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Coyotes franchise a disaster in the desert

Time to pull pin and relocate to Quebec City

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It was 25 years ago the moving trucks arrived at the old barn on Maroons Road and loaded up for a one-way trip to Arizona, where we were told the grass was going to be considerably greener. History shows that has not been the case, with one disaster after another following the artists formerly known as Winnipeg Jets 1.0.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/08/2021 (525 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was 25 years ago the moving trucks arrived at the old barn on Maroons Road and loaded up for a one-way trip to Arizona, where we were told the grass was going to be considerably greener. History shows that has not been the case, with one disaster after another following the artists formerly known as Winnipeg Jets 1.0.

Arena problems. Ownership battles. Bankruptcy filings. City council fights. Attendance woes. Overdue rent. Constant instability and turnover and nonstop threats of leaving. Allegations of a toxic workplace. Embarrassing off-ice issues including broken promises and broken rules leading to forfeited draft picks and suspensions. And an on-ice product that continues to leave plenty to be desired, with losing apparently becoming an accepted way of life (they’ve made the playoffs once since 2012, and have stripped their roster down for parts this summer.)

It really is the longest-running soap opera in sports.

The Arizona Coyotes have faced countless difficulties since fleeing Winnipeg for the desert in 1996. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images/TNS)

In case you missed the latest episode of “As The Dysfunctional Franchise Turns,” the Coyotes have now been served with an eviction notice from the City of Glendale. This coming season at Gila River Arena will apparently be their last, with officials opting to cut their considerable losses including outstanding, past-due payments and not renew the year-to-year lease any longer.

Let’s hope Gary Bettman and company finally get the message and follow suit, just as he reluctantly did a decade ago when it came to the sad-sack Atlanta Thrashers.

I’m not holding my breath. For reasons I’ve never understood, Arizona has been a pet project that can apparently do no wrong in the eyes of the stubborn commissioner, who apparently doesn’t subscribe to the theory that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Bettman is determined to make this work, even when all of the evidence suggests this is the equivalent of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

For what it’s worth, both the league and team president Xavier Gutierrez released statements last week vowing to find a way around this latest obstacle, while also chalking this up to basically a negotiating tactic by frustrated city officials. It’s no secret new billionaire owner Alex Meruelo Sr. has been exploring a new arena, potentially in Scottsdale or Tempe, and that apparently led to an ultimatum of sorts from Glendale to either sign a new 20-year lease or take a hike.

“I’m not worried about the Coyotes,” NHL commissioner Bettman told a New York radio show last Thursday. Sigh. Same as it ever was.

This isn’t about trashing the idea of making hockey work in so-called non-traditional American markets. There are several success stories out there, from Tampa Bay and Nashville to Dallas and Las Vegas. And while the Coyotes themselves have never really gained traction, the sport has grown by leaps and bounds at the grassroots level in that state.

But you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and Arizona keeps trying to drag the rest of the league down into the gutter. It’s especially infuriating when there appears to be a ready-made solution out there, not unlike what happened in 2011 when Jets 2.0 were born.

This time, it’s another Canadian city with a rich NHL history waiting patiently for another chance to right some wrongs of the past.

Quebec City has the rabid fan-base, the facility and a potential ownership group led by controversial Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau looking to fill a void created when the Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995 and became the Colorado Avalanche.

“Why not? I knew it’s a hockey town. Lots of history in this town. People miss hockey here,” Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin told reporters following a September 2018 exhibition game at the Vidéotron Centre, which opened in 2015 and seats 18,259.

They sure do. Houston and Kansas City have also been cited as potential landing spots for relocation, with the NHL unlikely to expand beyond the current crop of 32 clubs that now includes the Seattle Kraken. But Quebec, for my money, makes the most sense.

It would give the NHL an eighth market north of the border, which would allow for all kinds of intriguing scheduling possibilities. It’s no secret many Canadian owners, including Mark Chipman of the Jets, fell in love with the re-aligned divisional format this past season and pushed for more one-anthem matchups going forward. Although it’s not going to happen in the 2021-22 campaign, the door hasn’t been shut for the future. Bringing back the Nordiques, or whatever they would be called, could be a major boost to those chances.

No doubt the weak Canadian dollar isn’t helping the cause, nor have Péladeau’s political leanings, which may present a big red flag. And it’s worth noting Quebec City submitted an expansion application at the same time as Las Vegas, only to be passed over. They would also be the smallest NHL market, just behind Winnipeg, although the province itself is home to more than eight million people along with the Montreal Canadiens.

Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, a powerful voice who has the ear of Bettman, has previously poured cold water on the notion of adding a second team in La Belle Province by saying Quebec City is “challenged.”

Excuse me? If Quebec City is challenged, then Arizona is downright catatonic at this stage of the game. Get the moving trucks ready. Regardless of which direction they’re headed, it’s time to finally pull the plug and put these long-suffering desert dogs out of their misery.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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