I was really hoping that by now we would know definitively whether or not the NHL would be returning to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season.
Over the past couple weeks I’ve been discussing the potential for a return of NHL-caliber hockey to Winnipeg. Providing the most important facts regarding our local ownership group and the issues facing the Phoenix Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers, I can only hope I’ve convinced casual readers and naysayers that Winnipeg could and should be a much more successful hockey market than either Atlanta or Phoenix.
As with the details regarding the theoretical deal between Glendale and would-be owner Matt Hulsizer, you can’t help being dumbfounded at just how committed the NHL has become to keeping struggling sun-belt franchises, like the Coyotes, in their current markets.
With the deal seemingly stuck in suspended animation — always two weeks from being completed — it’s starting to feel like the only thing more pathetic than the abysmal attendance is the NHL’s desperate attempt to save these failed markets. It’s long past time to pull the plug on the Coyotes franchise and move them back up to Canada.
What makes the fiasco in Arizona particularly frustrating for myself and other Winnipeg hockey fans is that the effort to save the Coyotes appears to be aimed at covering financial losses first and foremost. On the surface, the Coyotes appear to lack any meaningful connection to the community and have not created a thriving hockey culture in the desert after 15 years. Unlike in Canada, where a professional hockey team is a common rallying point for civic pride and a big part of our national culture, in the southern states hockey is just a distraction.
This glaring lack of civil support is apparently moot, simply because the city of Glendale cannot accept that their attempt to re-brand itself as a sports Mecca has failed. They gambled with taxpayer money, building a state-of-art arena for a franchise with a history of shoddy ownership, with average annual losses of $25 million. Furthermore, the arena also fails to attract big name concerts and other events who tend to choose to play at the US Airways Arena in downtown Phoenix, instead of the one tucked away in the Glendale suburbs.
On top of the struggling hockey team, the looming NFL lockout threatens to hit the recession-ravaged city of Glendale with another huge economic blow. If the Westgate development relies solely on sports events to draw in customers, could it possibly survive with no professional hockey and no professional football in 2011?
This is essentially why the Glendale city councillors are so desperate to save the Coyotes at any cost and why the ongoing efforts to save the Coyotes have dragged out well past all logical deadlines. It appears that any genuine resolution to the Coyotes saga will happen once the Coyotes are eliminated from the playoffs. Heading into their second straight playoff run, it’s entirely possible that this year’s squad could pull off the deepest playoff run in the franchise’s history, which will leave Winnipeg fans waiting all the longer.
On the Atlanta front, nothing has been resolved either. There has been some tire-kicking by prospective owners who intend to keep the team in Atlanta, but no bona-fide offers have been reported. The Thrashers are not playoff-bound, so there’s a chance that a relocation announcement could come at the end of the regular season — likely a move to Manitoba, but as long as Winnipeg is being used as leverage in Phoenix, we’re going to have to wait for the gong show in Glendale to wrap up.