Bettman's Folly: From Killing Arizona to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
You hear that, hockey fans? That is the sound of Gary Bettman hitting the gas and trying to reclaim the title of worst commissioner in the history of time from the NFL's Roger Goodell. Alas, he's not going to catch him. For all of Bettman's flaws (and there are many), he at least didn't look away/potentially cover up a domestic violence scandal, turn his league into a joke and spend almost half a year being concerned over air in a football. Short of Bettman fixing games or other illegal activities, Goodell is always going to have him beat. But if nothing else, tonight is a reminder of what levels of stupidity Gary Bettman is capable of. A fact that doesn't change, even if what we are starting to learn isn't true.
Let's catch you guys up on the facts. A little less than three hours ago, Josh Kosman of the New York Post broke a major story regarding the future of everyone's favorite relocation candidate, the Arizona Coyotes. The major story; that the Coyotes are in fact relocating, the right move, even if it's about eight years and a whole lot of false hope too late. But where to? Surely it had to be somewhere that was ready for them now, like say Quebec City? Portland? Maybe even Phoenix, as Coyotes chairman Anthony LeBlanc seemed to indicate? OF COURSE NOT! According to the post, the NHL has instead decided to broker a deal to move the Coyotes to Vegas, forcing LeBlanc and his partners to sell to potential Vegas owner Bill Foley, who has recently led a ticket campaign to see how many fans a Vegas team could draw. Seems like a good match potentially. Except here's the issue; there's still no concrete proof that a team than Vegas and there's no arena ready yet, meaning the Coyotes will remain in Glendale for a year before moving, creating the biggest lame duck situation in the history of the western hemisphere. Never mind the fact that Bettman, who for years has preached about how hockey can work in Arizona, now looks like a dude who just wanted to find the nearest warm weather relocation spot instead of either a) really being all in with Arizona or b) relocating them to a better market.
Now, let's get one thing straight before we go any further here; none of this is concrete as of yet. The NHL has come out and denied that the team is moving to Vegas, as has LeBlanc. I'm not one to question Mr. Kosman's credibility and I'm sure he's not just writing rubbish for the sake of rubbish, but for all we know he could just be misinformed. In short, by tomorrow, all of this could be obsolete. And yet, why do I get the feeling that it's not? Sure, the NHL can deny this all they want, but the fact of the matter is that this isn't the first time we've heard this rumor about the Coyotes, whether it's moving to Vegas or elsewhere. And the fact also is that the NHL and Vegas seem cozier than Dawson Leary and Joey Potter; to say they're in bed together is like saying Transformers 2-4 sucked. Take those two facts and, regardless of whether Kosman's story is true or not, it's pretty clear to see that the Arizona Coyotes have as much time left to live as Dennis Quaid in D.O.A. I thought I'd feel good about this day. Now, all I can think about is how much, excuse my language, bullshit all of this is. And here's why this is, in fact, bullshit.
1) This relocation is about agenda, not about fit. I'm sure the NHL will, whenever this is finalized, try to spin the Coyotes move on this being the best available spot with the best available timing. To which I say LOL. I'm sorry, but didn't the NHL have an ideal chance to move the Coyotes to Hamilton, Ontario just a few years ago? Wasn't Winnipeg not only considered, but actually on the verge of getting the Coyotes on two different occasions? Has Quebec City not had both ownership and at least one arena ready for, I don't know, forever? Has Seattle not wanted a team enough? Has Portland, who has an arena and willing owner if approached, not worthy enough? The fact of the matter is that the NHL had opportunities to move to any of those places for years, and even though some had flaws (looking at you, Jim Balsillie) I reckon they would've worked better than Arizona. Hell, there's opportunity to move the team to any of those places now and have them ready for next year, avoiding an sure to be uncomfortable last season in Glendale. Yet Vegas, a location no more proven than Arizona, gets a team without hesitation over better markets? Yeah, that seems legit! It pretty much indicates that the NHL doesn't really have a problem with location, it just has a problem with certain places. Which makes the next point sting even more.
2) The NHL could give a shit less about hockey succeeding in Arizona. This is the harshest fact of them all really. For years, the NHL has fought tooth and nail to keep the team in the Phoenix/Glendale region, insisting that the fan base could grow (despite it not growing) and that hockey was better off there than any of the other places mentioned above (it wasn't). If Kosman's report is true, the only reason the NHL said any of those things was because they wanted the Coyotes moved to a specific location, not that they really wanted the team in Arizona. In short, they've lied to Coyote fans, which almost puts them on a level Roger Goodell knows. I think it's pretty clear that I haven't been a huge supporter of hockey in Arizona; I've thought the team should move for years and that overall, there wasn't a big enough fan base there to sustain a team long term. But man, do I feel sorry for those true fans and that organization right now. To be told you matter and that you'll be given a chance for all these years, only to have your team relocated for a situation just as shaky? If I'm a Coyotes fan right now, I'm pissed off beyond belief. I probably would be any way, but this just nails that point home.
As you can plainly see, I'm incredibly angry with this potential news here. A lot of it is for fans living in cities that don't have hockey teams, and fans of the Coyotes. I've interacted with a great deal of people over the course of my time writing here (mostly Portland fans), and it's plain to see that these fans, true fans, live and breathe for hockey, and want nothing more to have a team of their own. These people deserve teams, and yet have to watch places like Florida, Carolina and countless others (places with more non fans than true fans) cart out teams to empty arenas every year. For them to now not even get a chance at a team for years while one city gets a chance immediately is sickening to me. For true Coyotes fans to be given false hope for years only to have the rug pulled out from under them when the NHL found a convenient replacement is sickening. But what's most sickening is how this represents how the NHL, and Bettman, view their teams and fans. You see, they'll make an effort for you when it works for them; when it doesn't, you can kiss your team goodbye. It's why Winnipeg, Minnesota and Quebec lost their teams with hardly a peep from the NHL in the 90s, it's why the NHL fought Saskatoon to the death to keep a struggling Blues team in St. Louis, it's why the NHL waited for Atlanta to all but combust to bring a team back to Winnipeg, and it's why my beloved Hartford Whalers were allowed to move in 1997 without Gary Bettman even blinking an eye. The same thing is happening now, and the only winners are Bettman, the NHL and Bill Foley. The rest of us hockey fans and the sport of hockey are, in the words of CM Punk, all losers.
Let me be clear on one final point; I'm not here to disparage Bill Foley or his effort to bring a team to Vegas. I'm certain his intentions are noble, that he cares about the game and that he truly hopes to build a great fan base there. I wish him the best of luck, whether he has the Coyotes this year or next year. Perhaps there is a market for hockey there, and Foley and the NHL will all get what they want. But that won't wash away the blood from Bettman's hands on this one. For years, YEARS, we hockey fans have been waiting for an answer on the Arizona Coyotes, only to never get it despite the NHL having every single opportunity to do so. Now years later, we have our answer in the form of another question, the result of greed, lies and a complete disregard for the people who make it possible for the NHL to exist. Yes, tomorrow may bring different news. But even if it does, isn't it only delaying the inevitable? I guess in the end, no, Gary Bettman isn't as bad as Roger Goodell. But at least Goodell would know better than to keep chasing losing situations. Bettman won't learn that until the day he's canned. May that be sooner than later, for the sake of us all.