So, what now?
The Arizona Coyotes are headed into a bitter courtroom battle that could begin as soon as Thursday, hours after Glendale City Council voted to cancel a 15-year arena lease agreement just two seasons into its existence.
The team’s outside counsel, Nick Wood, threatened a $200 million lawsuit in the lead-up to the vote. And, you have to expect the Coyotes will file an injunction and/or restraining order blocking the cancellation, pending the court process.
Anyone who says they know how this will play out is kidding themselves. The only certainty is uncertainty — for everyone involved.
The Coyotes held a town hall on Tuesday following weeks of deep internal conversations about their on-ice future. After one of the most painful and disappointing seasons in franchise history, they sold a positive message. Head coach Dave Tippett was confirmed to return; same with captain Shane Doan.
That positive message was demolished by the city’s play. The Coyotes were shocked by the news, but understood council wouldn’t call for a vote without already knowing the outcome.
“At this point the damage is done,” Wood said. “How do we negotiate our way out of being shot in the head by the city?”
What hockey fans care about the most is this: what does this mean for the team? Thursday is June 11. That’s a couple of weeks later than when the Coyotes nearly moved to Winnipeg in May 2010. The NHL did return to the Manitoba capital from Atlanta on May 31, 2011. And that was an organization where the infrastructure was in place to handle a late move.
The calendar dictates there will likely — and I stress the word “likely” — be one more season in Glendale.
There is no arena (yet) in Las Vegas. There is an older facility in Seattle, but the NHL won’t want a stop-gap without knowledge of a long-term solution. That does not exist in the state of Washington, although efforts for a new facility are underway. There is, however, no guarantee.
Kansas City has an arena, but not the hockey infrastructure. There is one locale with both, and Scott Oake mentioned Quebec City in his Game 4 interview with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Bettman brought up time zone inequality and how that would leave the Western Conference with four fewer teams than the East.
Yes, the “New Nordiques” could be slotted into the west, but my guess is the league would prefer to wait a year before going down this road.
Coyotes CEO Anthony LeBlanc had an interesting tweet after the vote was lost.
Thank you so much #CoyotesNation for a tremendous show of support tonight. We will fight this aggressively, and hockey in AZ will survive!
— Anthony LeBlanc (@anthonydleblanc) June 11, 2015
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it was interesting he wrote Arizona instead of Glendale. There’ve been rumours over the past few months of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns looking to build a new arena. There’s at least one report of the location being Scottsdale, which would be a much better fit than Glendale.
To me, this is the key for the future of hockey in Arizona. Is it true? And, if so, can the Coyotes be part of it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the team would be more successful if the arena was in a better location. That would certainly qualify.
On June 11, my prediction is this will be the case: The team plays in Glendale for one more season, while doing everything it can to figure out if there is a future in the state. No matter how much we’re all tired of this story, we know the NHL does not admit defeat in any market without exhausting every possibility.
The Arizona Bobcats won the Quebec Pee-Wee Tournament. Arizona native son Auston Matthews could be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 Draft. No chance they throw away this growth so easily.
That could mean a new long-term lease agreement with the current city, but after what happened in the past 48 hours, there is no way either side is going to trust the other. Glendale embarrassed the NHL right in the middle of its championship showcase, just as the Blackhawks were clinging for dear life in the tremendous final moments of Game 4.
Arizona’s best chance is a new facility in a better location in tandem with the NBA. An e-mail to Suns president Jason Rowley about the possibility went unreturned on Wednesday, but that, I admit, was a shot in the dark. Over the next few months, this outcome will be investigated to the fullest. If a new arena happens, my guess is one year from now the Coyotes bolt Glendale, returning to what is now Talking Stick Resort Arena, where they played from 1996-2003. Yes, I know it’s not a perfect setup. But, it ends the painful Glendale chapter and there’s optimism at the end of the journey.
If it doesn’t work? In that case, the NHL will seriously consider a formal expansion process at its Board of Governors meeting later this month. When the current divisional set-up was created, it was a three-year commitment. That ends after next season. In a perfect world, if you’re going to move the Coyotes to Quebec City, you do it at the same time as expansion.
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Bettman has said he sees $500 million as an expansion fee. You take that money from Las Vegas. Maybe you take that money from Seattle. You take whatever it costs from Quebec City (Atlanta/Winnipeg was $170 million) and you re-align everything in time for the NHL’s 100th anniversary season in 2016-17. It’s neat, it’s clean and it’s a lot of money.
Again, it’s purely a guess, because we’re all guessing after this surprise situation. But, if that happens, it takes one more season to get there.