Sun sets on Desert Dogs

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

So you want to throw a party at news of the demise of the Phoenix Coyotes?

Go ahead, knock yourself out -- put on your old Winnipeg Jets jersey and dance on their grave, if you like.

It's not like we didn't expect this to happen, eventually.

After a dozen years in the Arizona desert, just four years short of the time we had the NHL franchise, the Coyotes appear to have succumbed to a deadly combination of bad management, worse ownership, a withering economy and fan indifference.

Third attempt

Owner Jerry Moyes, the last of a handful of rich, but delusional, men to hold the leash on the desert dogs has, in effect, decided to put the creature out of its misery, filing for bankruptcy.

Waiting in the wings, eager to take the mutt back home to Canada, where he's convinced its offspring will flourish, is BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie, making his third attempt at the NHL's version of pet rescue.

Once again, the NHL's top dog, Gary Bettman, is trying to block the deal, hoping, understandably, to keep order in the kennel.

But you get the feeling this is it. That a franchise which hasn't moved past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 22 years is about to make its second cross-border move.

As poor as the Coyotes have been on the ice, they've managed to be more inept off it, losing some $30 million, or more, each of the last few years.

Which just goes to show, the more things change, the more they stay the same: in the Jets' last season here, the team lost $25 million.

The people running the Coyotes have made one disastrous decision after another, originally moving from the Winnipeg Arena into a dysfunctional basketball rink, almost moving to Portland, building a new arena and signing a 30-year lease way out in Glendale, Ariz., hiring Wayne Gretzky as head coach and, last but not least, continuing to suck on the ice.

So what does it all mean for those who've been waiting for the NHL to see the error of its ways and come running back to Winnipeg?

Not much, yet.

I suppose we've finally seen a first step: a southern U.S. team actually waving the white flag.

But at this rate, we'll be waiting another 50 years before we run that "Winnipeg: Home of the NHL" banner up the pole again.

The main problem: there's still somebody willing to pay $200 million-plus for a franchise.

Proving the recession is extremely selective when choosing its victims, Balsillie is ready to write a cheque for $212.5 million US for the Coyotes.

This comes after the Edmonton Oilers were sold for a reported $200 million last year, the Nashville Predators for $193 million, the Minnesota Wild for $260 million.

Cut that in half, and you might be talking a language Manitoba Moose owner Mark Chipman can begin to understand.

As the head of True North Sports and Entertainment, which controls the downtown arena, Chipman would play the lead role in any possible acquisition of a franchise. He also has the ear of the NHL.

But his lips remain firmly closed on the Coyotes issue, taking the polar opposite approach to Balsillie, partly because that's the way the NHL would prefer he rolls, and partly because that's his style.

Chipman has made it clear in the past, though, he's not in a guy like Balsillie's neighbourhood.

He also told us, just recently, that True North's hockey business is doing just fine, turning enough of a profit, in fact, to pay AHL star Jason Krog $600,000 this season.

He's certainly not going to turn a moneymaking venture into a sinkhole of debt simply so he can rub shoulders with NHL types.

So until the bottom falls out of the NHL's southern market altogether -- three or four teams going belly-up, thereby driving the price down -- we'll have to settle for toasting the demise of the most lowly of them all.


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