Now that the happy snowflakes from the Winter Classic have melted, the hockey world slowly turns its attention to a story at the other end of the NHL's financial spectrum: The Phoenix Coyotes.
The NHL still owns the Coyotes on Jan. 3, 2012, which is an embarrassment. When the League announced realignment, the Coyotes were treated as an uncertainty throughout the process. Two ownership groups — one led by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison and the other fronted by Jerry Reinsdorf — are in the mix for the team but little progress appears to have been made.
Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports reports that as of Sunday, the NHL has the legal right to negotiate with other cities for the relocation of the Coyotes. This is the last season the League will own the team. It doesn't want to move it — and, in turn, have Gary Bettman admit defeat and defend the millions the League spent propping up the franchise — but the possibility exists.
Where? Quebec City, we think, is a location the NHL wants to bleed for expansion fees; ditto a second team in Toronto, whose chances for existence may have increased with the ownership change for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Friedman floats Las Vegas as a longshot, as it's been for several years — which brings us to Seattle as a relocation site.
The NHL has confirmed talks with a prospective ownership group in Seattle. Local lawmakers have been working to fund a new arena. The Key is the key: Seattle's current arena, Key Arena, isn't very hockey friendly for an NHL team.
The footprint is too small, featuring the same issues the Coyotes faced before the beautiful Glendale arena was built. They played at America West Arena, home of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, and there were many obstructed seats.
Don Levin, owner of the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves, wants this franchise. And the NHL likes him.
It makes sense for a basketball and a hockey team to share an arena. However, word is that talks between Levin and the potential NBA ownership group about a facility partnership recently fell apart. Can it be repaired? "These things are off and on and then on, etc. Hard to say if it is dead forever," said one source.
There's too much smoke with a Seattle bid to ignore it as an option. It's been a city interested in the NHL on several occasions in the last 20 years. The Pacific Northwest is seen as fertile ground for the League — recall Paul Allen wanting to bring the Coyotes to Portland in 2000.
Seattle-Tacoma is the 12th largest TV market in the U.S. (right ahead of Phoenix). And, of course, the cross-border rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks would make for some lively home games.
We're on the record as supporting the Coyotes staying in Glendale, if only to see if this fan base solidifies with (a) stable ownership and (b) a successful team; and, frankly, because otherwise the NHL has wasted everyone's time for the last few years, including that of (former) hockey fans in Atlanta.
But a team in Seattle makes us geek out. It just seems right. The jerseys will be some wicked shade of blue or green. They'll have great coffee in the press box. And maybe they'll even bring back Chewbacca as a mascot.