Dose of reality

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

Talk about a cold shower.

Winnipeggers wired up about the imminent return of the NHL got a double-shot of reality Tuesday night, one from a city council meeting in Glendale, Ariz., and another from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in Vancouver.

In Glendale, councillors voted in favour of a plan that would see the city potentially cover the the losses of the Phoenix Coyotes next season if the NHL can’t find a suitable buyer to keep the team in the desert.

The move virtually ensures the Coyotes stay in Arizona at least one more season, and buys time for the NHL, which owns the team, to negotiate a sale with one of two groups: Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf, previously thought to be out of contention, and Ice Edge Holdings, the group thought to have backed off from the deal as recently as Monday night.

Both groups, still very much alive, it turns out, have expressed intentions to keep the team in Arizona for at least five years.

In other words, cool your Jets, Winnipeg.

“There’s been way too much hysteria,” Bettman said in an interview with CBC-TV during the second intermission of the Vancouver/Chicago game Tuesday night. “People didn’t drop out this week. People didn’t get in and drop out. It isn’t as has been depicted the last few days.”

Bettman says both Reinsdorf and Ice Edge were simply waiting for Glendale to provide the NHL with an insurance policy by promising to cover losses.

Now that that agreement is coming, the league expects to negotiate a sale agreement within weeks.

As for Winnipeg’s NHL-ready building and ownership group, Bettman said this: “Nobody has confirmed that’s in Winnipeg for sure. What I will confirm is that over the years we have had an interest expressed in Winnipeg, and that’s great. But we’re not going to address that interest by taking away a franchise from another city.

“If we can fix it in Phoenix, great, and if we can’t fix it then we will look at our options and, obviously, Winnipeg is one of them.”

Bettman said if the Coyotes ever have to move, it would make sense to give “consideration” to the city from where they came.

But that was it.

In fact, both Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly spent far more time waxing poetic about how hockey can still work in the desert.

Daly, at the council meeting, pointed to the Coyotes’ resurgence late this season, with sellout crowds watching the team in the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

“We were able to demonstrate this can be a viable business in Glendale,” Daly told councillors.

“The way the fans embraced the club... this year was a testament to this community’s ability to support this franchise, make it a viable business opportunity. That’s why we remain confident an ownership transaction can happen, and can happen in an expedited basis.

“We continue to support it and its long-term future in Glendale.”

Daly went on to say the NHL could work with both prospective owners and could have a deal consummated within weeks.

Never mind that the Coyotes have lost an average of probably $10-20 million a year since moving 14 years ago.

Bettman pointed to Chicago’s resurgence the last two years as an example of how teams, if properly managed, can thrive.

“These things can be turned around,” the commissioner said. “When a franchise doesn’t ice a competitive team for a long period of time, fans take it out on the team. We’ve seen it before in Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Buffalo and Pittsburgh and those are all examples of teams that are doing quite well now.”

So there you have it.

Time to towel ourselves off and get back to reality.

At least, until the next frenzy.


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