Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Let's connect no-goal dots

For added fun, let's mix Coyotes into 'conspiracy'

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Somebody call Mulder and Scully, because there's a lot of conspiracy theories floating around the NHL these days.

I've even got one of my own, but we'll get to that later.

The most prominent grassy knoll these days can be found in Vancouver, where more than a few disillusioned Canucks fans are still up in arms over the decision out of the NHL's war room in Toronto to disallow a goal from Daniel Sedin in the Canucks' 4-2 loss to the Kings in Game 3.

Oh, the humanity.

Conspiracy Theory No. 1: The decision was made by Mike Murphy, the league's vice-president of hockey operations, who -- as ably underlined by the CBC -- is a "former Kings player and coach."

Conspiracy Theory No. 2: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is desperate for Sunbelt markets such as Los Angeles and Phoenix to survive, and in both cases, lengthy playoff runs would be manna from hockey heaven. Especially since, you know, the NHL owns the Coyotes.

Naturally, Bettman lambasted both tenuous choo-choo trains of thought.

"I think it's absurd," Bettman told the Los Angeles Times, when asked specifically about Murphy's previous tenure with the Kings. "First of all, anybody who works for the league office in hockey operations had to work for some club. Secondly, most people who weren't working for clubs anymore probably got fired. And third, it seems to be a subtle jab at integrity, which is unfounded and inappropriate."

A rigged game involving Sunbelt teams, as posited in a recent column in the august pages of the The Globe and Mail?

"And what's that based on, other than utter gibberish?" the commish spat. "The conspiracy theories are absurd. If that were the case, why has it taken eight years for the Kings to be in the playoffs? Why have the Panthers not been in the playoffs for 10 years? I don't think it's appropriate to dignify unfounded accusations."

No, but it is rather fun. And as pointed out by the Globe, if the league has so blatantly catered to Sunbelt teams over the last decade, don't be surprised if folks in the Great White North go a little Oliver Stone sometimes.

Which brings us to my own conspiracy theory, which begins with a caution. What you're about to read could be completely absurd, to use Bettman's language. It might even be a little rash and certainly unverifiable.

It goes like this: Not a peep has been heard out of Arizona since city councillors agreed to a memorandum of understanding to reach a lease agreement with Jerry Reinsdorf (a.k.a. the NHL). In fact, there's no evidence that there's any negotiations going on at all, and the deal on the table is asking for $47 million a year ($165 million in total) in funding through a shady-looking tax grab on local businesses and bond sales.

So two things are happening. Either Glendale city council will bend over and sign the lease, which will almost certainly be challenged in court by a watchdog group called the Goldwater Institute.

This would also be a complete reversal of public statements made by Glendale politicians for more than a year vowing not to use public funding to prop up the failing business.

Or, and this is the conspiracy part, the "negotiations" are little more than an elaborate sham, not unlike the endless three-card monte routine that has been the Coyotes operation ever since the team was taken into bankruptcy court by former owner Jerry Moyes. First, Reinsdorf is in, then he's out, then Ice Edge is in, then they're out and Reinsdorf is in. Now where's the ace of spades?

Meanwhile, let's say there's some truth to the Phoenix Business Journal's report a month ago that the NHL had contacted True North representatives in Winnipeg about being Plan C.

Now excuse me while I adjust my tinfoil hat... There, that's better.

By now, the players involved -- lawyers for the NHL, Reinsdorf and the City of Glendale -- must know exactly where any negotiations are headed behind the scenes. Or where they're not headed. In essence, Bettman probably has a good idea if the Coyotes are moving or staying. He must, because the stakes are too high not to know and the league is running out of time.

So the longer the whole issue remains unresolved and eerily silent, you have to ask yourself if the negotiations are a front while the Coyotes remain in the NHL playoffs. I mean, how damaging would it be for the Coyotes if, say, prior to Game 7 against Detroit, a report comes out that Glendale council has balked at Reinsdorf's lease proposal, putting the team's future in jeopardy? Again.

Bettman might consider all this idle thought gibberish, too. He may even be right. Who knows?

The truth is out there.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2010 C1

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