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Forget Coyotes, folks

NHL likely returning to city someday, but not from Arizona

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The NHL may return to Winnipeg someday. It almost certainly will, in fact.

But barring something dramatically unforeseen, it won't be for next season and it will not be in the form of the Phoenix Coyotes.

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That possibility basically went up in smoke in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale on Friday. Until Friday, at least, it was the most legitimate possibility we've seen around these parts since the Jets left town in 1996.

The City of Glendale, following in the long and proud tradition of cities all over North America, bent over Friday so a bunch of millionaires could buy a team full of a bunch of millionaires and have them play in a building constructed by ordinary taxpayers.

Outrageous, eh? Cash-strapped governments giving sweetheart facility deals to millionaire sports-team owners. It's a good thing we don't do exactly that kind of thing in these parts, eh? Just ask Greg Selinger and David Asper -- you'll find them frolicking naked at the bottom of a pool filled with your money.

But I digress.

What happened in Glendale Friday was complex, involving things like memorandums of understanding and special bonding districts, but the bottom line is this:

-- The City of Glendale has made major lease concessions to both Ice Edge Holdings and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, placating both groups in exchange for their separate commitments to purchase the Coyotes and keep them playing at taxpayer-financed Jobing.com Arena.

-- Glendale city council will vote on both new lease proposals this Tuesday. If they pass one or both, the agreement(s) would then be sent to the NHL, which owns the Coyotes, to conclude a sale.

And with that, whatever glimmer of hope there's been around these parts the last little while for a return of the NHL would be extinguished. At least for a little while.

Make no mistake, the NHL talk will return. If it's not Phoenix, it will be Atlanta or Nashville or Florida or any of a half-dozen NHL team owners drowning in red ink right now who will sooner or later come calling in Winnipeg in search of a market where -- and this would be a novelty for those guys -- people actually will pay to watch hockey.

They've been doing that in Phoenix lately -- four sell-outs in a row, as a matter of fact.

But it's taken a team that is the best story in all of hockey right now, a financially bankrupt outfit of misfits so lovable Jim Belushi should be the coach, Steve Martin the general manager and Paul Newman the captain, to finally get the handfuls of hockey fans in the desert out to the games.

And if you don't think that sudden enthusiasm for the Coyotes won't play a part in Tuesday's council vote in Glendale, think again. Consider this statement released last night by the City of Glendale: "Keeping this playoff-bound team in Arizona is beneficial to both the regional and statewide economy and is excellent news for (Phoenix-area) sports fans."

With that kind of pre-vote billing suggesting the full backing of the city's administration for the lease agreements, it seems hard to imagine a bunch of politicians will have the courage to vote against it and strike down agreements to keep the suddenly beloved Coyotes in town.

Consider that chat:

Voter: So you spent $180 million of taxpayer money to build a new arena for the Coyotes in 2003 and now that they've made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 -- the year before the building opened -- you voted for them to leave the city? Now? Are you freaking crazy?

Politician: Have a bumper sticker.

Memos

Reinsdorf and Ice Edge head Anthony Leblanc have personally signed off on both memos of understanding -- go figure they approve of deals that will be worth tens of millions to them. And they've both magnanimously agreed in exchange for all those extra millions to -- get this -- change the name of the Coyotes to something like Arizona Coyotes or even Glendale Coyotes. Seriously.

Grant Woods, an Arizona lawyer working for Ice Edge, told the Associated Press Friday he expects city council to approve both agreements, "and the NHL can decide who to sell the team to."

Who the NHL won't be selling to -- at least not this time around -- is Winnipeg millionaire Mark Chipman and Toronto billionaire David Thomson, who have been waiting in the wings for months now with a serious bid to purchase the Coyotes and move them to Winnipeg in time for next season.

There is still a chance an Arizona watchdog group, the Goldwater Institute, could attempt to scuttle the lease agreements by filing a court action under the provisions of an Arizona law that prohibits giving away public money, but all sides seem confident the negotiated arrangements will pass muster.

Someday, sooner or later, it's going to be our turn. Just not this time, it seems.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

saturday special: scoring with the nHL D4

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2010 D1

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