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Where Will the Arizona Coyotes Go? A Relocation Story
It's official everyone; with a vote of 5-2, the Glendale secret police...sorry, I mean City Council, voted to end their lease agreement with the Arizona Coyotes tonight. Which pretty much means the Coyotes time in Glendale has gone the way of Constantine; dead with a whimper. And while Anthony Leblanc and the Coyotes ownership is saying they will pursue legal action against Glendale, are we really expecting they're going to want to field a team in a city that just told them to take a hike? I doubt it. So with that, it means only one thing is happening here. Yup, the R word that makes Gary Bettman sweat more than Bon Cop, Bad Cop; relocation. Good time for an update on Bettman's legacy.
No, Bettman and Coyotes fans aren't going to like this, but it's the truth. The Glendale/Coyotes/NHL relationship is fried, there is no other arena in the immediate area that can house the Yotes, and as I pointed out earlier, a loyal group of diehard fans hasn't exactly fielded strong ticket sales in recent memory. So they're moving, there's no doubt in my mind about that. The real question is where? And that's where I come in. Having long, long prepared for this day (seriously, this Coyotes saga is like The Odyssey, written by Gary Bettman), I've broken down potential landing spots for the Coyotes. The list will go from teams that have the worst shot of getting the team to the best shot in my opinion. Get it? Got it? Good. But enough of wasting time; that's what the NHL has been doing with this for years! ON WITH THE SHOW!!!
Little to no chance
Why it could happen: Believe it or not, Houston has a very storied hockey history. The Houston Aeros were one of the most dominating teams in the WHL during the 1970's, winning two championships and featuring such players like the legendary Gordie Howe. Likewise, the modern day Houston Aeros of the AHL were also successful, winning two titles in their twenty year history before moving to Iowa. Combine that history with two arenas capable of holding hockey (the Toyota Center and the legendary Astrodome) and a natural rivalry with the struggling Dallas Stars, and Houston is a good idea in theory.
Why it won't happen: Despite the history, Houston is reportedly not a great hockey town, a fact that factored into Winnipeg Jets star Tyler Myers choosing to play for Canada instead of the U.S. in international competition (Myers was born in Texas, but held dual citizenship). There's also apparently no demand for a team in Houston right now, and even if there were, the team would have to be owned by Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander in order to play in the Toyota Center. In short, no dice.
Hamilton, Ontario/Greater Toronto Area
Why it could happen: It's Canada. More hockey teams up there is never a bad thing, especially in an area like Ontario where the games will sell out every night. Plus, don't the people in Toronto deserve some form of success? If that sounds harsh Leafs fans, it's because it is. Not my fault you guys haven't won anything since the legendary Mats Sundin!
Why it won't happen: The Leafs and the Buffalo Sabers, both in the general vicinity of this potential team, aren't going to allow a team to relocate. And can you blame them? Why on earth would Toronto want another team in the area that could show them up and why would Buffalo want a team that could steal half of their fan base? As long as Buffalo and the Leafs are in the NHL (which, seeing as they're two of the most popular franchises in the sport), this will never happen. It certainly won't be happening now.
Why it could happen: How silly of me to forget these guys! If you're not dumb like yours truly, you'd know that Wisconsin is quietly a hockey hotbed. College hockey is huge up there, to the point that you wonder why they haven't gotten more consideration over the years. Combine that built in fan base with the fact that a new arena is being built for the Bucks (which could easily be made to fit both basketball and hockey), and Wisconsin could have a shot. Don't make the same mistake I made of overlooking them.
Why it won't happen: If I, die hard hockey fan that I am, didn't remember about Wisconsin, you can bet your ass that Gary Bettman doesn't. On top of that, with no new arena in place and no ownership group in sight (would the Bucks owners have only crack at the team?), things look doubtful for now. Basically, Wisconsin is the Portland of the North. How sad, and yet fitting.
Why it could happen: Same reason Toronto/Greater Ontario could get a team, plus this; Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces in Canada that doesn't have an NHL team. You don't think the people up in Saskatoon would want an actual NHL franchise to go nuts over? It also helps they have an arena ready to go, and have actively tried to get an NHL team over the past few decades. Don't overlook the fact that several exhibition games have been played in the SaskTel Center the past few years and that a group called Ice Edge Holdings tried to buy the Coyotes a few years ago with the intent of playing a few games a year up in Saskatoon. By the way, several of those Ice Edge Holdings members went on to become a part of IceArizona. You know, the group that owns the Coyotes now. Hmm.
Why it won't happen: Not only is Saskatoon in Canada, but it's small market Canada. The population for Saskatoon is in the low hundred thousands, and the SaskTel center would be the third smallest arena in the NHL, only ahead of the MTS Center in Winnipeg and the Barclay's Center in New York. Pretty clear why the NHL has steered clear of taking Saskatoon seriously over the years, and unfortunately, I expect we'll see the same in this case.
Why it could happen: There's an arena in Kansas City. That's pretty much it. But hey, in a situation like this, that and an ownership group are pretty much all you need.
Why it won't happen: Perhaps I'm not looking deeply enough, but there appears to be no ownership group with ties to Kansas City, nor is there any demand for hockey in Kansas City. Really, all they have is that arena. That's enough to get it into the long shots bracket, but it sure as hell isn't enough to get them a team.
Why it could happen: Because it should. Portland has the Moda Center all set to hold a hockey team, the WHL's Portland WinterHawks are one of the highest drawing U.S. teams in Canadian Juniors and the city has a rich hockey history. How rich? How about the first American team to ever play for the Stanley Cup? Plus, as the MLS has shown, a three way Pacific Northwest rivalry between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland can be big time money, something the NHL loves. Honestly, Portland should be one of the favorites in this search.
Why it won't happen: Because the NHL is dumb and would prefer a team in Seattle (who has no arena) or Vegas (because the desert has worked out so well). I don't get it either. There's also some sort of issue with Paul Allen, the owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Moda Center, though I'm not exactly sure what. Either way, it's a damn shame. Mr. Bettman, stop trying to duplicate the Vegas mistake and give Portland a shot. You have a combined five teams in California and Florida already; can't we have at least one other Pacific Northwest team?!
Why it could happen: Simple; the Hartford Whalers are the most beloved hockey team that doesn't exist anymore. People still jam out to Brass Bonanza. Whalers gear is some of the hottest selling items still after all these years. And oh yeah, it definitely seems like moving the Whalers to Carolina, where it turns out no one gives a shit about them, wasn't exactly a great idea after all! What helps us Whale fan most of all however is that there's definitely a buzz for the team to return (I found out about the Coyotes troubles last night because of Whalers' fans freaking out), the XL Center (the Whalers old arena) still stands and is in decent enough shape to be used for a few seasons and a new arena is reportedly in the works. Not a lot of these other potential locations have those three things there, which could make the Whalers are darkhorse. Yes I'm biased. So what?!
Why it won't happen: I'm pretty sure Gary Bettman and the NHL don't remember that Hartford exists, which obviously leaves them in a hole. On top of that, Seattle, Las Vegas, Quebec City and possibly more teams are ahead of them in the list of teams the NHL wants to have a team (you know, providing the NHL does remember Hartford exists). Thus, I don't see it happening here. Best hope for us Whalers fans? Quebec City ends up getting the Coyotes, the NHL moves the Red Wings back West and adds Vegas and Seattle/Portland as the two expansion teams. That would open up a chance for the Whalers to get the Panthers, who will most definitely be the next "will they, won't they?" relocation candidate once the Coyotes fiasco ends.
Why it could happen: Let's be real; the NHL is going to put a team in Vegas. It's inevitable, especially now that the Coyotes will be moving. Don't for one second think that's going to weaken Bettman's resolve on having teams succeed in the desert; if anything, he'll probably be more focused than ever on making the Vegas thing work. Add that to the fact that the NHL actually allowed a ticket sale/drive to occur, despite a vote for a Vegas team not even taking place (when was the last time that actually happened?!), and it's pretty clear Sin City will be rocking a hockey team in the near distant future. The Coyotes demise might be ample opportunity for the NHL to speed up that dream.
Why it won't happen: There's one small flaw if the NHL's plan is to move the Coyotes to Vegas this fall; the arena is a no go. Yes, according to multiple reports that I've read, the Vegas arena isn't going to be ready for the season's start in October, and won't be till April 2016 (at the earliest mind you). Which, barring a deal being made with Glendale for a year long stay before bolting in 2016, means no dice on Vegas. I'm not saying it's not possible something like that happens (Vegas is a favorite here after all), but come on; do you really see Bettman and co wanting to hang around with Glendale for another year? Especially after this episode? He'd have to be the most weak minded individual in sports. Other than Roger Goodell of course.
Why it could happen: The same reason as Portland, with the added nugget that the NHL wants hockey there and Seattle doesn't have the Paul Allen stigma. On top of that, I don't think there's any city on this list that has more people seeking to own an NHL team than Seattle. I think there might be at least four, maybe five groups who have been interested in bringing a team there over the years. In short, this will happen. Seattle will (and should have an NHL team in the next ten years. And as they were supposedly going to get the Coyotes before the IceArizona deal two years ago, they have to be a favorite here.
Why it won't happen: Where will the team play? Seattle has everything you'd want for a hockey town, except for the arena. The Key Arena would be the smallest NHL venue and was on its last legs when the Sonics moved a few years ago. There still hasn't been a new arena built in the nearby area, likely because most of the ownership groups in Seattle want an NBA team first before getting an NHL team. This is a big deal here. Perhaps the NHL would be okay with a team playing out of the Key Arena or in Tacoma for a year, but I don't know. On top of that, Seattle seems like a prime candidate for the NHL to pull an expansion fee from, something the league is obsessed with concerning the other favorite on this list.
Why it could happen: Quebec City is perhaps the best hockey town in North America not to have an NHL team. There's plenty of ownership groups that would gladly take them. There's the Colisee Pepsi (GREAT NAME), the Nordiques old arena, still waiting to hold another NHL game. And oh yeah, there's a brand new arena coming by the start of next season, designed specifically to lure an NHL team there. Simply put, this is the perfect fit. It puts an NHL team back in a great hockey market and it finally rights the wrong of the Nordiques moving twenty years ago. You know this is something the hockey world wants when BRUINS fans are saying it be cool for the Nordiques to return.
Why it won't happen: The expansion fee issue. That is really the only hold up, seeing as the NHL knows they can bleed Quebec dry by dangling an expansion team in front of them a few years down the line. A big enough hold up to dethrone them returning sooner? Potentially. Other than that though, this looks to me to be the best option. Hence why it was the last city listed huh?!
That'll do it guys. I'm off to watch some LU, which I'll be reviewing bright and early tomorrow. Till then, catch up on the Stanley Cup Finals. You know, the thing about hockey that matters, if Gary Bettman hadn't been a moron all this time.