It never easy letting go of a loved one.
As a hockey fan, especially when you’re passionate about it, you like to think the only reason there are people who don’t like the game is because they haven’t experienced it yet. Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve taken to their first NHL game – everyone always has a great time, and they pretty much always come back.
This is part of what really breaks my heart about the entire situation with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Sure, a lot of what the players did this postseason was pretty obnoxious, but the fact is they managed to hang in there for three rounds (even ousting my beloved Blackhawks) before eventually falling to the Los Angeles Kings.
The fact that the Western Conference Final was between the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings – think about that. Two places where hockey isn’t an indigenous sport, two places where Wayne Gretzky left an indelible mark, for better or worse.
But here we are, with the Kings on the cusp of history – either their first Stanley Cup championship, or the authors of the most colossal failure in the history of the game. But they’re there, with a beautiful arena that they share with two NBA franchises, and they are currently the toast of the town.
The Coyotes? They are the principal tenants in Jobing.com Arena, which sits in a shopping mall in Glendale Arizona, which is 45 minutes from anywhere. Now, don’t get me wrong – the arena is a first-class facility, and the surrounding area has a great atmosphere. But the fact that the Coyotes are a team that has an identity that isn’t where they reside – that can work when you’re in the NFL and you’re the Giants or Jets and you’re a 10 minute drive from the place that gives you identity (not to mention generations of fans willing to make the trek for 8 home games a year), not in the NHL where most of your history happened in Manitoba.
So here we are. Three years ago the Coyotes became the property of the NHL after Jerry Moyes declared bankrputcy. Moyes tried selling the team to Jim Balsillie, but the league didn’t want the team in Hamilton. The league was actually correct about Hamilton, but that’s for another day.
Since then, Jerry Reinsdorf and Matthew Hulsizer have kicked the tires on ownership. The problem has always been the lease, which made it virtually impossible for the Coyotes to turn a profit.
So in comes Greg Jamison. He’s got solid credentials as former CEO of the San Jose Sharks. He made hockey vital in San Jose. The guy can make chicken salad out of chicken droppings. Only one teensy problem: he has no money. Despite that, the City of Glendale made a deal on a 20 year lease. A lease that meant the Coyotes could make deep runs into the playoffs every year, and the arena could run a slate of 30 sellout concerts every year, and Glendale would still hemorrhage money. Oh, and they just announced they are cutting services, laying of employees, and dipping into city resources to pay for the team.
Enter the Goldwater Institute. The Goldwater folks have announced they will work to block the vote on the lease agreement by the Glendale City Council. Whatever your political leaning might be, their point is valid. Why should a city that’s going broke forfeit millions of dollars?
It’s almost as if the NHL and the City of Glendale have been stuck in a lousy marriage, and have been staying together for the kids, the Coyotes’ fans. Truth is, everything happening here – the broke buyer, the city agreeing to a lease that they had to have known the Goldwater Institute would block faster than Mike Smith on a Blues’ shot – seems to be nothing but stalling.
At some point in the next week, Gary Bettman will walk out to an ocean of boos to hand the Stanley Cup to either Zach Parise or Dustin Brown. Shortly thereafter, the plug will have to be pulled on the Phoenix Coyotes. It simply appears that Bettman has tried to hold off the inevitable until the Cup could be skated.
So as much as I would have loved to see the game succeed in the desert, the breaks just never went the right way. Let’s face it – they were a great underdog story this year, the Charlestown Chiefs come to life. A team teetering financially wins their division, plays to packed houses in the playoffs, gets to the Conference Final before the clock struck twelve.
But now the loved ones are gathered. It’s time to pull the plug.
About the Author: Spent my formative years breathing in the rarified air of the second balcony at Chicago Stadium. Refined my flair for colorful euphemisms in the blue seats at Madison Square Garden. Now a curmudgeon in the 300 level in the United Center. My musings can also be found at Hockeenight.com...and yes, I muse.