The future of the Phoenix Coyotes has long been debated.
From potential sale to imminent relocation, the fate of the franchise remains in constant flux. What previously were two options quickly evaporated.
First, Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer came forward as a possible buyer, and Winnipeg surfaced as a relocation venue. Hulsizer pulled out in late spring, and the Atlanta Thrashers beat the Coyotes to the jump and moved to Winnipeg this past summer.
Since no bona fide buyer is on the horizon to acquire the Coyotes franchise, relocation venues dried up as quickly as an ice cream cone in the summer desert heat.
Over the past three years, several possible owners have surfaced, and the proximity to closing any deal was tantalizing.
To entice prospective owners or accelerate a possible deal, tax incentives could be one option.
Not so, said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an avid sports fan. McCain dropped the opening puck of the Montreal-Phoenix game Nov. 10 on Military Appreciation Night and then offered his take on the fate of the Coyotes franchise.
“I don’t think a potential owner is looking for tax incentives or changes in the tax code,” McCain said. “What we need is someone to come here for seven years and get people to fill the building.”
McCain said he hopes for a deal quickly but offered no other support. Essentially, McCain is sitting on the sidelines and waving his pom-poms. He decries efforts by the Goldwater Institute to hold the city of Glendale hostage and prevent the city from selling bonds to help finance the Coyotes.
“I would like to see this resolved,” McCain added. “This area needs the hockey team and consider Phoenix among the largest cities in the country and one of the major markets. Yes, there is a sense of urgency to get this done.”
The NHL remains “owner” of the Phoenix franchise but has said several times it wants out of the ownership business. Last May, the Glendale city council allocated a $25 million payout to the NHL to cover the cost of the Coyotes operation. That was considered a desperate move by a desperate municipality in an effort to keep the franchise in Arizona.
One month into the NHL season, discussion surrounding the fate and future of the franchise remains sporadic.
No owner is close to surfacing, and the point of no return is approaching. It’s clear the NHL wants no part in the continued operation of the franchise, and a growing fear holds this could be the last season of the NHL in the American Southwest.
Any potential buyer must face the economic reality of operating this franchise.
Of their first nine games through Nov. 10, the Coyotes surpassed the 10,000 mark in attendance only four times. That includes a season low of 6,738 for a game against Nashville Nov. 3.
To get fans out and generate interest, the Coyotes embarked on a new marketing campaign this season and emphasized a new slogan, “Hockey the Hard Way.”
In reality, this has become operating an NHL franchise “the hard way.”
On the Ice
Despite the visiting Canadiens taking the ice without Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri, Montreal came out of Jobing.com Arena with a 3-2 overtime win.
The victory broke Montreal's two-game losing skid, and the Coyotes lost for the third time in their last eight games, two of which came in the extra session.
From the high slot, Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges ripped a 35-foot slap shot past Mike Smith at 1:45 of overtime for the win.
“It's the effort we needed from everybody,” said Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett. “We were behind in the game, and they outworked us. We had some guys in the third and fourth line really try to give us a spark. (Montreal) was missing a couple of their top guys and they came out and worked hard and we didn't work as hard as they did. That's probably the way it should end up.”
Mikkel Boedker scored his second goal of the season early in the opening period, but Phoenix could not hold the lead. Montreal responded with two straight on tallies from Brian Gionta on a wrap-around at 3:28 of the second period. Travis Moen converted a two-on-one pass from Gionta into his fifth goal of the season at 17:36 of the middle session.
Raffi Torres tied this one on a goal-mouth scramble at 5:50 of the final period, but Montreal netminder Carey Price shut the door the rest of the way.
“We came out a little rusty, but that happens,” said Boedker. “Sure, it’s nice to score. You gain confidence with that, but I’d rather have the team point.”
The Coyotes were without forward Daymond Langkow, who left the team because of a death in the family. He is on an extended leave.
After missing the last two games because of an upper-body injury, forward Martin Hanzal returned to the Phoenix lineup. He was kept off the score sheet and took four shots on goal.
With a goal and an assist, Gionta recorded his third multi-point game of the season. That was last accomplished Nov. 5 against the Rangers in New York. The Canadiens captain also has a three-point (goal, two assists) night. That was achieved at Colorado Oct. 15.
NOTE: Quotes used in this story were obtained by the author before and after the Phoenix-Montreal game Nov. 10, 2011.