Even with a Cup, Long-Term Future Not Practical for NHL in Phoenix

Joe M.Correspondent IIApril 5, 2010

16 Jan 1996:  Left wing Keith Tkachuk of the Winnipeg Jets skates down the ice during a game against the Washington Capitals at the US Air Arena in Landover, Maryland.  The teams tied at 1-1. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger  /Allsport
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

People are starting to doubt whether that NHL's return to Winnipeg, Manitoba, could actually happen. In reading numerous editions of the Winnipeg Sun , Winnipeg Free Times , and ESPN and Phoenix Coyotes message boards from all the above sources, this now seems to be the newfound underlying current.

Did we think it could happen?


It's quite obvious the NHL doesn't want to go back to Canada, much less crawling back, embrassingly, much less to Manitoba of all places, from which the annoying Coyotes came.

Like the linked article above, from the National Post , I've been told by a friend that same bit of advice.

If the Coyotes don't move to Winnipeg, or Canada for that  matter, will I personally be crushed?


The NHL is sly enough to get people's hopes up, only to crash them down.

The reason I choose to get wrapped up in this debacle, is because I feel sorry for the good people of Winnipeg, and Canada in general, who have lost multiple teams at the expense of United States markets which are now proving to be just as fruitless and profitless as the former NHL homes in Winnipeg and Quebec City were considered back in their day.

My only fear is that, in fact, places like Winnipeg and Quebec City are and will ultimately be used as future bargaining chips as it may be the case (we won't know until after June 30 if the Coyotes aren't sold) with Winnipeg here, each time a U.S. team is in trouble, until the U.S. market's demands are met and that team ultimately stays.

Or worse, Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Hamilton, Ontario, all teams once thought to be frontrunners in their own right to re-capture the NHL's services, could be the final bidder for a U.S. franchise (likely one in the struggling South) only to see some last-minute effort in a place like Kansas City, Las Vegas, or Portland win the NHL's approval and thus, the franchise that should have gone to Canada to be relocated to their city at the expense of Canada yet again.

How many times can you mess with a community or a province's emotions, as in the case of Manitoba and Quebec, before they have a total distrust for the NHL and, if not boycott it out of their love for hockey in general, simply give up on any chance of the NHL ever returning again?

Each time relocation comes up as a threat, their media, citizens, and poltical leaders that could make it happen, will be so disillusioned, so heartbroken, so tired of making the effort only to see it fail, that they will simply ignore it giving the NHL all the justification it needs to use this supposed apathy, against them as they claim that the people in these regions clearly don't care anymore, how its evident that time, as well as the game they supposedly love, and these opportunities, have passed them by?

Who knows how many opportunities places like Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Hamilton will get before the NHL simply moves on?

Someday, the economies in these struggling American markets will recover, but by then, these Canadian cities may have missed their chance. Some day, there will be a new NHL commissioner, one that may not favor Canada at all (some claim this to be the case with Gary Bettman, but at least he talks up Canada, even if it is an idle threat only).

The next guy could ignore them entirely.  

Someday, these provinces won't have leaders like Marcel Aubut, Qubec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, or David Thomson that clearly all share at least some level of interest in the NHL returning to their various locations in Canada, for whatever reason.

I am more worried about all that than I am about a stupid little lease in Phoenix that may or may not expire in time for the glorious date of June 30-D-day in Arizona.

So what about the lease?

Little has been said about the lease that runs out on June 30, if the team is not sold to either Ice Edge Holdings or American businessman Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owns the NBA's Chicago Bulls and Major League Baseball's Chicago White Sox.

Basically, its complicated, but ESPN's Scott Burnside explains the perameters and risks of the lease best here. Lease Holdup Could Cost Coyotes .  

A few highlights are: Basically, he argues time is of the essence and the Coyotes currently don't have much of it (June 30—keep that in mind).

Why does it matter?

Because if the team isn't sold by then (a new ownership group isn't agreed upon) then every Canadian's (and a few Americans like me) dreams are eligible to come true, as the team would be subject to relocation anywhere, but logic would have to think Canada, and thus Winnipeg, as Burnside says, since they are currently the furthest along with a plan since the NHL won't listen to Jim Balsillie who is seen as a potentially radical owner that they don't like, nor want, for their league.

There are reports that the lease agreements have already been approved but I don't believe it-at least not yet.

  • First, the reports are conflicting as other souces say this is not the case .
  • Next, one of the two bids, Ice Edge Holdings, is basically viewed as bogus since they can't seem to get their sponsorship backing and funding straight. Basically in my eyes, as well as a lot of other people's, its really Reinsdorf or bust.
  • Reinsdorf's bid is said to include an opt-out clause within five years if the team doesn't turn a profit (which I've stated in my last article) that it never has, and probably can't in the desert, perhaps Reinsdorf knows this, thus the provision?

I mean, how intent are you really on keeping the team or its success factor, if this has to be a stipulation even before you end up getting the team? This looks to be just a simple stop gap while the economy recovers and Reinsdorf and the NHL can find a more viable (suitable) home for their beloved Coyotes then seemingly crummy old Canada and God forbid Quebec City or lowly Winnipeg (their view, not mine, Canadians!)

This goes on to support the idea that the NHL is desperate to get a deal done at all costs whether it be Ice Edge or Mr. Reinsdorf, just so  the team doesn't end up in Canada and she gets shut out again, but now I sound like Mr. Balsillie.

  • Finally, I get reminded that Quebecor, the possible owner of a Quebec City franchise, needs to find future investors and sponsors all the time. This goes the same with Winnipeg and any chance the Jets have at returning. But basically, owner and the city of Glendale have to get everything smoothed over in terms of parking fees, lease agreement, any potential opt-outs, overall sale price of the team, arena costs in the deal, NHL approval of the sale, whether or not Glendale has a public vote (which would mean a whole new factor in terms of speculation) all before June 30.)

Sounds like a lot to ask for.  

How do you see that playing out? A bunch of warm-weather people, mostly older, voting whether or not to fund more money to a sport where many wouldn't know the difference between a hockey puck and Wolfgang Puck.

Another problem remains for Phoenix in Arizona

Once again, as in normal relocation threats, the issue is usually "build us a new arena or else." Jobing.com Arena is only seven years old and, from all accounts, not only up to NHL standards (it had better be, given its age and $180M price), but actually quite a nice venue from what I understand.

This problem of fans not showing up despite these perks, in addition to the long -term viability of whether or not hockey can actually work in the state and climate is reason enough to scare off any prospective owners, and is working against the Coyotes' favor.

See, Reinsdorf could buy the team and the Coyotes could win the Cup this year, but that doesn't solve the long term problem described above. Even after winning the Cup, the Coyotes are projected to lose around $20 million this year alone , asking the question, what good does it do to win?

Even if they keep the team, don't you see a fire sale ahead? If that comes, so goes the team—to somewhere else, the entire thesis of this article. One way or another, the long-term viability in the desert just doesn't add up.

Reinsdorf winning the bid would serve as a temporary Band-Aid, evidenced by his opt-out request since the fans would likely wane off if and when the Coyotes don't win the Cup, or if they don't even make the playoffs next year. Even if they have a mini-dynasty here, the team has proven nothing but finishing in the red, which would activate Reinsdorf's opt-out even if they win!

So his winning the bid just makes no sense, no matter how you analyze it, since the bottom line keeps showing hockey just isn't viable (profitable) in the desert and there are 14 years of proof to show for it.

The NHL needs to quit delaying the inevitable and move our boys back home where they belong.

I support a return to Canada because I await a return of regional and historic rivalries. Who wouldn't want to see the "West Side Story" Rematch of the (Winnipeg Jets) vs. the (San Jose) Sharks?

Imagine the marketing possibilities.

Relocation happens in every sport (NBA: Seattle Sonics to Oklahoma City 2008, MLB: Montreal Expos to Washington D.C. 2005, NFL: 1997 Houston Oilers to Nashville, and NHL: Hartford Whalers to Raleigh that same year.

So, as you can see, the NHL is long overdue when it comes to relocation. It's about time. NHL, just let it happen. Just make sure you get the destination country right.

June 30, 2010. It's coming.

But will it have any meaning?

Information and references from SB Nation, The National Post, ESPN.com and Scott Burnside's blog, AZ Central.com, Phoenix Business Journal, and Wikipedia were used in this article.


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