Why Phoenix Should Stay

PhoenixIt’s no secret the Phoenix Coyotes are the laughing stock of the National Hockey League.  From the free ticket giveaways to the city of Glendale actually putting up $25 million to fund the already guaranteed losses for next season, the Coyotes haven’t exactly been the model of success since they relocated from Winnipeg in 1996.

Most pundits and experts have claimed it’s only a matter of time until the Phoenix Coyotes pull up roots and move to destinations unknown.  Originally, it was widely speculated that the Phoenix franchise would return to its roots, moving north to once again become the Winnipeg Jets.  The sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to True North has scuttled that belief, and while few could blame the NHL for moving the team to Winnipeg when the opportunity first arose, it didn’t happen.  From that blackberry dude to the Chicago sports mogul, potential owners came and potential owners went.  None stuck.  When an owner showed up that wanted to keep the team in Phoenix, the Goldwater Institute got involved (and rightfully so) and blocked the sale.

It’s not a good time to be a Coyotes fan.

Now, let’s put aside all Gary Bettman bias for a moment.  Blame whoever you want to the Coyotes’ troubles in your own minds, the fact remains that Phoenix could still be a lucrative market for the NHL.  Let’s be honest; a poor product on the ice, coupled with lack of good ownership off the ice, have teamed to make a franchise that no one wants, no one sees staying, and no one wants to support.

With the pending relocation of the Atlanta team, one would now make the argument that the time is now to move the Phoenix club north of the border.  The three day sale of 13,000 season tickets in Winnipeg shows that we Canucks in Canada love our hockey, and will pay top dollar for it.  Quebec City seems to be next in line for a franchise, but arena troubles have slowed that process.

The Phoenix Coyotes should stay in Phoenix.

I’m not a comedian, but I can hear the laughs now.  A Canadian wants to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in a failing market?  I can see the comic element on the surface, but let’s be serious.  A thriving team in Phoenix could grow our game like never before.  Cities like Los Angeles and San Jose have embraced their NHL teams, and have been rewarded with some measure of success.  Nashville is starting to embrace the Predators.  Carolina was hopping during the Hurricanes’ two marches to the Finals in 2002 and 2006.  Even Florida was insane with hockey when the Panthers reached the Finals in 1996.  Hockey in the south can thrive and survive, but one common denominator needs to be met:

Sustained on-ice success remains a crucial element to support hockey in the southern USA.

Duh…I know I sound like Captain Obvious when I say that, but it is true.  All sports fans love a winner.  To build a winner, an NHL general manager needs success at both the free agent pool and the entry draft table.  The Phoenix team has enjoyed two seasons of regular season success followed up by two first round losses to the Detroit Red Wings.  The NHL needs to appoint someone…anyone…to handle the hockey affairs of this team and allow them to build a winner using conventional hockey methods.  Trades, free agency, and the draft all need to be handled by someone independent of the NHL (mind you, the NHL will always have some say, they own the freakin’ team right now), much like Mario Lemieux allowed someone else to handle the workings of the Penguins when he was an owner/player.  Someone needs to take the bull by the horns and build a winner even in the midst of this uncertain time…the recipe for success isn’t hard to figure out.  Any paying customer wants to know that their money will go to a winning cause…in this case, the Phoenix fans will come if the team shows some measure of dedication to building a winner while the team goes through its ownership woes.

The team needs to make its mark in Arizona.  Our great game needs to be grown.  Year after year of mediocre product followed by three or more years of ownership woes has eroded the interest of the average hockey fan in Phoenix.  No one wants to watch a team whose ownership shows almost zero interest in reaching out to the ones who matter most–the average fan.  No fan wants to watch a team whose future is so uncertain, they’re not sure from one season to the next if they will even stay in their city.  What the NHL needs to do is make a statement that includes a deadline.  For example, the NHL should guarantee five years of NHL hockey in Phoenix, with no threat of relocation, and work on building a winner.  If after five years, even with a winning team and marketing designed specifically for the fans of all ages, then steps should be made to relocate.  But a deadline needs to be set and the fans need to be made aware of what exactly will happen with fan support, and without.

Phoenix can survive.  It will take some time and effort, not to mention money, but if the NHL is serious about keeping the team in Arizona, it is a small price to pay.

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