Eric Lindros, what to say that hasn't been said?
Gary Bettman probably doesn't want to say anything, at least not until the Phoenix Coyotes' latest annoying, improbable playoff run is over. Currently, with just a three-point cushion with 10 games left to play, the league-owned team would be the seventh seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today.
It has been a long time since I wrote any articles relating to the Phoenix Coyotes and their embarrassing ownership situation, but you know what? Relocations are fun as long as they don't involve your team, and as long as the relocated city is one you favor over the one that is being abandoned—as is the case with the Phoenix Coyotes.
We all know any city they might end up in is better than where they are now. While I have my preferences (anywhere in Canada over hippie, yuppie, tree-hugging Seattle, or bland Kansas City), at least if they were to relocate to Seattle, it would likely come with the New Orleans Hornets or some other floundering NBA club soon to be re-branded the Sonics, so that would be pretty refreshing.
Relocations are really interesting for any league, but especially so for one that needs new fans and to expand its base. Considering that, moving from a non-traditional market in Arizona to a safe haven in Canada might seem like a net loss, but whether it be Saskatoon or Quebec City, at least fans with the passion will be there on any given night and new generations of Canadians would be able to have an NHL team of their own.
Relocation by the Numbers
In order to relocate, the NHL Board of Governors needs a simple majority. That's 16 of 30 clubs, for those of you keeping track at home. We all know that the seven Canadian clubs (man, that's awesome to say) would all vote in unison to approve any relocation to their country. It would enhance the overall product (if that's even possible) and help their economy. That's almost half the votes required right there.
Craig Leipold, owner of the Minnesota Wild, who many fans consider to be Canada's unofficial eighth club would certainly approve a move, as would Buffalo, which sits right on the Canadian border. In fact, you could probably safely add Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, and the big market New York Rangers as "yes" votes without much reservation or hesitation, given they are all traditional markets and the rest of the famed "Original Six" clubs.
That's 14 votes right there, and let's be honest, most if not all of the "Northern" markets would vote to move a team to a market where they think it would thrive better than outlier Phoenix.
But if you needed any more convincing, it's probable that owners from markets like Florida, Columbus, and the New York Islanders would all vote to approve a move because they know it would be best for the league and rid them of dual-ownership, not to mention save their own struggling teams from suffering the same fate at least for the moment.
So as you can see, getting the requisite number of votes shouldn't and wouldn't be an issue.
NHL's Ownership of Coyotes Likely Facilitated Thrashers' Relocation
While no one is going to come out and say this, it's probable that the NHL owning the Phoenix Coyotes likely facilitated the former Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg, simply because they couldn't handle owning two teams at the same time.
This is one of the reasons the league seemingly "gave up" on the team finding local ownership in Georgia so quickly—they've struggled for almost three years now in the desert for ownership that will hopefully never come.
Jets fans have Coyotes fans to thank, and I think many of them realize this irony and good fortune.
However, I have no doubt that had timing not been an issue, the league would have done the same thing with the Thrashers—taking over the team, in much the same way David Stern has done with the NBA's New Orleans Hornets, in hopes of finding a new and local ownership group.
The thing that makes this so hard for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is he knows that as long as he is running the league (already 15 years now), the Atlanta market and entire state of Georgia with its top 10 media market are gone for good. He has to be absolutely sure all possible avenues are crossed before he gives up on the top five market of Phoenix, since once the team leaves, they won't ever be back.
He would also be admitting with a second relocation in as many years that something is not only wrong with his league, when these markets can't survive like he thought, but more so, his dream of playing hockey in the Sunbelt would have failed and the experiment officially over, albeit fifteen years too late.
Not to be too mean, but come on—the NHL never should have existed in these markets in the first place.
New Annual Spring Tradition—Discussing Relocation
The playoffs are getting close. Either your team is going to make it or they are going to fall short.
One of mine (the Minnesota Wild) definitely will, while another (the Winnipeg Jets) just might snag the last seed in the Eastern Conference. I'm hoping they'll slip by the tired Washington Capitals, who we all know are going to flame out in one of the first two rounds like clockwork.
Why not let an upstart team like the re-birthed Jets give it a try? Who doesn't want to see more Canadian hockey, specifically the rocking MTS Centre on national TV?
In the West, you've got too many nontraditionals for comfort—the Stars, Coyotes, and Nashville all occupy playoff spots, while in the East only Florida gives me pause, along with Washington because of their annual choke job in the playoffs.
We know how this goes. Upsets abound as home ice means nothing. Games end at 1 or 2 AM in sudden-death overtime, where shootouts aren't allowed and four or five OTs are a very real possibility.
How about one of the California clubs, like San Jose or L.A., that always seem to have epic first-round, high-scoring battles with a power team like Detroit or Vancouver? And no one is talking about top seeded St. Louis.
In the East, tradition prevails with the big-ticket Rangers, feisty Flyers, prima donna Penguins, stellar Devils, or boring Bruins. But take note of the Ottawa Senators, who have a boatload of All-Stars and are having one of their "every other year" good competitive years. As a seventh seed, as good as they are, I'd hate to be whoever finishes second, because I am calling that upset now.
But nothing would get the league buzzing on a positive note like the Coyotes announcing, at the conclusion of the playoffs, that they were moving to Quebec City. Think of it as the joy and happiness Winnipeg showed, x10. You'd have the Americans' "I hate French culture" storylines, you'd have Eric Lindros revisited, you'd have nationalistic quarrels, you'd have sellouts and nostalgia, and you'd have a wrong done right.
True North Sports and Entertainment laid out the groundwork for returning to Canada as an appealing market, and it appears Quebec mayor Regis Labeaume and Quebecor (the media conglomerate that would own the team) took good notes from last spring.
When it happens it could happen fast—just look back at the Thrashers' timeline for precedent.