy during the 2019-20 season) and recent reports of financial lapses, including missed player and arena loan payments, the mood was upbeat. Wine bottles were uncorked and beers passed around, and attendees chatted as they made trips back and forth to the buffet.

The casual yet intimate vibe was in line with the organizational ethos espoused by Alex Meruelo, the team’s owner, who took control of the franchise in July 2019. Meruelo’s rise to the owner of a major professional sports franchise is a distinctly American tale: He is the son of Cuban immigrants who reportedly fled Cuba for Miami in 1961, with a box of cigars his parents’ sole possession. According to a 2011 profile in the Los Angeles Times, Meruelo earned $5,000 a month working at a tuxedo shop at age 16, purchased a failed pizzeria while in college, and he turned that single Huntington Park, Calif., outpost into a regional chain with 50 locales that by the 1990s generated millions in sales. He eventually amassed commercial real estate properties, construction outfits, media broadcasting companies and, more recently, casinos. When he took over the Coyotes, he promised the franchise would not only become a winning organization, but also a “family.”

It felt that way that evening at Gutierrez’s home. Even though Meruelo was not in attendance, his adult son, Alex Jr., was there. Inside jokes were shared, old stories were retold and there was a sense of possibility for the long-floundering organization. The Coyotes had been plagued for years by unstable ownership and near-constant rumors of relocation, yet the team recently made the postseason, and Meruelo’s arrival and vision for the future buoyed hopes for revitalization. But the transition had not come without its warts, with Meruelo’s first year of ownership marred by controversial turnover in the front office, fraying relationships with corporate partners, and growing financial losses, exacerbated by COVID-19. Considering the travails of the previous year, the evening was a welcome respite.

But within weeks of that dinner, any optimism the draft might have created had cratered. The Coyotes faced widespread criticism for the decision to select, with their first pick (in the fourth round), a prospect who had been convicted in juvenile court of the racist bullying and taunting of a Black disabled classmate when they both were in junior high school. The team eventually renounced the rights to the drafted player, but the decision to pick him sparked finger-pointing and paranoia, as leadership assessed how the misstep could’ve happened. The controversy became the most public pockmark of several simmering issues within the organization – a turbulent transition in business operations, contentious financial disputes between the team and its contractors and vendors, a rash of terminations and resignations of key employees and upheaval within the front office.

And the tumult has only intensified.

This article is based on interviews with more than 50 people, including current and former employees that span multiple departments as well as people who have business relationships with the club. Those interviews revealed a wide range of concerns that have surfaced since Meruelo took control of the team 18 months ago, including what many have described as a “toxic” workplace environment and financial troubles that far exceed what has previously been disclosed. Further, representatives from law firm Seyfarth Shaw met with some Coyotes employees in early January, The Athletic has learned, and asked them about potential financial irregularities, workplace culture, at least one case of alleged sexual harassment, and other matters.

The NHL and the Coyotes declined interview requests. Presented with a list of questions about the organization and management, a league representative and one from the team reiterated that they would not be providing comments for this story.

Meruelo’s acquisition of the Coyotes was supposed to portend a new era for the team. Instead, people within the organization and across the NHL are now wondering if the league erred in approving his purchase.

“If I was talking to a future employer, I’d say it’s been a learning experience,” said one employee. “If I was being frank with you, I’d say it’s a poopshow.”


Alex Meruelo (Scott Cunningham / NBAE via Getty Images)
The Coyotes were not Meruelo’s first foray into trying to buy a sports franchise. In August 2011, he announced an agreement to purchase a majority stake in the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks pending Board of Governors approval. The deal fell apart just a few months later. According to one report, the league felt the deal was too highly leveraged. Multiple sources told The Athletic the NBA harbored doubts about Meruelo’s ability to withstand operating costs and did not receive the financial assurances needed to assuage those concerns. Meruelo said there were key labor issues that led to a mutual decision to terminate the deal.

Meruelo purchased a 95 percent stake in the Coyotes in July 2019; on paper, his status as a billionaire entrepreneur with a reputation for taking on and revitalizing distressed businesses was appealing to the league, which has been steadfast in seeing hockey thrive in the desert. Considering Meruelo’s reported wealth (recently estimated at $2 billion), he appeared to have the deep pockets necessary to stabilize the franchise. He also expressed to the NHL a desire to secure for the team a new arena, an important sticking point considering the league has said remaining at Gila River Arena in Glendale is not viable.

Meruelo is also the first Hispanic owner to hold a majority stake in an NHL club – one located in a market that is 42 percent Hispanic or Latino. Gutierrez, who worked with Meruelo previously at The Meruelo Group as chief investment officer and is a longtime confidant of the Meruelo family, became the league’s first Latino CEO and team president. Both men expressed a desire to connect with the Hispanic/Latino fan base.

The team unveiled a number of initiatives to achieve this goal – forming an advisory board, hosting theme nights at the rink and launching initiatives to honor Hispanic Heritage Month, and making efforts to engage with its Spanish-speaking base through merchandising items like Spanish-language jerseys and social media accounts.

When Meruelo held his first news conference, he was refreshingly candid, if not a little brash. He said he “sure as poop wanted to win,” and he later wore a shirt emblazoned with that slogan to team functions (the team marketed the shirt via its official Instagram account). Some felt that boldness was just what the franchise needed, a shakeup that could revitalize the team’s fortunes in a challenging market. He held his first staff-wide meeting last winter, where he called a projected revenue loss of $53 million unacceptable, according to multiple people in attendance. He detailed a plan to steer the team toward profitability within two years with increased ticket sales and sponsorships, a cut of expansion fees from the new Seattle team (slated to be distributed in April 2021) and cost-saving measures, including reducing player payroll.

Within the Coyotes offices at Gila River Arena, the new ownership’s methods raised eyebrows. Several employees felt there was a lack of understanding about what makes running an NHL team, which operates as a community asset and relies on long-standing partnerships and relationships, different from a private business. The cost-cutting measures that may have cushioned the bottom line of the Meruelo Group’s other business ventures – the group’s CFO once bragged about drilling down on the cost of napkins – have different implications within an NHL franchise. The new leadership team, including Luis Armona and Armando Delgado from the Meruelo Group, scrutinized even the smallest of expenditures. Armona, nicknamed “Hurricane Luis” around the office, was at one point flummoxed by the fact that the team was charged for suite catering at games and apparel and merchandise from the team’s retail partner.

According to two employees, Armona banged a conference table and shouted: “Free! Free! Free! No one makes money off the Coyotes. They only exist because of us!”

Outbursts from those at the very top of the organization were not uncommon; multiple employees detailed profanity-laced dressing-downs by Meruelo, whose vexation could be provoked by such commonplace matters as loss projections or mentions of how other teams around the league do business. (Meruelo envisioned himself as an owner in the mold of the Lightning’s Jeff Vinik but also bristled when compared to him.) Multiple employees said he barked at them if they called him “Alex,” insisting he be addressed as “Mr. Meruelo.”

In news articles and internal meetings, Meruelo often touted his unorthodox comportment as “passionate,” but that oft-repeated notion rang hollow to some. One employee referenced an instance when a senior employee was berated by Meruelo in a meeting of approximately 20 others, for a variety of issues.

“It was painful. You wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” said one attendee.


Last March, shortly after the NHL shut down for COVID-19, Meruelo affirmed his commitment to paying employees through the end of the regular season: “We pride ourselves on treating all our staff and players like they are part of our family. … I value my team members and am committed to making sure that everyone remains safe, secure and part of our great team.” In April, the team announced it was furloughing half of its staff due to pandemic-related financial issues. In May, the Arizona Republic reported that promises to pay the arena’s part-time and hourly staff members had not been met. The team and arena management company, in response to the report, said they would “finalize our support plan that will be executed within the next 30 days.” The team then released a second statement later the day the report was published that said the club “provided their agreed upon contribution to Gila River Arena this week.”

In July, after prospect Tyler Steenbergen did not receive his bonus on time, his agent, Rick Valette, sent a strongly worded email (the contents of which were shared with The Athletic) to the team over what he called a “serious breach” of contract. In September, The Athletic reported that a handful of players did not receive their signing bonuses on time.

The NHLPA got involved, though the players’ association did not issue a formal grievance because the issues were quickly rectified. The union had previously been engaged with the organization over financial issues during the playoff bubble, as players were not issued per diem payments mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.

In September, Gutierrez described both of these snafus as “process” failures. When asked why signing bonus procedures did not get resolved between the gaffes in July and September, he cited “change at our CFO level. That transition definitely had some challenges.”

Some of the missteps have been blamed on a lack of familiarity running an NHL team, but those familiar with Meruelo’s approach to business operations insist this is a feature, not a bug.

“They basically took how they managed radio stations, pizza chains and casinos and used that same playbook for a hockey team,” said one former employee.

The team’s relationships with corporate partners, vendors and suppliers eroded as Meruelo Group executives applied what appeared to be a specific strategy: call up the partner, vendor or supplier, and ask that entity to “work with them.” This was often the starting point of a process in which Meruelo’s associates would haggle over line items in invoices or portions of a contract; it was also not uncommon for Meruelo associates to use the threat of litigation as leverage to get out of paying outstanding invoices or to make payments at drastically reduced costs. Over the course of reporting this story, The Athletic identified and spoke with eight vendors with whom the Coyotes had outstanding or past due balances or negotiated their debt to a lower amount.

“They default on a bill and then chisel you down to what you accept and then they pay you,” said one vendor.

One executive at a company that provided services to the team, said that once his unpaid invoices started stacking up, months before COVID-19, he feared he wouldn’t be paid at all. He eventually got a call from one of Meruelo’s associates, who questioned a litany of items on each invoice, asking who had signed off on an expenditure or whether someone who no longer was working for the organization had authorized it. The vendor felt defensive and flustered, which he now suspects was the intent.

Eventually, against legal advice, the vendor agreed to be paid a lesser amount. Afterward, he says he felt as if he had been duped. “You could tell they’ve done this a million times,” the vendor said. “That’s the feeling I got.”

According to a lawsuit filed in Clark County, Nev., the Meruelo-owned SLS Las Vegas Resort and Casino failed to pay a local public relations firm roughly $22,000 for work it did in April and May 2018. According to the complaint, a representative for SLS Las Vegas failed to pay for months then asked in November 2018 to be given a discount on the debt owed. Asked to provide grounds for the discount request, SLS Las Vegas did not respond, the complaint says. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for next week.

Some vendors are resigned to never getting the full amount for services rendered; others say they have asked league officials to intervene and help settle the debt.

“This is a group of people not acting honorably on the basis of business, not treating people and their partners with respect,” said one vendor. “If those are the borders that define a dumpster fire, then there is indeed a fire burning within the borders of this dumpster.”

Paradigm Ventures Southwest, which served as the team’s private airline charter company, filed a lawsuit for breach of contract in Maricopa County Superior Court in July. In the complaint, Paradigm alleges that the Coyotes owe $257,406.25 for services provided during the 2019-20 season, and an additional $19,305.47 in taxes. The Coyotes requested this suit be consolidated into its own lawsuit against Paradigm, filed the month prior, for breach of contract stemming from the Federal Aviation Authority’s emergency order revoking the operating certificate for Paradigm Air Operators Inc. for “allegedly operating dozens of unauthorized charter flights using unqualified pilots and when it lacked required air carrier management and safety personnel.” (Paradigm’s attorney Dennis Wilenchik said of the Coyotes’ initial suit: “We deny that anything alleged in their complaint has anything to do with the successful flights for them. And, we believe our contract covers that point too as being irrelevant.”) The two cases have since been consolidated. According to Paradigm’s most recent counterclaim, filed on Jan. 8, 2021, the current unpaid invoices total $298,026.92.

In September, a longtime Coyotes employee, David Paris, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Arizona against the team for failing to pay wages and withholding overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The lawsuit claims that the Coyotes failed to pay Paris, who worked for the team in sales from October 2003 to August 2020 and served as a premium seating manager for approximately the last five years of his employment. In a court filing last week, the Coyotes denied the allegations, arguing that they did not commit any “oppressive, willful, wanton, fraudulent or malicious act … with respect to (Paris).” Paris, when reached by phone, declined to comment. (A scheduling conference is set for late April.)

In September, Gutierrez declined to comment about outstanding balances with vendors and independent contractors but stressed the need for “context” concerning the economic crisis, stating the organization needed “to course correct some of the business arrangements that have historically hampered the financial prosperity of this organization.”

When asked whether “course correcting” meant not honoring contracts, he responded: “I think in business, especially when you’re facing changed circumstances, you’re constantly talking to your partners and your service providers about what is the appropriate cost structure. And that, by the way, is happening across the board in multiple industries.”

The Coyotes have routinely grappled with questions about the team’s commitment to staying in Glendale. Kevin Phelps, Glendale’s city manager, confirmed in September that the team had a balance from the 2019-20 season lease agreement with ASM Global for Gila River Arena that was overdue by several months. After The Athletic report, the Coyotes paid that debt. “We have no issues with how we work together,” said Chuck Steedman, ASM’s executive vice president of strategy and development. “We have a great relationship with them.”

As the stories of unpaid debts circulated, it reinforced the idea that issues that had long plagued the Coyotes had returned. One of the stories that made the rounds in NHL circles occurred during the postseason bubble, while the Coyotes were in the hub city of Edmonton. During one game that was on the precipice of heading to overtime, a request to expense pizza was denied.

Gutierrez, a polished, Harvard-educated Meruelo loyalist, noted in September that there is a critical distinction between financial instability and change.

“This has been a challenged enterprise,” Gutierrez said. “We are making changes to improve it. Those changes take time.”

As recently as September, the NHL downplayed issues raised about the new ownership group. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, when asked about the Coyotes during his annual news conference before the Stanley Cup Final, said that Meruelo’s group was “the strongest ownership it’s been under as long as I can remember. … I think they’ll be fine.”


The Coyotes’ selection of Mitchell Miller (No. 4) in the 2020 NHL Draft exposed more problems within the organization. (Codie McLachlan / The Canadian Press via AP)
About a month after Bettman’s vote of confidence, it became clear that things were not fine.

On Oct. 7, the Coyotes used their first pick of the 2020 draft, a fourth-round selection, to tab Mitchell Miller, a defensive prospect. Miller had been convicted of abusing and bullying a Black, developmentally disabled classmate at age 14. According to the police report of the incident, Miller also called his classmate the “n-word” and told him to “go pick cotton.”

At least 10 NHL clubs had removed Miller from their draft list, according to The Athletic’s reporting. Teams harbored concerns not only about the heinous act, but also about Miller’s willingness to take responsibility for his behavior.

In a pre-draft meeting in June, the Coyotes also deemed those factors disqualifying. The stance of the organization at that time was that Miller was undraftable, according to several people who attended those meetings.

But between the June meeting and the October draft, there was upheaval within the Coyotes front office. Most notable was the team’s divorce with GM John Chayka in July. Chayka’s surprising and acrimonious exit right before the Coyotes entered the NHL’s postseason bubble came just a few months after another critical, albeit less-scrutinized, departure – that of team president and CEO Ahron Cohen. Though Cohen’s exit sparked some external curiosity, Chayka’s served as the first public flare of internal turbulence. That dispute, which stemmed from Chayka’s conversations with another organization and his desire to pursue a potential job opportunity elsewhere, has since been adjudicated by the league; Bettman assessed a year-long suspension against Chayka for conduct he deemed detrimental to the league and game, including improperly terminating his contract, seeking employment with another NHL organization, and abdicating his duties toward the end of his contract, according to multiple sources (Chayka, when asked about the suspension, declined to comment).

During the team’s postseason run, assistant GM Steve Sullivan stepped into the leadership void in an interim role; Bill Armstrong was then named Chayka’s successor in September.

Armstrong entered the fold having come from a recent Stanley Cup-winning organization, the St. Louis Blues, where he began working as an amateur scout in 2004. There, the former AHL coach and defenseman (who amassed 1,443 penalty minutes in his nine-season AHL/IHL career) worked his way up to director of amateur scouting in 2010 and was named assistant GM in 2018.

During his ascent, Armstrong gained a reputation as a hard worker – a guy who grew up helping his dad in the junkyard and carried that work ethic through to his post-playing career (one person said he was known to sneak in workouts at the airport during layovers on travel days). He’s known to have high expectations, and he isn’t shy about sharing those. In Arizona, he has vowed to create a “no excuses organization,” insisting on finding players who are willing to “bleed in the desert.” Some appreciate the hard-charging approach, while others consider his management style rigid and inflexible. Around the league, people view him as a sharp player evaluator with a good feel for the game and also an opportunist, adept at managing up. (When asked in a Q & A following his hire: If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be? Armstrong answered Gutierrez, his boss, adding: “He is by far the most fascinating human being I have ever met in my life.”)

In one of his first interviews after his hire, Armstrong, when asked about the status of a pair of front office staff members who worked under Chayka, referenced a “circle of trust” and said: “I’m going to trust you until you give me a reason not to. And if you give me a reason not to, it’s probably not going to be pretty.”

Both staff members have since been terminated.

In an email distributed shortly after Armstrong took over as GM, hockey operations employees were warned that “unauthorized distribution of any club information will not be permitted and is grounds for disciplinary action, up to immediate termination.” In that email, which was obtained by The Athletic, employees were asked to sign an acknowledgment form consenting to these terms. (“I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of something like that,” said one longtime executive with over 30 years of NHL experience.)

In November, agitated that organizational information had been obtained by The Athletic, Armstrong contacted this reporter, offering a theory that his daily schedule and other files had been stolen from his computer. He warned that the person who he surmised was responsible would be going to jail. After delivering a lecture on journalism ethics, Armstrong asked this reporter what she thought would happen if he were to tell general managers around the league how she did her job.

Some who have worked for Armstrong insist that an already turbulent environment created by the changeover in ownership grew increasingly chaotic and dysfunctional under the new GM. Chayka’s tenure was far from unblemished – the illegal prospect testing scandal happened under his watch – but there was the sense internally that he tried to shield employees from the tension with the new owner over financial matters and day-to-day operations. Armstrong has not provided the same buffer, according to those who have worked for both.

Multiple employees have said they reached out to the NHL about issues in the workplace, to document what they were experiencing and, in some cases, to seek help.

Prior to interviewing with the Coyotes, Armstrong acknowledged he received texts from friends and cohorts from around the league warning him about taking the job in Arizona given some rumblings about financial issues cropping up, according to his interview on “The Full 60” podcast with Craig Custance. Ultimately, he said he was won over by how he saw Meruelo treat others, both friends and family members and employees. He also felt Meruelo’s experience in a variety of industries convinced him that the ownership group was solid, noting that Meruelo had obtained a gaming license for his casinos, and even owned a bank.

“You can’t just be some cowboy in the desert doing your own thing on your own terms,” Armstrong said in the podcast. “They’re respected businesspeople.”

However, during interviews for the Coyotes GM position, multiple GM candidates said they felt that Meruelo, Gutierrez and Alex Meruelo Jr. displayed a general lack of awareness about the requirements of the job. Those candidates said they were uncomfortable with Meruelo Jr.’s apparent level of influence over hockey operations despite his limited understanding of organizational hierarchy, the salary cap and day-to-day operations. Meruelo Jr., whose title is strategic advisor of business and hockey operations, was deferential in the first few months after his father purchased the team – shy and eager to learn – but grew increasingly hands-on and emboldened, sources say. He took a more active role in player evaluation despite his lack of experience in professional hockey. Those within the hockey operations department gave him assignments to help him learn some of the nuances of player evaluation, but employees said that he’d lose interest in those quickly. His penchant for scrolling through YouTube videos unrelated to hockey during the workday was well known around the office.

One person who interviewed for a front-office role after Armstrong was hired said he was turned off by the team’s disorganized approach to fill the holes in its staff.

“It was like their hair was on fire,” the person said. “Everything about it was chaos.”

As criticism of the Miller pick intensified, the organization first tried to tie the pick to its efforts at inclusivity and said it was committed to working with Miller.

“We are willing to work with Mitchell and put in the time, effort, and energy and provide him with the necessary resources and platform to confront bullying and racism. This isn’t a story about excuses or justifications. It’s a story about reflection, growth, and community impact. A true leader finds ways for every person to contribute to the solution. We all need to be a part of the solution,” read a team statement.

When the criticism didn’t abate – the story made national headlines – the Coyotes changed course and renounced Miller’s rights.

The blame for the Miller debacle would shift daily within the team offices, with senior leadership determined to understand how Miller could have been drafted, and others looking to make sure they didn’t receive the blame. (Armstrong was prohibited from participating in the draft as part of the terms of his agreement once he left St. Louis; he said he spent the time in a different part of the arena, in the coaches’ room.) Eventually, a mental performance consultant came under scrutiny, a peculiar development considering she had never before been considered a key decision-maker. That mental performance consultant was not included in any scouting meetings once the front office personnel changed over. And before that, in a June pre-draft meeting, she shared concerns about Miller’s honesty and transparency about the incident and recommended against drafting him, according to several people in that meeting. But some individuals zeroed in on her, regardless.

Her time in the crosshairs eventually ended. On Jan. 27, the team touted the mental performance consultant’s skills and expertise as integral to the organization. But some employees were unsettled by how she was treated.

The Miller fiasco and the club’s reaction further undercut the “family” culture Meruelo said he wanted to create, and an undercurrent of paranoia permeated the office.

The Coyotes hold a bi-monthly company-wide call – “Pack Update” – which include departmental happenings and activities and “howl-outs” for certain achievements. The constant reinforcement of the concept of “family” on these calls has become hard to square with reality. Employees are frustrated with a change in health benefits, the pressure to work in the office rather than remotely, and what feels to some like an implicit directive to attend games, despite COVID-19 concerns.

Last week, another high-profile termination was announced, that of Steve Sullivan, the assistant GM and executive vice president of hockey operations. A former NHLer, who played 1,011 games in the league and won the Masterton Trophy in 2009, Sullivan declined to comment on the matter. Stacy Gabriel, his attorney, said she will be filing a demand for arbitration with the commissioner’s office.

“It’s our position that the Coyotes breached the contract – he has an employment agreement and they breached that agreement – and we intend to pursue remedies through the arbitration process,” Gabriel said.

Those who have hung on to their jobs feel they have little recourse in reporting their concerns; the constant specter of being fired has cast a pall over the office. During the past several months, employees in hockey operations, finance and administration have left the club, either by resignation or termination.

Said one former employee, remarking about the change since Meruelo assumed ownership: “You don’t understand the value of culture until you saw it deteriorate.”

During a two-day span during the first week of January, two individuals associated with law firm Seyfarth Shaw met with Coyotes employees in Glendale. It is not immediately clear what prompted their involvement.

According to multiple employees who met with these individuals, one topic discussed was sexual harassment, both in broader terms of workplace atmosphere and about one incident specifically, including the team’s holiday party in December 2019, held at a local restaurant. At the party, an employee of the Meruelo Group allegedly made an unwanted sexual advance toward a female Coyotes employee. This incident was widely discussed within the organization; five employees told The Athletic that they had heard about it. (The female employee declined to comment when reached by telephone.)

Among the other matters Seyfarth Shaw representatives have asked about:

The accuracy of financial documents provided to third parties, such as banks and private lenders, required to meet specific loan obligations.
The accuracy of financial reports the organization sent to the league, which reflect team revenues and can potentially impact player salaries and the salary cap.
The team’s appropriation of monies from the Industry Growth Fund allotment provided by the league, which is given to all 31 teams, “to help fund programs and initiatives aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in the game, as well as promoting social justice and racial equality,” according to the NHL/NHLPA’s collectively bargained Memorandum of Understanding.
The general workplace culture of the organization, including allegations of intimidation and threats made against current and former employees.
Health policies and procedures, particularly relating to COVID-19 protocols and internal compliance.
Separation agreements with former employees, including Paris, the sales manager who is suing the team for what he alleges are unpaid wages.
The team’s public and private troubles have overshadowed moves the organization should be celebrating. Shane Doan, the most beloved player in team history, returned to serve as the chief hockey development officer; the club named Lyndsey Fry, the former Olympian and Arizona native, who has been instrumental in the club’s youth programs, as its new radio analyst; she’s just the fourth woman to fill that role for an NHL team; and the team’s decision to embrace the popular Kachina jersey to commemorate its 25th anniversary has elicited deserved plaudits.

But those moves have done little to mitigate the declining morale within the organization.

One of the perks of working for an NHL club is the relaxed, team-like atmosphere where employees were allowed, and encouraged, to wear club apparel during the season to promote a sense of camaraderie in the office. One employee used to throw on a Coyotes sweatshirt without a second thought.

But now?

“It just repulsed me.”

- Pacificgem


I think this could have longer, what’s chapter 2 of your novel about?
bloatedmosquito
Vancouver Canucks
Location: I’m a dose of reality in this cesspool of glee
Joined: 10.22.2011

Feb 16 @ 7:44 PM ET
Steelers never won a Super Bowl wearing that hot mess, always white or black as the main color with maybe a touch of “gold” trim. Yellow as a base color is just horrible.

Lee Trevino would never use yellow tees, bad luck!!

- Pacificgem


No like?

Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 7:45 PM ET
I think this could have longer, what’s chapter 2 of your novel about?
- neem55

I was asked to paste an article on the Coyotes organization from the Athletic.
Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 7:46 PM ET
No like?


- bloatedmosquito

No.....green or white is beautiful. Yellow is bad
CanuckDon
Vancouver Canucks
Location: Las Vegas
Joined: 08.05.2014

Feb 16 @ 7:47 PM ET
Just went and read it. Messy ass situation. I hope they just move that team and find new owners...
- NewYorkNuck

GFY 😡
Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 7:50 PM ET
Just went and read it. Messy ass situation. I hope they just move that team and find new owners...
- NewYorkNuck

They don’t need to move, they just need proper owners.
bloatedmosquito
Vancouver Canucks
Location: I’m a dose of reality in this cesspool of glee
Joined: 10.22.2011

Feb 16 @ 7:50 PM ET
No.....green or white is beautiful. Yellow is bad
- Pacificgem


So funny. The LA Lakers didn’t seem to think so. They won in both yellow and purple.
NewYorkNuck
Vancouver Canucks
Location: New York, NY
Joined: 07.11.2015

Feb 16 @ 7:51 PM ET
GFY 😡
- CanuckDon


Now I REALLY hope they move that team, and those white collar gated community folks have to foot the bill
NewYorkNuck
Vancouver Canucks
Location: New York, NY
Joined: 07.11.2015

Feb 16 @ 7:52 PM ET
They don’t need to move, they just need proper owners.
- Pacificgem


Hockey hasn't worked there for how long? They had like one good stretch when the team was relevant. It's not working. Relocate that biatch
bloatedmosquito
Vancouver Canucks
Location: I’m a dose of reality in this cesspool of glee
Joined: 10.22.2011

Feb 16 @ 7:56 PM ET
Hockey hasn't worked there for how long? They had like one good stretch when the team was relevant. It's not working. Relocate that biatch
- NewYorkNuck


I found this amusing even though Canucks aren’t much better off...

Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 7:56 PM ET
Hockey hasn't worked there for how long? They had like one good stretch when the team was relevant. It's not working. Relocate that biatch
- NewYorkNuck

Due to poor ownership they’ve ALWAYS done everything on the cheap. They need an arena in the proper location and a solid owner and they’ll be fine.

Penguins almost moved and declared bankruptcy how many times until Ron Burkle bought them and they built a new arena.

They’ve won three Cups in the past 15 years.
Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 7:58 PM ET
So funny. The LA Lakers didn’t seem to think so. They won in both yellow and purple.
- bloatedmosquito

Just luck
bloatedmosquito
Vancouver Canucks
Location: I’m a dose of reality in this cesspool of glee
Joined: 10.22.2011

Feb 16 @ 8:01 PM ET
Due to poor ownership they’ve ALWAYS done everything on the cheap. They need an arena in the proper location and a solid owner and they’ll be fine.

Penguins almost moved and declared bankruptcy how many times until Ron Burkle bought them and they built a new arena.

They’ve won three Cups in the past 15 years.

- Pacificgem


Huge TV market in Arizona...

There are 210 Designated Market Areas (DMAs) listed by the 2020–2021 Nielsen rankings.

New York (#1)
Los Angeles (#2)
Chicago (#3)
Philadelphia (#4)
Dallas-Fort Worth (#5)
San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (#6)
Atlanta (#7)
Houston (#8)
Washington, D.C. (#9)
Boston (#10)
Phoenix (#11)

Marwood
Vancouver Canucks
Location: Cumberland, BC
Joined: 03.18.2010

Feb 16 @ 8:05 PM ET
I was asked to paste an article on the Coyotes organization from the Athletic.
- Pacificgem

Thanks for doing that!! Interesting read, probably too complicated for neem.
Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 8:06 PM ET
Huge TV market in Arizona...

There are 210 Designated Market Areas (DMAs) listed by the 2020–2021 Nielsen rankings.

New York (#1)
Los Angeles (#2)
Chicago (#3)
Philadelphia (#4)
Dallas-Fort Worth (#5)
San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (#6)
Atlanta (#7)
Houston (#8)
Washington, D.C. (#9)
Boston (#10)
Phoenix (#11)

- bloatedmosquito

They should relocate the panthers to the new arena they built in San Fransisco.
Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 8:06 PM ET
Thanks for doing that!! Interesting read, probably too complicated for neem.
- Marwood

always cheeky....I love it.
bloatedmosquito
Vancouver Canucks
Location: I’m a dose of reality in this cesspool of glee
Joined: 10.22.2011

Feb 16 @ 8:09 PM ET
They should relocate the panthers to the new arena they built in San Fransisco.
- Pacificgem


But...



Pacificgem
Location: Beautiful , AZ
Joined: 07.01.2007

Feb 16 @ 8:11 PM ET
But...




- bloatedmosquito

You’re killing me
golfingsince
Location: This message is Marwood approved!
Joined: 11.30.2011

Feb 16 @ 8:17 PM ET
Thanks Lefty!

It seems the NBA had it right, he was too highly leveraged.

He might have pulled it off despite the losses with gate revenue. Targeting the latino audience is smart.

Poor Pheonix, they've never had solid ownership. In a totally unrelated direction, I had a conversation about Blackberry the other day.
CanuckDon
Vancouver Canucks
Location: Las Vegas
Joined: 08.05.2014

Feb 16 @ 8:28 PM ET
Hockey hasn't worked there for how long? They had like one good stretch when the team was relevant. It's not working. Relocate that biatch
- NewYorkNuck

It’s because the stadium is in the middle of no where. How would the Canucks work if the team was in Chilliwack?
Reubenkincade
Location: BC
Joined: 11.18.2016

Feb 16 @ 8:39 PM ET
I was asked to paste an article on the Coyotes organization from the Athletic.
- Pacificgem


Thanks for sharing. I was just listening to the reporter who wrote that, she did a lot of research and investigating for that article.
What a shits how.
Time to move that franchise to Portland.
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