Sometimes the NHL doesn't know a good thing, even if it runs smack into a Zamboni.
The Phoenix Coyotes' pending exodus from Arizona shouldn't be viewed as an embarrassment to the league. The NHL would like to have you believe it has 30 happy, thriving franchises. In reality, that number is much closer to 20, at most. Just ask around Nashville, Tampa, Sunrise, Fla., Atlanta and Long Island if you have doubts.
It could get messy before the process runs its course, but returning the failing and bankrupt Phoenix franchise to Canada where it began as the Winnipeg Jets or to a new location is the best solution to this problem.
The quicker the league acts on strengthening its members the better. Tough times are ahead for the league during this economic climate. Of course, don't be surprised if the league is stubborn about leaving suburban Phoenix.
The NHL knows franchise relocation isn't the end of the world. The NBA recently had a team move from Seattle to Oklahoma City. Major League Baseball saw its Montreal club relocate to Washington. The NFL abandoned Los Angeles twice, returning a team to Oakland and shifting another to St. Louis, all in relatively recent times.
Sure, the Coyotes' departure is going to be disappointing to the small fan base in the desert, but the move will be a huge gain for most likely a Canadian market (probably Hamilton, Ontario, although Winnipeg or Quebec City work for me) that makes more sense in terms of sustaining support for a team through good times and bad.
The Coyotes' fate was sealed when the franchise failed to get a stadium built closer to downtown Phoenix where the fan base actually lives. After relocating from Winnipeg in 1996, the Coyotes used America West Arena, a downtown Phoenix facility that was great for basketball but not accommodating for hockey. TV screens were erected at one end of the rink to allow fans in obstructed seats to view the action when it got near the goal line at one end.
People were patient with the situation, knowing it was only a temporary arrangement until plans, financing and all the bureaucratic red tape worked itself out for a new arena in the nearby Scottsdale area. But when the Scottsdale plan went awry, the team didn't have much choice but to head west for Glendale. Jobing.com Arena is a beautiful facility, but it's too far from a fan base that has to choose between the region's crowded freeway system or a million stop lights on city streets to get from one end of the valley to the other.
It hasn't helped, too, that the Phoenix franchise has had little success during it's time in the Valley of the Sun. The Coyotes lost in the first round of the playoffs each of the first four springs since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996 but have visited the Stanley Cup playoffs only once since 2002.
The league, however, is going to explore every avenue to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix. Clearly, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is not rolling out the red carpet for the deep-pocketed Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. Balsillie already had a strike against him because he ruffled the league's feathers when he tried to purchase the Nashville Predators in 2007. He was offering ticket plans to fans in Hamilton before the sale process started.
This time, Balsillie again appears to have put the cart before the horse. The league is not happy that Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday because it appears he's interested in unloading his team to Balsillie, who floated a $215 million offer on the condition that the 'Yotes come to southern Ontario.
The league stripped Moyes of his ownership powers just like that and now is prepared to meet the problem head on, so it says. Balsillie has not scored points with the NHL Board of Governors, which has the final word on who owns teams in the league.
So what are the NHL's options? No one has stepped forward in the Phoenix area even though the league has reached out for new investors since the All-Star break. There's Kansas City with its new, uninhabited building. But why would K.C. be any better of a choice than Phoenix? The league was there before and it failed.
There's always the intriguing notion of filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer and Las Vegas, which does not have a building and is viewed by many as a huge gamble.
Or there's Canada, and all that passion for the game. Really, is it that hard of a choice?