Fear And Loathing In Arizona


Anybody watching the Phoenix Coyotes play in this years post season tournament has to have a bit of a smile on their face.  They are performing at a beyond efficient rate on the ice, and the crowd does seem to turn out during the games.  Players like Shane Doan and Mike Smith are both about as like-able as it gets, and twitter celebrity and Welland native Paul Bissonette always adds color to a room.  In this expression of joy for a group of hockey players that have been far too burdened with the prospects of the off ice fortunes of their club, one has to also feel a slight bit nervous about the prospects of a deep playoff run.

If this entire debacle off the ice has shown anything, it is that the owners of the other twenty nine NHL clubs will make horrible decisions when given the opportunity.  The Club remains under the control of the governors, and as recently as months ago opinions had been expressed that the owners would not be willing to subsidize the operation beyond this season.  As great as Dave Tippett has run his club on the ice, the team remains a horrible mess off the ice.  It has to concern parties that a successful run in this years playoffs may entice a group of otherwise intelligent business men that this operation can be sustained in the desert.

When first placed into bankruptcy by Jerry Moyes, the league was steadfast in claiming that if the club had been run better they would not have the financial problems that they were experiencing.  The league then got a court to believe in the claim, and since have been running the organization.  Management and coaching in the time since have done their job in making the Coyotes an on ice success.  To the surprise of many of the governors, the team still did not draw fans or make money.  The new excuse was the lease deal arranged by Glendale was far too prohibitive in running the club.  Concessions were made for the city to own some of the losses which resulted in the formation of an escrow account that would cover up to $25 million, which of course did not even come close.  The most recent event was the tirade that was given by soon-to-be-former mayor Elaine Scruggs, stating that she wanted the money back from the escrow to cover payroll for city employees.

The facts have been stretched and twisted by all parties involved in this hot mess, and the common themes that have emerged don’t paint anybody in a positive light.  The city council was certainly uneducated in the manner in which it was providing money into the NHL coffers to cover these losses, and should never have drank the kool-aid that Gary Bettman or Bill Daly were handing out.  Any good business man would understand that an organization that has existed for a decade and never managed to make money was simply not a good business venture.  Not totally unrelated, this is probably why the NHL has not found a sucker willing to bury any of their own money into the desert quicksand.  The NHL should not escape this without any scars, as they have been what drug councillors call an enabler.  The NHL leadership has attempted to sell this club to anybody with a checking account, and they have worked overtime at convincing the city council that the next great owner was just waiting in the wings.  That owner never arrived because that owner never existed, it was a sales pitch by a group of very good salesman.

The people that really should be felt sorry for in this mess are the fans in Phoenix.  I know many will scoff at the notion that they exist, but there are fans in Arizona.  They may not have the numbers that a market such as the Toronto or Montreal, but these people love their team just like anybody else, and nobody deserves to be jerked around like they are.  On a trip to California last summer I had the privilege of meeting three or four of these people, and I found them to be very engaging and knowledgeable about hockey and the Coyotes.  The thing that impressed me the most in the conversation was the amount of respect they had for organizations such as Toronto and New York and Montreal, they acted towards them in conversation as many do the original baseball franchises.  Most of them seemed to accept the fact that the team was going to leave at some point, just a matter of when.

The players are from all over the world and they will adjust when the team ends up leaving.  The fans don’t have the same luxury, as once the Coyotes are gone from Glendale they will not get another team.  The facts are unpleasant, but the only humane thing that can be done at the end of this season is for this team to be sold to an owner that will move them.  This is not something that should be done lightly, but the city that they reside is what the business world would describe as insolvent, they can no longer make payroll.  The taxpayers in Glendale deserve, and quite frankly have deserved from the beginning, much better than what the elected officials have given them.  Lets hope everybody involved finds their sanity and resolves this at the end of the playoffs.

This and That

Apparently the Ottawa Senators decided to perform a broadway version of the Paul Newman classic, Slapshot tonight.  As entertaining as the game was to watch, it is dangerous territory to march down when watching players look for vigilante justice.  This was the very philosophy that led to Todd Bertuzzi ending the career of Steve Moore, and the issue is still being litigated to this day.  The world of sports does not need this kind of nonsense, but given that the Senators found a way to win it would be hard to imagine John Scott not drawing in to the lineup Monday so that the Rangers can get their cowboy justice.