NHL: With Winnipeg Out, Phoenix Coyotes Options to Move Are Limited

Mark BrownContributor IJune 1, 2011

The Phoenix Coyotes hope to fill Jobing.com Arena for many years to come.
The Phoenix Coyotes hope to fill Jobing.com Arena for many years to come.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Now that Winnipeg claimed the Atlanta Thrashers, a possible relocation for the Phoenix Coyotes was eliminated.

In review, the Atlanta situation was different from the protracted Phoenix scenario, but still, the Coyotes' franchise remains in limbo.

When the Glendale, Arizona city council voted to extend the Jobing.com Arena management agreement for one year, and set aside $25 million for that purpose, the franchise was given a 12-month reprieve to find a successful owner. Since that council vote May 10, the Phoenix situation has remained quiet, and only a few rumblings from the local media on how the hands of Don Maloney, the team's general manager, are tied have surfaced. That's because the NHL still owns the Coyotes, and gives Maloney a marginal budget in which too operate.

Maloney is faced with signing a number of free agents, but the NHL will not commit to high profile, long-term deals.

The Glendale city council has made it known on several occasions that the loss of the Coyotes would have dire consequences for the community and the general economic infrastructure. Figures as high as $500 million in losses to the community were projected, and Glendale remains committed to retain the Coyotes at nearly all costs.

That remains in stark contrast to the Thrashers' plight. Over the past several years, ownership has tried to sell the Atlanta franchise, but no buyers have come forward. Plus, the Thrashers track record on the ice does not make this a truly competitive franchise.

Since entering the NHL as an expansion team in the 1999-2000 season, Atlanta made the playoffs one time. In 2007, they were swept by the Rangers and remained out of the Stanley Cup picture since.

Plus, attendance has been in decline since year one.

In the Thrashers' first year, they sold out 14 games and average attendance was 17,205. By 2009-10, attendance dropped to an average of 13,607 with two sellouts. Last season, they drew 14,000 a game, and reportedly lost $150 million over the past three years.

In the effort to relocate to Winnipeg, the NHL did not stand in its way, and could even be considered benign in its involvement. Conversely with the Coyotes franchise, the league remains active in two critical fronts.

First, the NHL wants a franchise in Phoenix, and remains determined to find a buyer which will keep the hockey team in the desert. That's because Phoenix's stature as the sixth largest city in the United States and the 11th biggest market still commands a sizable television market and ready to promote both the NHL and hockey in the region.

"Even with the council vote (of $25 million to the NHL), we still have to sell this team," said NHL deputy commission Bill Daly told the media after the council vote of May 10. "I would argue conditions are improving for a sale, but this has to be done quickly."

In nearly a month since the council allocation to the NHL, the prominent, potential buyer Chicago business Matthew Hulsizer remains silent. In his quest to buy the Coyotes, Hulsizer insists on monies given by the city of Glendale directly to him so he can purchase the team from the NHL.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative "think tank" based in Phoenix, continues to say this is a violation of the "gift clause" of the Arizona state constitution. If Glendale is able to obtain the funds and give the monies to Hulsizer to acquire the Coyotes, Goldwater has simply said, "see you in court."

If a buyer cannot be found within the next calendar year, the fate of the Coyotes remains as uncertain as ever. Relocation to Winnipeg is now out, but another option may be a move to Quebec City.

Sites in the United States appear unlikely. Fans in Kansas City, once home of the NHL Scouts in the 1970s, are clearly occupied with the NFL Chiefs and the University of Kansas Jayhawks basketball. Las Vegas, once host of the NBA All-Star Game, is a small market and likely incapable of supporting and sustaining a major league franchise.

All of which now sends sands rapidly through the Coyotes hourglass and in search of that elusive buyer.

EDITOR NOTE - The quote from Bill Daly was obtained by the writer, who attended the Glendale city council meeting of May 10, 2011.