Phoenix Coyotes' Future: Winnipeg Can Wait While NHL, Glendale Play Hardball
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In considering possible headlines for this article, the one I really wanted to run (but would likely get me sued) was "Back off Glendale" in reference to the Arizona Republic editorial a week ago with this same childish headline.
That article was written in regards to the Goldwater Institute and its attempts to "hinder" the possible sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to the shady Matthew Hulsizer, who would unfortunately keep the NHL team in Glendale, AZ.
During a press conference last week, Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs claimed the city would lose about $500 million if the team left, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.
While this number is very much in doubt, the whole act was seen as an 11th-hour attempt to try and persuade the voters and citizens of Glendale to buy the bonds that are supposedly being neglected because of the uncertainty surrounding the team.
Now, you've even got normally optimistic outlets like ESPN showing signs of skepticism. (http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/5334/five-things-flames-rising-as-wild-fall-tiebreakers-outlook-drama-in-phoenix)
And then there is the Winnipeg Free Press, publishing jokes about the so-called "sale." (http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/sports/hockey/theyll-need-a-miracle-117507903.html)
Face it, Glendale—you've become the joke of the league. What I've known since your 1996 inception others are only now starting to figure out.
Oh, well. Better late than never.
Unofficial Glendale cheerleader and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly issued statements to disparage the rebirth of hockey in Quebec, saying things like this:
"We were very candid and told everybody in Quebec City, 'Listen, obviously we couldn't consider ever coming back without a new building, but don't build a new building on our account where you think somehow you can expect on some certain time frame to have a franchise.'"—Toronto Sun
Who is he kidding?
Quebec is not going to make a $400 million committment—as it has with the 2015 opening of the Videotron Arena, whose 25-year naming rights with the Quebecor magnate were announced last week—without a simple guarantee that a team will be back.
Quebec isn't going to go through all this public scrutiny and opposition from "English Canada" on a hope and a prayer.
No politician in his right mind would agree to harm his political career and reputation like that, especially not in Canada, where hockey is the national sport and unites passions as much as it does.
It would be political suicide.
What's more likely, Bettman is just doing his due diligence in saying all the proper things, at least until the Phoenix situation is resolved (probably this week).
But on top of that, what is he supposed to say?
"Don't worry, Quebec—if you build an arena, of course we'll come."
He knows doing so would be unfair to fans of the Atlanta Thrashers, the next team for Quebec to target with the Coyotes off the board.
Bettman also has to know that Winnipeggers have nothing to lose. They've been used so much and been on so many emotional highs and lows over the years that one more isn't going to send most of them away.
Winnipeg is still a proven hockey hotbed, and with so many teams in trouble and the MTS Centre right there for the taking, it will happen sooner rather than later.
Winnipeg has everything to gain and nothing to lose, as they'd still be an AHL market without a top-tier team—which is what they've been since the Jets left in the first place.
They can afford to wait it out in Winnipeg. The NHL, however, cannot.
It's well known that the owners will not subsidize the team for another year, nor will the NHL look for a fourth potential owner. So who are we really kidding here?
Finally, the NHL schedules are due to come out shortly following the Stanley Cup Finals. There might already be a version with "Manitoba" or "Winnipeg" penciled in, but if there isn't, that's another reason this can't drag out much longer.
The NHL Can't Own Two Teams at Once
Despite what Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly say , they both know that until the Coyotes situation is resolved, they cannot handle the Thrashers. The league went through a lot when it assumed ownership of the franchise in Phoenix, and it may be a long time before that happens again.
It's simply a waiting game for Quebec and the people there know it. Surely Bettman does too, hence the reason we keep seeing progress being made in Quebec City.
Still, this has to be Bettman's nightmare coming true.
He had three mandates: to continue southern expansion, to find a lucrative television deal and to institute a salary cap.
To date, he's only done the latter.
Glendale's Court Challenge Is Counterproductive
Glendale is making attempts to strong-arm the people into buying bonds they clearly don't want. Who are the politicians kidding? We are seeing right through this feeble attempt at cheap publicity.
Are they really going to be victorious in court over a more well-established group like the Goldwater Institute? They can barely agree at a city council meeting on covering team losses.
The real irony lost in this new twist of fate for the franchise is this: With Glendale now taking the Goldwater Institute to court, they are actually doing the Coyotes more harm than good, because the longer this takes in court, the more it's going to scare away any potential bond invesotors.
More court time will only raise interest rates on those bonds and make the city look more desperate (if that's even possible). Potential owner Matthew Hulsizer would likely walk away at some point in the long, drawn-out process, leaving their court battle for naught anyway.
It's likely this attempt is nothing but a way for the Glendale "leaders" to show that they "went down fighting," how it "just wasn't meant to be" and how sad they are at losing the team (and the money). They are painting it to be an "us-vs.-them" scenario where the NHL and representatives of Winnipeg were the bad guys and they weren't.
The sweet thing for Winnipeg is that it looks like they will soon inherit a playoff-bound team. Should the sliding, sixth-place Coyotes fail to make the playoffs, they still will have a playoff contender at the very least for 2011-12.
You know, kind of like exactly what they had just 15 years ago when the team left.
Information and references from ESPN and Scott Burniside, the Toronto Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press directly contributed to the content of this article.
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