Sunday, February 3, 2013

State Of The Coyotes

(the following are the thoughts of the author and not those of anyone I am professionally connected with.  They are my thoughts and mine only and these thoughts are mine)

As of this writing it is Super Bowl Sunday, February 3rd and the Phoenix Coyotes ownership situation is no better off than it was three years limbo.  People within the organization and fans are used to it.  Life without an owner has almost been a rallying cry for this team.  Three seasons without an owner, three playoff appearances and a Pacific Division Championship.  So, maybe having an owner would somehow get in the way of the playoffs.  Ok, maybe that's a stretch but this thing HAS to get done.  So what happened this past week, let's review.

Prospective owner Greg Jamison had until January 31st to purchase the Coyotes from the NHL in order to sign off on the lease agreement for Arena that he and the City of Glendale agreed upon.  As we know now, that didn't happen. There are rumors abound as to why this didn't happen.  I believe that Jamison had the $170-million to buy the team, but didn't have operating capital to run the team.  Meaning, he had a number he wanted to raise to buy the team plus having an operating budget, but he didn't meet that mark.  His ownership group, I believe, was never set in stone enough to exude confidence in Gary Bettman, the league's commissioner.  Jamison remains an interested party, for whatever reason, to buy the team.  Jamison is a fighter, there is no doubt about that, and I believe he is the perfect owner for this team moving forward. 

The one thing I want to mention about the last 48 hours before the deadline is the amount of stories that came out with "NHL sources" attached to them.  I truly believe there is someone, or some people, in NHL circles that doesn't want this team here and will do anything they can to squander any deal presented.  I don't blame the writers at all for writing the stories, it's their job and I would have done the same thing.  Oh wait...I did at one time:  I'm still proud that I got a pissed off response out of Vice Commissioner Bill Daly out of that, but I digress.  What I'm saying it's easy to rip the reporter or blame them, but you have to look at the story deeper than that and find a trail.  I did and I smell a rat inside the league.

So, where are we today?  We are back to square one with a few owners lining up to give it a run including Jamison.  One possible candidate was revealed by veteran Arizona reporter Craig Morgan this week.  There have also been reports of old friends resurfacing in Jerry Reinsdorf and Matthew Hulsizer, but I have been told Hulsizer is not interested in reentering the game.  One name that popped up is Boston Pizza's owner Jim Treliving.  Also told that as of now, he is also not involved in negotiations, but it wouldn't surprise me if he put is chips into the pot and plays a hand eventually.

As that game gets played out, lets turn to the City of Glendale.  The new council will get to take a spin on the lease agreement wheel and we all get to see what they come up with.  From what City of Glendale professional insider George Fallar reports, the new council scribbled their latest idea on a Denny's napkin and said "hmmm..looks good to us."  Allegedly the new lease agreement plan has the management being split into four divisions: hockey, entertainment, education and CLEANING!!!  My goodness what a mess.  If this truly is the plan, it's time to seriously think about moving the Coyotes out of Glendale.  Here are my thoughts on that.

Gary Bettman said again that the NHL wants to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix.  Dallas Stars forward Ray Whitney, a former Coyote, believes "as long as Bettman is commissioner, this team isn't going anywhere."  As much as Canadians, especially the French ones, don't want to believe it, Phoenix is a sports rich entity moneywise.  With four sports in the valley, it calls for premium advertising rates, among other riches.  It's something the NHL doesn't want to give up.  So with that said, I have come up with my own brilliant idea.  An ambitious owner could come up with a plan to build an arena in Phoenix or Scottsdale, preferably near Talking Stick.  While the arena is being built, play two seasons at Jobing, or enter a rental agreement with the City of Phoenix and play at U.S. Airways Center.  If the NHL is serious about keeping a team in the Phoenix area, it may be time to say goodbye to Glendale. 

If the ultimate decision is to pull up the sticks and move the franchise, my money is on Seattle or Portland.  Quebec City is not an option for the Coyotes because it would create too much of a headache for the NHL in realignment.  Plus they would rather get the expansion fee out of any prospective ownership group for QC than to just move a team there.  If something can't be worked out by season's end, look for Portland to be a frontrunner. The Rose Garden is NHL ready.  It's not like Portland hasn't been brought up before with this franchise.  In 2003, the Coyotes were moments away from moving to Portland, until Wayne Gretzky and friends stepped in and saved the franchise from being owned by Microsoft exec Paul Allen. Seattle becomes an option only after the arena there is built.  I've been told by many that Key Arena is not an option for the NHL.

Finally I want to give credit and props to people behind the scenes who are working hard to keep the Coyotes in Arizona.  Former Glendale city councilwoman Joyce Clark, George and Bea Fallar, Greg Dunaway, Ronda Pearson and a band of others who are working painlessly to keep the team here.  I also want to mention members of the media that love the game and also want this team to stay right where it is.  Craig Morgan of Fox Sports, Jerry Brown of, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic, the boys at XTRA910, Kyndra de St. Aubin and Carter Nacke from ArizonaSports620 and .com and others.

Finally, to say that there isn't any hockey fans or interest in the sport in Arizona is a flat out lie.  There are many youth leagues spread out across the valley, including a few that compete on a national level.  Also the high school league, AHSHA, is growing and there is both ASU and UofA who field national-ranked hockey clubs, the Ice Devils are ranked second and own a 30-game winning streak over the Ice Cats.  Add countless numbers of Canadians who were smart enough to migrate to Arizona and hold their sport and teams dear to them. What this franchise needs is a committed owner and a marketing plan that will allow the sport and fan base to grow.  The question is, is there an owner that wants to commit himself and his ownership group to that possibility?  There was one: Greg Jamison and strangely enough, he's still around.  One thing is certain: something needs to happen relatively quickly.  The fans are tired of it, the players and organization is tired of it and hockey fans in general have become tired of it.