NHL playing crutch to other franchises during Coyotes’ troubles

It hasn’t been a very pleasant three or four seasons for Phoenix Coyotes fans. The reason? It’s as plain as the empty seats in Jobing.com Arena on a weeknight game — relocation rumors have hovered over the team for so long it’s a miracle that fans haven’t been given Prozac as a game day giveaway. It doesn’t matter that they’re owned by the NHL; the league wants to recoup constant operating cost losses and really can’t afford to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix forever unless a local buyer steps up and completes the deal.

According to the Phoenix Business Journal, the wheels might be turning within the next week or two on the NHL’s “plan B” for the Coyotes: relocation. The City of Glendale isn’t going to give the NHL another $25 million to cover operating costs for next season. Last year’s $25 million to the NHL basically kept the Coyotes from leaving at the last minute, sealing the deal for True North Sports and Entertainment to purchase and relocate the Atlanta Thrashers instead. Now, it seems if TNSE would have had another year’s worth of patience, they could have gotten the original Jets back. At the very least then, all of the “the Jets’ve returned!” hyperbole would be actually correct.

As it stands, the Coyotes could be heading to Seattle, Kansas City, or Quebec City. While I, and the fans in Phoenix, would love to see the team stay put, it’s looking less and less viable. The league simply can’t afford to support the team… they’re spread a bit thin. Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, in his Five Thoughts for the week, dropped this tidbit:

The word from someone with an intimate knowledge of such matters: The NHL is currently or has been propping up five teams financially this season – the Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets. The league still owns the Coyotes, of course, and has advanced the other four their shares of broadcast and revenue sharing money. When asked to comment, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly denied this was the case.

Well, of course Daly is going to deny it. Can you imagine the outcry over the league giving money to other struggling teams besides Phoenix, three of which are in expansion/non-traditional markets? While this is more than likely a sign that the US economy is prohibitive to fans spending a lot of money on sports, the markets that they’re propping up haven’t had the strongest or most consistent of couple of past seasons. New Jersey could be considered the exception here, with low attendance being a sign of arena location more than anything else.

The league propping up five teams does clarify why they were so quick to allow the sale of the Thrashers. They simply couldn’t afford to prop up team number six for a year. There was an opportunity to sell, make $60 million dollars, and get a team to a hockey insane market. It stands to reason then that the league didn’t exactly fight for Atlanta like they have done for the Coyotes. Thrashers fans should be disappointed to hear that they were the sacrificial lamb to economics and business sense, especially when an ill-advised (probably) $25 million payment from Glendale to the NHL is all that kept them from probably being the league’s next pet project. 

Unfortunately, the Coyotes aren’t the only name being bandied around for relocation. The New York Islanders are still having arena issues. If they don’t figure out where they’ll be playing by the end of 2015, they might not be playing for the fans in New York. Three relocations in four years, even if the Islanders’ problems have nothing to do with the NHL, would look less than good for the reign of commissioner Gary Bettman.

About Laura Astorian

Laura Astorian is the head editor for the SB Nation blog St. Louis Game Time and has been a Blues fan from childhood. She promises that any anti-Blackhawks bias will be left at the door. Maybe.