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Glendale on Parade: The Tragedy of the Arizona Coyotes
It's been a long, bizarre, rocky road for the Arizona Coyotes. Arriving in the NHL all the way back in 1996, the Coyotes (then playing in Phoenix) were supposed to be part of Gary Bettman's legacy, proof that hockey could grow in the Southern United States and help the NHL's popularity prosper. Instead, ownership issues and arena issues happened, and the Coyotes found themselves in Glendale just a few years later. No big deal right? If only. As it turns out, the issues in Phoenix were nothing compared to what awaited them in Glendale, a fiasco so loony that I keep waiting for an anvil to drop on Bettman's head. And honestly, that may happen tonight if what is being predicted comes to fruition.
Late last night, the City of Glendale council announced that they were going to vote on whether or not to terminate a 15 year, $225 million dollar lease agreement between themselves and the Coyotes. Yes, the long uncertainty of the Coyotes, thought to have ended when ownership group IceArizona bought the team back in 2013, is back with a vengeance. The given reason; Glendale believes the deal between them and IceArizona has been breached due to the involvement of a former city employee turned Coyotes employee back when the deal was being worked on. The real reason; Glendale is tired of losing money, and is trying to rid themselves of the Coyotes the same way CM Punk rid himself of WWE. The Coyotes top brass has of course spoken out against Glendale's claims, Bettman followed suit soon after, and Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals is now being overshadowed by the NHL's own private disaster epic that won't go away. Just how the NHL commissioner drew it up I'm sure.
Now I can go on and on and on about what a circus this whole fiasco is. But really, there's only two points that need to be made here.
1) Glendale's attempt to get out of this agreement is bogus. I'm talking Bill and Ted levels of bogus. Anyone in their right frame of mind can see that Glendale is simply trying to get out of the deal so they can get a sweeter one in new negotiations, all while using this laughable loophole angle as a, well, loophole. In short, it's the equivalent of buying your house, not liking the price you paid two years later, and then trying to negotiate it back down. It's bullshit, Glendale knows it, IceArizona knows it, the NHL knows it and any fan with a brain knows it. I never thought I'd see the day when Gary Bettman looked like the hero of this story. He didn't even need Roger Goodell this time around!
2) IceArizona and the NHL need to wake up and smell the coffee. Leave it to the two entities who are on the right side of the argument to still look silly throughout all of this. I'll certainly applaud Bettman and Coyotes co-owner Anthony Leblanc for coming out and calling this sham exactly as it is. There's just one problem; both men either indicated or flat out said that the Coyotes were committed to continue playing in the city of Glendale. Yes, for those reviewing at home, the NHL and the Arizona Coyotes are pretty much saying they want to continue to play for the city that DOESN'T WANT THEM TO PLAY THERE ANYMORE! Excuse me while I go face palm myself into oblivion.
Now look, I understand that the NHL and IceArizona are trying to reassure their fans that this meeting tonight is merely another in the long line of annoyances. But come on; if I didn't know any better, I'd say those two organizations had the self esteem of the sixteen year old, emo version of yours truly. How in their right minds can Bettman and Leblanc ultimately convince anyone that they really want to stay with a city that pretty much just gave them the finger? The only people who'd want to do so are either masochists, idiots, wimps or all three. It's been well over a decade now that the NHL has seen how Glendale operates, and to me, there's only one thing they and IceArizona should do; call Glendale's bluff. Yes, allow me to join the long line of people calling for the Coyotes to pack up, get out of town and end this madness once and for all.
I understand that that's not a popular thing to say, for Coyotes fans and the NHL community (which seems to strongly back the team staying in Arizona). Certainly I'm aware there are some great Coyotes fans in Arizona and all over the US/Canada map, and aside from the players/coaching staff, no one has been victimized more by this abomination than them. As someone who's favorite team was moved from Hartford to Carolina as a young boy, I can more sympathize with their plight, and I applaud them for staging a rally tonight outside of the meeting. But the fact of the matter is this; the Coyotes have lost a ton of money ever since moving to Phoenix, and along with the Florida Panthers have had one of the lowest average attendances of any NHL team since the 2004-05 lockout. Perhaps most damning is that during the Coyotes Western Conference Finals run in the 2011-12 season, the team still ranked dead last in attendance rate during the regular season, at a measly 72.1%. Certainly you can point to ownership uncertainty and location problems as issues that have hindered the team's drawing power. But wouldn't you think a team with an uncertain future have fans trying to sell out every game to support it? Wouldn't more than 72.1% attend games for a top level team? I may have no doubts that there are rabid Coyotes fans out there, but I do have doubts about how many there are.
And when you take all of that into an account, combine it with the childlike actions of Glendale today, the question needs to be asked; is it worth it to keep this team in a city that a) doesn't appear to want it that badly and b) hasn't made the impact on hockey as Bettman hoped? I certainly don't believe so. Yes, moving the Coyotes would be Bettman admitting defeat, something he's been unwilling to do thus far with all the lifelines he's given the Coyotes over the years (lifelines he didn't give Minnesota, Hartford, Quebec, Winnipeg and Atlanta by the way). Yes, LeBlanc and the rest of the IceArizona team seems sincere about making this work in Arizona. Forgive me for being blunt, but so what? It's been nearly twenty years of this mess, and another twenty years of Bettman, Leblanc and any other owner fighting with this joke of a city won't help bring any more fans to Coyotes games. No lawsuit will fix this. No winning season will fix this. And no arena in downtown Phoenix or in Scottsdale can be built quick enough to fix this.
So with that, I ask you Mr. Bettman, Mr. Leblanc (if you do happen to read this), to do the right thing, pull the damn plug and move this team. Do it for the Arizona Coyotes fans, who deserve to finally have some peace, even if it's not the kind they were prefer. Do it for potential fans of Seattle, Portland, Quebec, Las Vegas, Hartford and countless other cities that deserve some real hope instead of the false kind you've paraded in their face. Do it for the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning, who deserve to have their excellent Stanley Cup Finals series be the highlight of hockey, not a secondary story to a dick measuring contest. Most importantly, do it so you can stick it right back to those simpletons in Glendale, who have been so inconsistent that they might as well be Jon Lester. Yes, legacy's may look different and yes, maybe this won't have ended the way you wanted it to. But so what? Just end it. The Arizona Coyotes journey is one no hockey team should have to make. They deserve a home, a better home than this one. Find them it! And give us and those poor fans down in Arizona a break at long last.