Phoenix Coyotes battling relocation worries with public optimism before playoffs

At this time last year, the Phoenix Coyotes were like a jeep speeding through a war zone, watching bombshell after bombshell drop around them about relocation to Winnipeg as they journeyed through the Western Conference Playoff race.

On April 14, 2011, just as their playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings had started, The Hockey News published a report that claimed "a deal is basically done to move the Coyotes to Winnipeg and will be announced sometime between the end of the Stanley Cup final and the June 24 draft."

Three games later, Phoenix had been swept out of the playoffs.

Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata, Keith Yandle and Lauri Korpikoski were a combined minus-22 with one goal. Ilya Bryzgalov had a 4.36 GAA, as visions of the park-less desolation of 'Vinnypeg' clouded his mind.

In 2012, there's decidedly less talk about the Coyotes' relocation, or at least less talk about its inevitability. Sure, the Quebec arena news and the chain reaction that could lead to an arena in Seattle (if the NBA's Kings relocate from Sacramento) have stoked speculation. But the Coyotes aren't facing the same intensity of conjecture as they battle for a playoff berth and, potentially, a division title.

There's been more talk about Mike Smith's MVP efforts than U-Hauls backing up to the arena in Glendale.

That is, until Glendale's mayor piped up this week about how betrayed and mislead she feels the city's been by the NHL during the Coyotes sale process. It was an ill-timed screed, refocusing attention on the Coyotes' precarious future.

Now comes to the optimistic — or delusional, depending on how you feel about these things — response from the team and the NHL.

Yahoo! Sports' Nick Cotsonika reached out to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly after Mayor Elaine Scruggs's comments, and reports the following:

Q. Do you have any response to the recent comments by Glendale mayor Elaine Scruggs?

DALY: "We obviously disagree with the Mayor's suggestion that the League -- in any way or at any time -- misled the City of Glendale. We couldn't have been more open and forthcoming throughout the 2 1/2 years we have owned this team."

Q. In short, have you misled the city? Will the NHL require Glendale to pay the $20 million in escrow plus $5 million more by May 2, as agreed?

DALY: "We have no intention of discussing the $25 million issue with the media. That is an issue between us and the City of Glendale."

Q. Is there any update on the sale of the team? Have you reached the point where you need to explore Plan B, or have you already begun that process?

DALY: "There is nothing new to report on the Coyotes ownership situation.

"No, we have not begun to explore any alternatives to transitioning ownership of the team locally in Glendale."

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Meanwhile, Coyotes President/CEO Mike Nealy has said both on the team's final home broadcast and with Bob McClay of KTAR that there's optimism a deal to keep the team from relocating could be near:

"We are not in a scenario that the team is leaving, and we're just trying to keep this quiet until we get through the season," he said.

"Contrary to that, there is a lot of activity. It is well known that the National Hockey League wants us to stay here. (At least) two ownership groups are out there and they are trying to get this thing done in the near term."

… Nealy said it's possible that the sale could happen within the next few weeks. "It won't be long before we know," said Nealy. "From a positive standpoint, we'll find out hopefully soon that we're here ... and who we're here with ... and that we can move on."

Is that just lip service? More empty speculation about either former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison or Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf rescuing the team?

Blogger Greg Dunaway, in a FJM response to David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail's report on Scruggs, hears good things too:

Why do you think the NHL has been avoiding moving the Coyotes to Canada? Or Seattle (where no ownership group exists, but IS an attractive option)? What LOGICALLY makes sense? Is it because Gary Bettman is an evil dictator hellbent on turning Phoenix into a winter wasteland where Phoenicians worship at the altar of hockey?

Or is it because, despite the Canadian media's best work to make shit up, that the NHL doesn't want to leave Phoenix? And why could that be? Take a look at the two most successful leagues in the WORLD, the MLB/NFL, and get back to me.

Two sources of mine (ooo look at me, someone with a day job has "sources"- one has to try, David, just try) one in the Coyotes organization & one involved in negotiations think the Coyotes will stay. I'll happily admit they could be wrong, but that sure sounds different from all the doom & gloom coming out of Canada. Weird, since the Canadian media has never been wrong before.

So it's the usual mix of cynicism, optimism, dire reports and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes have playoff hockey to think about.