The future of the Phoenix Coyotes appears as protracted, difficult and challenging as ever.
At this point, there is no certainty if the franchise remains in the American southwest, relocates to the Canadian tundra or simply fades as a footnote into sports history.
Recent reports have the owners of Jobing.com Arena facing two significant roadblocks in financing a deal cut with Chicago businessman Mathew Hulziser. To that end, the effort to keep the Coyotes skating the desert has been problematic and taxing.
In December, 2010, the Glendale city council authorized the purchase of up to $126 million in bonds. In turn, the city would commit $100 to Hulsizer to take control of the arena and another $97 million to manage the facility.
Hulsizer, in turn, would use this money to purchase the Coyotes from the NHL, its current owner. Yet, two factors clearly influence the city’s ability to raise the money and keep the Coyotes in the desert. Otherwise, True North Corporation will purchase the franchise and move the team back to its ancestral home in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
This scenario has been complicated by the fact the city cannot obtain favorable interest rates on the bonds, and second, the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank based in Phoenix, threatens to sue the city of Glendale. Goldwater contends the money Glendale would give to Hulsizer constitutes a gift, and thus is in violation of the Arizona Constitution.
With the NHL season drawing to a close and the league about to embark on formulating a schedule for the 2011-12 season, the state of the Phoenix franchise becomes paramount. That sense of urgency prompted NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to meet with Glendale officials March 8th, and then hold a news conference at Jobing.com Arena to update the fans and media.
With apologies to William Shakespeare, the Coyotes’ future remains much ado about nothing.
Bettman said he holds the Goldwater Institute accountable for any delays in securing the bond money and refuses to meet with Goldwater officials under Goldwater terms. Darcy Olsen, president of Goldwater, has agreed to meet with Bettman but only in an open forum and with media present. Bettman categorically rejected that platform and said the situation is far too sensitive for that environment.
“I’m not sure (Goldwater) even thinks they have a good law suit,” Bettman said at the March 8th news briefing. “We are told that two independent law firms looked at this and said the transaction is legal under Arizona law.”
Bettman hinted the city of Glendale, the Coyotes franchise and hockey fans in the desert are being held hostage by Goldwater and added, “it has become extremely clear to me that the Goldwater Institute can be very obstructionist.”
The protracted debate, the uncertainty surrounding the franchise and the fact that the Coyotes, on the ice, need to focus on making the playoffs, are influencing players and the coaching staff.
“The situation does wear on you,” said captain Shane Doan after the Coyotes dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to Vancouver March 8th. “You remain callous and it’s become part of playing here. It is what it is. I just hope they can get it done and we stay here.”
The swirling debate, with pronouncements, innuendos, fact and fiction, cannot be avoided. After all, the off-ice questions remain as demanding and unanswered as ever.
“You can’t help but notice what’s going on,” added Phoenix coach Dave Tippett after the Vancouver game. “I think our players have done a great job to block that out, and remain focused. Right now, our aim to get into the playoffs, and not what we have to do to stay in Phoenix.”
That’s echoed by those in the hockey community, and even from opponents, there’s some sympathy to the Coyotes plight.
“They’re focusing on hockey, and that’s the way it should be,” said Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo after recording his 31st win of the season March 8th. “The situation is out of their control, so they should just get their minds set on making the playoffs.”
For now, Bettman would not commit to a deadline in which the city of Glendale should sell bonds and finalize the deal with Hulsizer. He did say at a news conference during the All-Star weekend in late January the Phoenix situation is not open-ended and added “simply stated, this situation must be resolved.”
Looking over the collective shoulders of all parties, it’s not difficult to see sands of the hourglass slowly sifting away.
For the Coyotes, there was more at stake than just revenge on March 8th.
Sure, Phoenix remembers what happened the last time Vancouver was here. On the night of Feb. 2nd, the Canucks dominated in a 6-0 win. On March 8th, the Coyotes jumped out to a 2-0 lead, dropped behind 3-2 and tied it when Lauri Korpikoski beat Luongo with 43 seconds left in the second period. Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuls scored twice including the game-winner at 2:13 of overtime to seal the deal. The Coyotes managed one point in the torrid Western Conference race for playoff spots.
“We battled hard, and this one was tough to lose,” said Eric Belanger, who contributed with a goal and two assists. “The effort was there and we have to keep working.”
Belanger picked up his first point since a goal Feb. 19th against Nashville, and the three-point night was his first of the season. His last multi-point game was Jan. 25th when he scored twice at home against the Oilers.
The Coyotes continue to lose defensemen. With Ed Jovanovski and Derek Morris out, newly acquired Rostislva Klesla took a puck on his forehead in the middle of the second period March 8th and left the ice holding a towel to stop the bleeding. He did not return.
Also, forwards Ray Whitney and Martin Hanzal were injury scratches for the Vancouver game.
The Coyotes conclude their present home stand March 10th against Calgary and then hit the road for four games.