April 20, 2011
It could be a night of farewells in Glendale.
Goodbye, 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Detroit Red Wings go for the sweep against the Phoenix Coyotes, who seem incapable of putting together a complete effort in their first-round series. The fact that Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) has been one Sergei Bobrovsky(notes) away from being the most disappointing goalie in the playoffs has been stunning.
But, on a grander scale: Goodbye, Phoenix Coyotes.
As Bourne wrote yesterday, the fans understand it's dire times. An end game. The moment in which this franchise remains in the desert or jets to Winnipeg.
Thoughts of a defiant, prolonged playoff run that were so vibrant in 2010 have been replaced by the reality that (a) they're outclassed by the Red Wings in this series, even without Henrik Zetterberg(notes) and (b) the future of the franchise in Glendale couldn't be gloomier. To wit: potential owner Matthew Hulsizer is expected to be absent for Game 4, as he was for Game 3.
(UPDATE: Hulsizer reversed course and did show up for Game 4.)
Gary Bettman was asked if this was the Coyotes' last home game on FAN 590 in Toronto today (via James Mirtle):
"It's not really a fair question," he said. "And the speculation that we've been holding some announcement waiting for them to stop playing is absolutely wrong. We're still focused on trying to make it work in Phoenix.
"And I hope we're successful. Obviously when the Goldwater Institute killed the deal, it was a huge setback. Nobody expected them to do that. We didn't think it was right that they did it, but the focus is still on making it work.
"Do we have an infinite amount of time? The answer's obviously not. But we haven't been holding an announcement waiting to see when the Coyotes are done playing, I assure you of that."
Bettman would also neither "confirm nor deny" that the League has had discussions on Winnipeg as a Plan B, and seemed to indicate that the NHL schedule for the 2011-12 season might serve as a drop-dead point for the Coyotes staying or going.
Are we about to see the last Phoenix Coyotes game ever played in Glendale?
The City of Glendale has asked the Goldwater Institute for a meeting and has agreed to meet the think-tank's demand that any talks be held in a public forum. Goldwater told the Free Press late Tuesday afternoon a meeting time had not been set but talks were ongoing and details could be finalized in time for a meeting to be held Thursday.
Meanwhile, David Shoalts of the Globe & Mail, never one to fight out of the Coyotes' corner, offered another glimmer of optimism that the NHL's TV deal with NBC could mean a prolonged effort to keep them there:
A survey of several current and former NHL governors — who would not speak on the record because commissioner Gary Bettman frowns on public discussions of league business — highlighted the league's need to keep the Phoenix market (the 12th-largest in the United States, according to Nielsen Media Research) in order to maximize a U.S. TV contract.
The governors surveyed did not know if the possibility of losing Phoenix as a market played a role in the price of the contract, but all were sure it played a role in the negotiations. "It's not that they don't want to go back to Winnipeg, it's that they want to keep the Phoenix market," said one governor, who believes Winnipeg will be the next city to get an NHL franchise even if the Coyotes stay in Arizona. "All our broadcast partners want to keep that market."
So there's some hope, but not much.
The majority opinion around the NHL is that 'Winnipeg or bust' will be decided before the start of the Stanley Cup Finals. Many of the owners are done with this nonsense or propping up the franchise. Gary Bettman doesn't like to lose a fight, but serves at the pleasure of the Board of Governors. It's a fascinating internal dilemma.
Is Winnipeg a better market? That's been debated as well. Brad B. of Illegal Curve, in an open letter to Coyotes fans, downplayed the market concerns:
Also, don't let yourselves be lulled into a sense that no matter what happens, the Coyotes will ultimately stay in Glendale due to market concerns. Some mainstream media members have said that hockey cannot work in Winnipeg, and thus your team would not be moved there, because nothing about the city has changed in the past 15 years. I have never been to Winnipeg and I am not a financial expert but I do believe that these reporters commit a fallacy with their statement. The city may or may not have changed but the fact is that the NHL itself has. The salary cap and revenue sharing brought on by the new CBA now allow teams to exist in small markets. This was not the case in the mid-1990's when a team in a large market with a big war chest could essentially buy a Cup run leaving small market teams without such resources in the cold.
Winnipeg can work and the NHL either already knows it or will find out if/when the test season ticket drive occurs.
Finally, Greg Esposito, a columnist ArizonaSports.com, makes a plea to the NHL ahead of Game 4 tonight: If the team is moving, let us know so we can say our goodbyes. From Greg Esposito:
If the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman have already made the decision to give Winnipeg back their beloved Jets, the least they could do is let the fans in Phoenix know before Wednesday night. We've been through enough over the last few years that it's the very least they could do (the most being lowering the asking price for the team so Hulsizer can buy it without Glendale's help).
If this is the end, the fans and the team deserve one last night to share their appreciation of the past and their sadness for the future without each other. They deserve one last chance to make the White Out the best event in Valley sports. Even if it is just as a nice way to say one final goodbye at the end.
The Coyotes fans won't know the fate of their team before tonight because, frankly, the NHL doesn't know it yet either. They simply have to show up, white the arena out again, support their Desert Dogs and, as they have for the last two years, put their faith in a city and an owner and a League that NHL hockey will still be played in Glendale next season.
Or, at the very least, in a Game 6 this postseason.