Bid for Coyotes would mean games in Canada, Gretzky for life

Greg Wyshynski

Last summer during our August series "5 Ways I'd Change the NHL" (we've got a new series cooking for next month, by they way), I made the case for the creation of the "Nashville Predators Hockey Club" when that franchise's future looked especially cloudy. Simply put, the Preds would have played 30 home games in Nashville and Kansas City, and the rest would have been auctioned off to non-NHL cities.

Ice Edge Holdings doesn't go that far in its proposed $150-million bid for the Phoenix Coyotes, for which a letter of intent was filed in court on Friday. But among its stipulations in the bid are:

Moving the San Antonio Rampage, the Coyotes' AHL affiliate, to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

• Playing at least five regular-season games and "some" playoff games in Saskatoon's 11,300-seat Credit Union Centre, according to the Globe & Mail, which reports that the following games would be pegged for Saskatchewan: The Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks

Hey, if Canadians are going to continue to see their money filtered down to struggling U.S. markets, might as well get something tangible for it, right?

The justification, from the Globe & Mail:

"Canada is obviously a tremendous hockey market, yet there are currently 6,000 kilometres of Canadian soil that have no exposure to the NHL in their home market," said Daryl Jones, an Ice Edge partner. "Our plan from the outset was to work with a Canadian city that doesn't have NHL territorial rights issues, and also one that wouldn't be considered a threat to the fans in Phoenix."

"It's a great opportunity to bring regular season NHL hockey to a Canadian city that otherwise would never have the opportunity. It is a great way to ensure the team stays in Phoenix for the long run, but partners with a Canadian city in the process."

Not too shabby, especially if fans in Canada would embrace the team rather than treat it as a reason to have the Habs come to their town -- which is obviously could end up being.

Too bad Wayne Gretzky's continued employment is part of the deal, too.

Gretzky has a 143-161-24 record as Coyotes coach, never finishing higher than fourth in his division and failing to make the playoffs each time. Any attempt to find a current NHL coach with that streak of futility is futile itself, because he doesn't exist. Any other bench boss with those results -- and that salary -- would have been spiked already.

Yet Ice Edge would like Mr. Gretzky to continue to be a leading figure in the Coyotes' future, according to their filing with the court last week. From CBC Sports:

"Ice Edge is seeking to solidify the Team's relationship with its managing partner and head coach, Wayne Gretzky, and intends to offer Mr. Gretzky the opportunity to participate ... as a major shareholder of the newly constituted Coyotes franchise," the group said in its filing.

The group also said it would offer Gretzky a "long-term coaching contract with lucrative playoff incentives," an interesting proposition given that it has been revealed during the Coyotes ownership saga that the hockey legend earned $8 million US for guiding the club, which has not made the playoffs in his four seasons at the helm.

This plank in the offer platform makes the Canadians behind Ice Edge sound like Gretzky fan-boys at best or, at worst, misguided souls who believe his participation in the franchise offers some benefit at the gate. If the owners want him as an investor or in the team braintrust, go for it. Just get someone else behind the bench.

Here's where we are: Jerry Reinsdorf has an NHL-backed bid $148 million for the Coyotes to keep them in Phoenix, continent on a series of minor miracles occurring with the team's lease. Ice Edge intends to bid $150 million to keep the team in Phoenix, save for five games in Saskatoon (or Halifax) this season. Jim Balsillie has bid $212.5 million to move the team to Hamilton ASAP, leaving many to wonder about penalties for leaving Phoenix and whether the NHL Board of Governors would give up the massive expansion fees moving an existing team to Southern Ontario would invalidate.

So does Jimmy Bals have creeping optimism right now, or did he hurl his BlackBerry across the room when he heard Bill Daly fail to shoot down the split-city thing in the Globe & Mail?

Mirtle has more on the Ice Edge bid, after wondering if a split-schedule with Hamilton would work for the Coyotes last week.

What a mess. But hey, at least GM Don Maloney has an established operating budget to take on other teams' bad contracts.