For the past four years, the Phoenix Coyotes have been a financial burden on the National Hockey League. Their operating expenses are being covered by the other twenty-nine owners in the league and they play most nights to largely empty crowds. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman & Co. have been fighting for years to keep the team in the state of Arizona, but alas they seem ready to concede that the battle will be lost.
The Phoenix Coyotes identity is, in itself, a misnomer. The team does not play in Phoenix, but in the city of Glendale, Arizona. Glendale boasts a population between 220,000 and 230,000, about a third of the size of Winnipeg. Not only has the league been losing money attempting to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, so has the city-owned Jobing.com Arena.
There is a city council meeting now in place for June 25th, where a new ownership group will seek what they believe to be a suitable deal to keep the team in Glendale. Don’t hold your breath. This same song and dance has been playing out since 2009 and the NHL may finally be ready to allow the team to walk.
So where would the Coyotes relocate to on such short notice? There are several locales that could enter into such a discussion, but recent events may have clued us in for what could be the league’s Plan B for the Coyotes franchise.
When the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in the summer of 2011, the Vancouver Canucks’ Winnipeg AHL affiliate could not remain there. For the past two seasons, Vancouver has been affiliated with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, but earlier this month purchased the operating rights to the Peoria Rivermen. Vancouver then tried to relocate the Rivermen to Seattle, but they were told by the NHL that Seattle’s Key Arena was not available.
This very well could be the case. There has been conflicting reports out of Seattle over whether or not Key Arena still possesses its ice-making equipment. One report even claims that the chilling system in the arena’s floor has been cemented over.
One way or another, Key Arena would never be the permanent home for an NHL franchise. In Seattle’s attempt to lure back the NBA, plans have been drawn up for a brand-new $490 million arena. The deal has already passed through both city and county council review, pending two stipulations: an environmental assessment and the securing of an NBA franchise. That’s not to say that the proposal couldn’t be amended to break ground for an NHL franchise, however.
Should the Coyotes be forced (see: allowed) to relocate, it makes the most sense at this time to keep them out west. The NHL and NHLPA spent more than a year discussing conference/division realignment before finally reaching a resolution in March. It’s difficult to see them rush back to the drawing board after all of that to see the Coyotes relocate to somewhere like Hamilton, Hartford, or Quebec City.
Although Kansas City already has an NHL-ready arena (and flirted with the Pittsburgh Penguins a few years back), Seattle seems to be the hot American market looking hockey right now. Currently home to the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, the Emerald City has hosted professional hockey teams in years past. In fact, in 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans defeated the Montreal Canadiens to become the first American team to lay claim to the Stanley Cup.
There’s still hope for Coyotes fans that the team could remain in Arizona. With Bettman no longer insisting that the franchise has no plans to relocate, look for them to do so as early as this summer.
Is it time to give up on the Coyotes in Arizona? Is Seattle the most viable alternative at this time? Leave a comment or let me know on Twitter @BostonNumber9 or my team @TMMotS and @FansidedNHL and stay tuned for coverage of the on-going Coyotes saga.