SIMMONS: Is it finally time for the Coyotes in Arizona?
We sat in a downtown Phoenix courtroom 14 years ago and five owners trying to understand how the National Hockey League could possibly save the Arizona Coyotes from bankruptcy.
At the time it didn’t seem possible.
It doesn’t seem possible now.
Just not the bankruptcy part. That was taken care of years ago when the NHL took over the franchise, pumped millions into it, and later took on the role of banker so investor Alex Meruelo could buy the team with someone else’s money, which is all you really need to know about the ongoing saga of bad deals and lost dollars that made up the Coyotes.
In the courtroom this week in 2009, Commissioner Gary Bettman, with Judge Redfield T. Baum presiding, sat not far from his right-hand man Bill Daly, who was next to a line of NHL attorneys a few rows ahead of the team General manager Don Maloney and his assistant Brad Treliving and Blackberry star now movie star Jim Balsillie were a few rows away, along with his attorney Richard Rodier. The rest of the court was packed with lawyers and reporters trying to make sense of a deal that seemed to be failing.
This was Bettman’s pet project of his career: keeping NHL hockey in Arizona with no owners, no buildings, no fans, no hope, a persistent and energetic charity project that after all these years and trying seems to have come to an end. The NHL paid enough. It no longer has to be paid.
Bettman has been known to go to great lengths to pull bunnies out of his commissioner’s hat over the years to keep this franchise alive, but this time there seems to be no magic or bunnies. Bettman’s obsession with not shifting franchises and fighting for the unlikely underdog is likely to take a hit here. The end of this Arizona franchise is near.
Three proposals in Tempe, Ariz., were flatly rejected by the voting public Tuesday night — votes that didn’t come close to passing, something the league never anticipated — and that means building a state-of-the-art $2.1 billion state. The arts arena in Tempe, with its surrounding hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, and a host of Meruelo tax breaks, has been essentially sacrificed by taxpayers.
It also means the Coyotes no longer have realistic venues, and 14 years after Bettman resisted buying Balsillie and eventually moving the franchise to Canada, he’s faced with other options and opportunities for a team that never had one has found a firm place in the Coyotes 11th largest television market in America.
Over the years, Bettman has doggedly proved the world wrong, faced all sorts of two-point attacks but never got pinned — and he got a certain pleasure from it, and it’s all because he did it needed and wanted It’s bad that hockey works in Arizona.
It didn’t exactly function as a business, but against all odds it became a place where ice hockey players were born and developed – this is where Auston Matthews, Tage Thompson, Matthew Knies and for a few years Matthew Tkachuk learned to play and developed as players further . This became a place where great players emerged. Minor hockey grew exponentially in Arizona. NHL hockey never really did that.
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And somehow, and this is the best commissioner, Bettman will turn that loss into some kind of victory for the NHL by letting the franchise move — maybe to Houston, maybe to Kansas City, maybe to Salt Lake City. As a city, the best option is Houston, the seventh largest TV market in America, which has a long history of major league franchises in the NFL, MLB and NBA. The challenge for the NHL would be to compare what relocation fees would be paid versus expansion fees should the league take a different approach to adding a team to Texas.
The Salt Lake and Kansas City options, if real, would make more sense from a relocation perspective as they wouldn’t use up potential expansion funds going straight to co-owners rather than players in places you never thought of expanding first of all. The only real chance of staying in Arizona, if any, is to move to downtown Phoenix and join the new owner of the Phoenix Suns. But the arena isn’t really great for hockey, seating is limited, and wouldn’t add to the franchise value in any way.
So this season, the Coyotes will be playing at the aptly named Mullet Arena on the Arizona State University campus, which has a seating capacity of 5,000 — which is the same size as Maple Leaf Square — and that will give Bettman and the NHL plenty of time to find yourself a new home.
A new home that should have been found years ago in a place where NHL hockey was never really alive.
https://torontosun.com/sports/hockey/nhl/simmons-is-this-finally-it-for-coyotes-in-arizona SIMMONS: Is it finally time for the Coyotes in Arizona?
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