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Coyotes respond to report of dysfunction within organization

General view outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Detroit Red Wings on October 12, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes responded to a report Tuesday afternoon that accused the organization of financial woes and other dysfunction under current ownership.

The article, written by The Athletic’s Katie Strang, chronicles the Coyotes’ last 18 months under owner Alex Meruelo through interviews from 50 current and former employees as well as those with business relationships with the team.

The Coyotes declined requests to be interviewed for the story but released the statement, which called it a “harassment campaign.”

“We question the potential reliance by The Athletic on disgruntled ex-employees who have proven to be untrustworthy and lacking in candor on confidential non-public information, and on vendors with whom the club secured negotiated settlements to undo years of financial mismanagement under prior ownership and club leadership,” the Coyotes said in a press release.

“At a time when teams and leagues across sports are facing an unprecedented economic downturn, we are concerned that The Athletic has chosen to single out Mr. Meruelo and the Arizona Coyotes about their financial operations.”

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.

Highlighting the team’s financial issues in the article was Arizona’s business dealings with corporate partners, vendors and suppliers. Strang spoke with eight vendors who said the organization would haggle over invoice items 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.

The Coyotes responded to the financial claims, saying “Mr. Meruelo has demonstrated a 40-year track record of success in multiple industries and business enterprises.”

The article also touches on the team’s first 2020 NHL Draft pick, Mitchell Miller.

The Miller pick, which was a fourth-round selection of the draft, went under scrutiny after it was revealed that he had bullied a Black classmate with developmental disabilities.

Miller pleaded guilty at age 14 to one count of assault and one count of violation of the Ohio Safe Schools Act. He and another teenager were accused of making 14-year-old Isaiah Meyer-Crothers eat a candy push pop after wiping it in a bathroom urinal, and surveillance video showed them kicking and punching him.

Arizona acknowledged it knew about the incident when it selected Miller 111th overall, but President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said they renounced rights to Miller after learning more about the incident and the impact it had on Meyer-Crothers.

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.

The organization believes it is in a better spot than it was in the old regime, stating that “integrity, honor and professionalism have been restored to the Coyotes hockey operations, replacing a deceptive and dysfunctional department undeserving of the great fans of Arizona.”

“As we will be exploring all of our legal options in response to The Athletic, we will not have any further comments,” the Coyotes added.

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