by PuckStopsHere on 04/01/13 at 04:31 PM ET
In a little over a month it will be four years since the Phoenix Coyotes declared bankruptcy. The NHL blocked a relocation effort to Hamilton under Jim Balsille and the NHL bought them out of bankruptcy to control their future sale. The problem is there hasn't been a future sale.
It should be clear by now that a team in Phoenix (or more accurately Glendale, Arizona) won't make money. It has been a huge money pit for the NHL. The city of Glendale and the NHL as a whole have been pouring money into it with no end in sight without relocation. Whenever things look hopeless and the media starts to seriously consider relocation, the NHL trots out another potential owner who is said to be really close to a deal that they never close. Since the team cannot make money in its present situation the idea is to negotiate with the city of Glendale and to use tax breaks to make up for losses. The idea is to set up a scheme where losses are covered by the public and profits go to the new owners. It is unlikely that anyone would be willing to let such a scenario exist.
The most recent set of potential owners the NHL has trotted out is a man named Darrin Pastor, a Buffalo area financial advisor. He claims to have a group of thirty advisors (unnamed at this point) who control $450 million. He is largely an unknown quantity and there is speculation that he is looking for publicity with a public almost sale and has no interest or means to actually control an NHL team.
This comes days after announcing that Alberta investment banker George Gosbee is kicking the tires. He is more likely capable of running the team but demands a sweetheart deal from the city of Glendale before he would consider completing a purchase.
None of this looks promising. It is quite unlikely that the Phoenix Coyotes will not sell anytime soon. Thus relocation is the only viable option. Ideally the team should have been relocated years ago and it is a black mark on the NHL that this situation has been drawn out as long as it has.
Should Phoenix relocated before next season it would put a damper on the current realignment scheme. The idea is to split the NHL into four divisions. The westernmost two would be seven teams big and the eastern ones eight teams big. There would be uneven conferences with fourteen teams in the west and sixteen in the east. This scheme clearly implies two expansion teams would join the west to even out the conferences. It is largely the result of a process where nobody is looking out for the good of the NHL and everyone is only looking out for their own good. More teams want to go east? Let them. Assuming an expansion, leading candidate locations would be Southern Ontario and Quebec City and neither of them would be west teams. Does this mean that a next round of unneeded expansion would necessarily exclude them?
Some form of realignment is necessary since Atlanta moved to Winnipeg. Keeping Winnipeg in the Southeast Division is beyond silly. However setting up uneven divisions and conferences where one of the western teams may have to be relocated before the first game in the new scheme is played is not much better. Phoenix is to be part of a seven team western division. If Phoenix moves they have to remain in the west for the scheme to make sense. I see four potential locations for the Coyotes to relocate. Seattle would work. Kansas City, Quebec City and Southern Ontario do not. It makes no sense to relocate a team for a realignment scheme. You relocate to the most viable financial situation, which probably isn't Seattle.
Assuming that Seattle becomes the new location of the Coyotes, in order to keep the realignment scheme alive, the NHL needs two expansion teams that fall into the two westernmost divisions. Quebec City and Southern Ontario may be the most viable markets but they do not fit. Kansas City could fit into a central division. A western team would have to be forced into Portland or perhaps Las Vegas despite the fact that no serious ownership group exists in either city and no arena exists in Las Vegas. Essentially we have a relocation scheme which should require changes before the first puck drops under it assuming the NHL does the sensible thing for business (that is a poor assumption regarding Phoenix if we look into the recent past). That is a crazy thing to even consider in an intelligent league.
Let me try my hand with a realignment scheme. I will accept four divisions meaning two divisions will have seven teams and two will have eight but I will keep even sized conferences of fifteen teams each. This scheme is robust enough that Phoenix can relocate without it breaking.
Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal
San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Dallas, Colorado, Minnesota, St Louis
Boston, Buffalo, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Washington, Nashville, Columbus, Detroit, Chicago
For the most part teams wind up in divisions that they would like to be in. Should Phoenix move to Seattle or Kansas City they will remain in the western division and numbers in each division remain unchanged. Should Phoenix move to a Canadian location (Quebec City, Southern Ontario) that would make the Canadian division an eight team division and the western division a seven team division but it would leave the conference with fifteen teams.
I think this is a better scheme overall. It increases the rivalry between Canadian teams and guarantees a division winner from Canada. It allows Detroit, Columbus, Nashville and Chicago to move east. It reduces the isolation of the Florida teams that exist in the new NHL scheme. I think the most unhappy team would probably be St Louis since they lose their traditional rivals but should Phoenix move into Kansas City they have a new logical rival.
At any rate it is clear that the Phoenix situation has been carried on too long. It should have been ended years ago and needs to be ended with relocation this summer. The problem with that relocation is that it will ruin the NHL's realignment scheme before it even begins. I have suggested a realignment scheme that may be more viable.
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