Will they stay or will they go, that is the question that will soon be answered… hopefully.
The Phoenix Coyotes is a franchise on thin ice and that should come as no surprise. Since leaving Winnipeg in 1996, the Coyotes have failed to turn a profit and have lost a staggering amount of money. They've failed to build a solid fan base (though the ones that do support the team are incredibly passionate) and have routinely played in front of WHL-level crowds.
Canadian Billionaire, Jim Balsillie, smelled blood and swept in to try and purchase the Coyotes and move them to Hamilton without NHL approval. It was a move the NHL strongly disagreed with and they fought to the bitter end. Commissioner Gary Bettman was on record saying,"We think when a franchise is in trouble, we try to stay, we fix the problem … we don't run out on cities."
Yet here we are in May 2010 – just a few weeks after the Coyotes finished a dream season. They rose from the dead and not only made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but were a win away from defeating the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Quarter Finals. But their off-ice problems continue…
Jerry Reinsdorf's deal to purchase the Coyotes has reportedly fallen through. And just hours ago it was revealed that Ice Edge Holdings and the City of Glendale have broken off talks. Ice Edge wanted exclusive negotiations with Glendale – the City balked and now no one is left at the table.
So what does this mean?
The NHL is stuck with a franchise that no one wants.
Both Reinsdorf and Ice Edge wanted major concessions from the City of Glendale… losses had to be covered and quite frankly it's an ugly situation.
The NHL is virtually holding a gun to the City of Glendale's head… you either fork over millions of dollars to cover the losses of this franchise or we're going to relocate the franchise.
What happened to "We think when a franchise is in trouble, we try to stay, we fix the problem … we don't run out on cities."? It seems to me the NHL is using the same bully-like tactics that Jim Balsillie used in his quest to purchase the Coyotes. They're forcing the City of Glendale to either bite the bullet and cover the losses of this business or be stuck with a seven year old $180 Million arena that was built primarily for the Coyotes. All this while the City of Glendale struggles with the on-going recession.
It was painfully obvious during last year's legal issues that the Coyotes organization just could not work in Phoenix / Glendale. I understand the NHL's point of view of fighting Balsillie – you don't want someone to dictate where a franchise can or can not go. With that said, the NHL should have conceded that no businessman would want to invest in a money pit that is the Phoenix Coyotes. Instead they propped up the franchise, suffered losses, and will soon have egg on their face as they relocate the team.
But the NHL won't look bad – of course not – they'll spin this to make the City of Glendale look like the bad guys. They were the ones who failed to come up with a suitable lease agreement with the two potential bidders. They were the ones who wouldn't (assuming the Coyotes are officially done) cough up millions to cover the operating losses of this business.
Who are they – the NHL – trying to convince? The fans or themselves? Maybe this will help them sleep better at night … but in the end, the City of Glendale isn't completely at fault here. The NHL should and will take a lot of the blame.
Is Winnipeg the right answer? I'd like to think so… it certainly can't be any worse than where the team is right now.
Either way, if the Coyotes end up back in Winnipeg… I think it's time for some change in the NHL Leadership. The way they handled this entire situation with the Coyotes was disgraceful. I appreciate the fact they tried to fight to keep this franchise but in the end they failed to be up front and honest with the fans – despite the fact the painful truth was so obvious to everyone.
The City of Glendale will hold a council meeting tonight to make a decision on the next step. Fans in Winnipeg will be crossing their fingers hoping that their team will rise like a phoenix from the ashes.