Time to Move The Phoenix Coyotes.

Ever since the Phoenix Coyotes were placed into bankruptcy in 2009 by former owner Jerry Moyes, I hoped a new owner could be found willing to keep the club in  Glendale, Arizona.

What’s this? A Canadian hockey scribe hoping the Coyotes would stay put, rather than be moved to a more “traditional” hockey market, preferably in Canada?

I realize my opinion puts me in a distinct minority in the Great White North, but it’s true. I didn’t want the Coyotes to move.

Not because I have a great love for the franchise. True, given their circumstances over the past four years, I’ve grown fond of them as plucky underdogs. I admire the rebuilding efforts of GM Don Maloney and the solid coaching of Dave Tippett, plus I was impressed by team captain Shane Doan’s loyalty to the franchise.

Under stable ownership, I believe the Coyotes could have a better chance of becoming a successful franchise in their market.

Phoenix is the sixth-largest US city, the Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale metropolitan region is the 14th largest in America, and it is among the top media markets in the country. A successful franchise in that market would provide a significant boost to the NHL’s coffers. That’s why the NHL fights so hard to keep the Coyotes in their current market

It’s been asked why the league didn’t fight as hard to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta – another large US  market –  as they have with the Coyotes in Phoenix.

Put simply, the Trashers owners tried for years to sell the club to a buyer willing to keep it in Atlanta, but finally gave up in 2011 and sold to True North Sports and Entertainment, which relocated the Thrashers to Winnipeg.

By that point, the league had been running the Coyotes for two years, and couldn’t afford the cost of carrying another club indefinitely, so when a deep-pocketed buyer from a former NHL Canadian market expressed interest in the Thrashers, there was no other option.

The location of the Coyotes arena (far from downtown Phoenix) is often cited as the main reason for their current predicament, but I believe the club’s record during the past decade is the prime culprit. If the Coyotes had been a more successful franchise in the years immediately following their move to Glendale, it would’ve provided greater incentive for sports fans in that market to make the journey to watch them.

For most of that period, the Coyotes were a poorly-run franchise, icing mediocre rosters which often missed the playoffs. Having given Arizona sports fans little to cheer for, it was difficult to build up their fan base.

Though the Coyotes since 2009-10 have been a perennial playoff contender, they still struggle at the gate. That’s cited as further proof of Phoenix/Glendale as a lousy hockey market, overlooking the fact the Coyotes have been under the constant threat of relocation during that time. It’s very difficult for a team to improve attendance when the fans doubt you’ll still be around the following season.

When the NHL announced last year former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison intended to purchase the Coyotes, I believed their ownership woes would finally be resolved, ensuring their future in Glendale.

My opinion changed, however, with the recent news Jamison, following months of delays, failed to come up with the capital to purchase the team by the January 31st, 2013 deadline.

League commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy Bill Daly immediately issued statements pledging their determination to keep the Coyotes in Glendale. It’s painfully obvious, however,  there’s no one with the ready capital and the willingness to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes – even with a sweetheart of an arena deal in one of America’s markets – and keep them there.

The Coyotes have been bleeding money for far too long. It cannot indefinitely remain a ward of the league. After four years of bankruptcy hearings and failed efforts to find potential ownership willing and able to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, I believe it’s time for the NHL to seriously explore relocation options.

Quebec City, a former NHL market, is constructing a new arena to entice an NHL franchise, either via expansion or relocation. Billionaire Pierre-Karl Peladeau made no secret of his desire to bring the NHL back to Quebec City.

Kansas City has a ready-made NHL venue, and in the recent past was used as a relocation threat by the Pittsburgh Penguins and NY Islanders in attempts to force their respective cities to fund new arenas. The NHL failed in Kansas City in the 1970s, but if a wealthy buyer could be found, it might work there this time around.

Seattle is expected to soon construct a new arena, primarily to attract an NBA franchise, but there’s been reports of serious interest in bringing an NHL franchise there.

The Southern Ontario city of Markham announced preliminary plans to construct an NHL venue. Putting another NHL team in that huge hockey market makes sense, though the league won’t okay a move there until an arena is built and bidders for a team emerge.

The ongoing uncertainty is unfair to Maloney’s efforts to maintain a competitive franchise. Despite the constant threat of relocation,  Maloney has done a fine job building and maintaining a playoff contender with a low payroll. However, this perpetual state of uncertainty hampers his efforts to retain key players, let alone bid competitively for free agent talent. 

It isn’t fair to the Coyotes staff and players, their families, or to the team’s fans. Yes, they would prefer a resolution which keeps the club in Glendale, but even if they know for certain the team is being moved, it at least ends years of agonizing uneasiness.

It’s time for the NHL to finally acknowledge there’s no white knight riding in to keep the Coyotes in Glendale. It’s time to plan for this club’s inevitable relocation.

6 Comments

  1. As a former resident of Phoenix and business person, it really baffles my mind how anyone can bid for a team without having the funds to back it up. Seriously? Hey, maybe I can put in a bid for the team. Anyone want to pony up the extra 169.99 million? Also, the NHL and the city of Glendale are largely responsible for the ridiculousness surrounding this issue. The NHL gave its rubber stamp to this horrible arena lease deal when it was known that the arena was in the wrong location to attract the larger portion of the Valley fans (most live in the east or southern suburbs and there is no public transportation to the venue), and that the lease HEAVILY favored the city of Glendale–who are basically a bunch of school-yard bullies with no long-term vision, they are only interested in money NOW. Lol, Good luck filling that arena after the team moves! As sad as it makes me, and hats off to the organization for doing their best to make it work on the ice, I also think it is time to move. Ideally, back to downtown Phoenix, but that isn’t going to happen… although in a few years that might be a viable option for a franchise such as Florida. Great work, Jamison.

  2. Logistically, and perhaps even logically, Seattle would be an ideal move for the Coyotes. The new arena there combined with a local history of professional hockey would make for a strong foundation for any NHL team.
    There are seven thousand Canadian season-ticket holders for the Seattle Seahawks – how many BC residents would jump at the chance to see the NHL in Seattle? And think about the Seattle-Vancouver rivalry – it just seems to fit.

  3. Except for Kansas City non of the above mentioned locations have an arena yet. Quebec (2015), Markham (2016), and Seattle (no date) are still several years away from having a completed arena. In other words if the league re-locates the Coyotes now, the team will not go to Canada.

  4. How much difference does a bad location and crummy ownership make? The very successful (on field) Tampa Bay Rays draw so poorly that MLB is worried about this traditional baseball market, yet the Lightning with a good building & good ownership are selling out in this non-traditional Hockey market (admittedly at lower than league average prices). The general practice of getting municipalities to fund arenas for sports teams makes them partners with generally feckless municipal politicians.

  5. Make every night free taco night and watch the turnstiles spin.

  6. Serious question: Why can’t Toronto support a second NHL team?