Go Jets Go

In this, the second installation of “Go Jets Go,” our aim shifts from the hockey landscape of Winnipeg to the ever-changing situation surrounding one of the most intriguing franchises currently on the brink of sale or relocation. Formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets, the Phoenix Coyotes are currently owned and operated by the NHL and have been playing out of Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona since 2003.

For this article, I was originally planning to outline the current problems facing Glendale in detail. I was going to include a brief history of the franchise in Arizona and how certain Glendale city councillors have created this precarious situation themselves by using tax dollars to build the new hockey arena, all in an effort to extract the Coyotes out of downtown Phoenix where they shared the America West Arena with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. But then something changed.

At this juncture, it appears the only way the team will be kept in the desert is through the completion of a potentially illegal — at least according to a conservative watchdog group who is threatening litigation — deal, which requires the city to sell $100 million in bonds (at an interest rate that could be realistically paid off solely through the use of parking fees at Jobing.com arena) that would help prospective owner Matt Hulsizer buy the team from the NHL.

As the calendar turned over to March and the deal in the desert continued to drag out, however, something happened that made me rethink telling the Coyotes saga. The mainstream media finally began to take notice and ask their own questions and, more importantly, the media in Arizona started to ask questions that many who had been following the unfolding drama had been asking themselves for the past several months.

The Canadian sports media, however biased their opinion may be, has generally contended that hockey in Phoenix and other southern markets has simply not worked out the way NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had hoped. Don Cherry, perhaps best known for creating controversy (all while wearing outlandish suits) during his Coach’s Corner segment on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, has been one of the most vocal supporters for the NHL’s return to the ’Peg. During the NHL Heritage Classic on Feb. 20, 2011, Cherry actually guaranteed the people of Winnipeg an NHL franchise in the near future.

But Don Cherry’s rant would only be a warning sign of a much larger storm of speculation that was just on the horizon. Thanks in large part to the hard-nosed stance by conservative watchdog group the Goldwater Institute, the bonds sale appears doomed to fail, which would leave the NHL in a dangerous position. If the deal drags out any longer, there’s a strong possibility that a deal between the city of Glendale and Matt Hulsizer will not be finalized, which would likely leave the NHL with the franchise for another season as negotiations drag on throughout the summer like last year.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the future of the franchise, it appears that the mainstream media has finally taken notice. TSN.ca has set up an entire section on their website dedicated to the potential relocation of an NHL franchise to Winnipeg, including the “Jets Meter,” a similar graphic to the meter that has been around for years on JetsOwner.com. TSN NHL analysts Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie have both chirped up with more optimism than ever before regarding Winnipeg’s chances, with Dreger specifically speculating in his most recent column on that “the NHL may find out as early as [this] week whether or not the sale of the Coyotes to Matt Hulsizer is going through.”

Meanwhile, ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside have both weighed in on the Phoenix situation, with Burnside revealing that sources indicate the City of Glendale is preparing to launch a lawsuit against the Goldwater Institute, alleging that its attempt to block the deal may cost the city several million dollars in revenue, taxes and jobs that will be lost if the Coyotes leave town.

The lawsuit is just the latest in a series of recent attempts by the city to get the Goldwater Institute to back down. Last Thursday, Mayor Elaine Scruggs held a non-televised press conference in which she stated the group has “significantly hindered” the progress of the sale, and urged them to step down. One has to think that some late breaking news reported of the NHL potentially raising the Coyote’s price by $40 million to account for this season’s losses might be the final nail in the coffin for the Coyotes.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned while following this mess in the desert, it’s that just when you think it might be over, it isn’t.