On May 19th, a Phoenix bankruptcy judge will decide if Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes has the right to sell the team to Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie while in bankruptcy protection. Balsillie hopes to purchase the team and move them to Hamilton, Ontario, which has been chasing the NHL dream since the Hamilton Tigers' players were purchased by the owner of the New York Americans and the team's franchise was revoked by the NHL in 1925.
The NHL contends that Moyes had no right to sell, because the league has been in control of the team since November. The NHL says it has every intention of keeping the franchise in Phoenix, and the question on everyone's mind is, "why?"
The Coyotes haven't enjoyed much success in the desert. As a matter of fact, you'd have to go all the way back to 1987 to see the last time this franchise won a playoff series, when they were still the Mighty Jets of Winnipeg and took Calgary out in 6 games. That's 22 years without a playoff series win.
As Dan Bickley said in his recent column on azcentral.com, "Ever since relocating from Winnipeg, it's been one black eye after another. They almost moved to Portland. They drafted kids who couldn't play a lick. They became the center of a gambling investigation. They lost the All-Star Game due to a work stoppage. And now they could be moving away for good. Feel free to blame them. Not us."
When they moved to Phoenix, they spent their first 7 years playing at the America West Arena, where about 30% of the seats had obstructed views of the ice, because it wasn't designed with hockey in mind, but at least it was in the middle of downtown Phoenix, and convenient to get to for most of their fan base.
The team had a chance to build a new arena in Scottsdale, but opted instead to build in Glendale, which took them about 20-25 miles away from Downtown Phoenix, a possible 45 minutes extra travel time on weeknights in Phoenix's congested traffic. If you live in the East Valley, you could easily be looking at a ninety minute drive to the game on a weeknight. Hard to blame the fans for not making the trip on a regular basis.
The City of Glendale contributed $180M to the arena, and is now faced with a possible empty building with no team to play there. The surrounding Westgate complex will suffer as well, bars and restaurants that depend on Coyote home games to bring in business.
I have a bit of a soft spot for the Coyotes, I lived in Phoenix for 9 years, and attended many a game there, sitting in those aforementioned obstructed view seats (they were sold at a discounted price of $9). There was a great atmosphere at Coyotes games in those days, players like Roenick, Tkachuk, Khabibulin, and Tocchet made the Coyotes a fun team to watch in their (and my) new city.
I don't think the end result in this is going to be a good one for Phoenix hockey fans. The Coyotes have been hemorrhaging money for years, and it doesn't appear there will be any more financial help from Glendale, city officials have already said they won't use taxpayer money to bail out the team, nor should they. If the NHL truly wants to keep hockey in Phoenix, they are going to have to figure out how to do it without the city's help, they've done enough, and now in the end they may have nothing to show for it.
One thing is for sure, May 19th stands to be a watershed moment in Phoenix Coyotes history, and the NHL's.
For the latest Coyotes news, be sure to check out SBNation's Five For Howling.