Coyotes' soap opera plot thickens

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:41 PM ET

Gary Bettman may or may not have delivered an ultimatum to the two sides fumbling the Phoenix Coyotes deal.

True North Sports may or may not be on the verge of testing the Winnipeg market.

And Don Cherry tells us to get ready for the return of the Jets.

Just another day at your favourite soap.

And another I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening day for Dave Tippett.

The head coach of the lunch-pail and work-boots Coyotes is trying to gird his team for a run at the talented Detroit Red Wings, and this is the thanks he gets?

The off-ice drama has now become a daily distraction, and this is what the NHL gets for initially setting a New Year’s Eve deadline for a sale of the franchise to Matt Hulsizer, then letting it drag on into April.

On Wednesday, as the Coyotes opened their first-round series against the Wings, the report-du-jour had the team bound for Winnipeg the moment they’re eliminated from the Stanley Cup chase.

“I found it pretty interesting four hours before Game 1 you get a report like that, isn’t it?” Tippett said to reporters in Detroit, Thursday. “That’s interesting, how that just comes out like that. Our guys, we use that as a motivating factor, a galvanizing factor.”

I don’t know if Tippett is suggesting there’s a conspiracy out there, orchestrated by the Red Wings to sap the focus from his ’Yotes.

More likely, he’s simply throwing his hands up in disbelief, having fended off bankruptcy and relocation talk for a year and a half and somehow coaxing his team into the playoffs, despite it, the last two Aprils.

What Tippett did this season is particularly remarkable, considering the circus around the franchise was in full clown mode all year — would-be owners coming and going, threats of lawsuits flying like pucks at power-play practice, even an appearance by Senator John McCain.

“We’ve been a pretty resilient group through the whole season,” Tippett said. “There’s been a lot of things thrown at us that guys kind of chuckle at.”

And now this, a flurry of rumours and anonymously sourced reports fit for a presidential scandal.

The latest: apparently, NHL commish Gary Bettman might have issued an ultimatum to the city of Glendale and Hulsizer.

What a novel concept.

This deal isn’t just past its best-before date. It’s begun to curdle.

Bettman is obviously getting closer every day to yanking it off the refrigerator shelf and dumping it down the drain.

And the moment he does, our own True North Sports springs into action.

Top dog Mark Chipman continues to maintain his silence, but I’ve said for years that True North will probably ask for multiyear season-ticket commitments before it writes a cheque for as much as $170 million for a franchise.

“That’ll be a very interesting exercise to go through,” Chipman told me, way back in early ’05. “If everything else lined up ... you could probably put it to the community and find out pretty quick whether or not that would fly.”

Well, everything else is lining up.

Which will do nothing for the Coyotes’ chances against the Wings.

You have to wonder if maybe some of the odour has finally wafted under their dressing room door.

Because they opened Round 1 with a no-hitter, a 4-2 loss that did nothing to convince anyone this is going to be a long series.

“What happens in the business world of hockey is inconsequential to us right now,” Tippett said. “We’re concerned about what we have to do to get back on track, winning Game 2.”

That’s easier said than done, when you may, or may not, be moving to Winnipeg this summer.


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