Call it the Showdown in the Desert. Or, perhaps, the Coyotes Last Stand.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman flew down to Glendale, Ariz., Tuesday in a desperate attempt to save big-league hockey in a big-league market that over the years has provided minor-league support to a team suffering major-league mismanagement.
The sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to Chicago businessman Matt Hulsizer hanging by a thread, it wasn't a happy commissioner who addressed reporters before the Coyotes/Canucks game, Tuesday night.
"Time is running out. We're getting close to the end," a grim Bettman said.
But the man who allowed the Jets to leave Winnipeg stopped short of saying this rollercoaster ride appears destined to stop where it started, 15 years ago.
"We have options," Bettman said. "But I'm not going to discuss what those options are. The options we're going to continue to pursue are here. We are obviously aware of the interest in Winnipeg. We are greatly appreciative of that interest, but I don't want to say or do anything that raises expectations. I don't think that's fair.
"We're not giving up."
And he didn't mind taking direct aim at the Goldwater Institute, the Arizona taxpayer watchdog group whose threats of a lawsuit have derailed a publicly funded deal that would see Hulsizer buy the franchise from the NHL for a reported $170 million, $100 million of which would be fronted by a City of Glendale bond sale.
"But for one thing, we'd be done," Bettman said. "I don't know why they sent letters to prospective investors, trying to chill the marketplace. They haven't sued, which is fascinating. All they've done is sat back and said, ÔWe're thinking, we believe, we might.' It's kind of interesting they haven't been put to proof."
Asked if this was a staring contest with Goldwater, and if the NHL had just blinked, Bettman flashed his competitive fire.
"We're not in a staring contest with anyone," he shot back. "There's no blinking going on here. The blinking would be if I set a deadline. Because then Goldwater would just have to tough it up until the deadline. But I'm not going to set one right now. We're going to hang in there. That's not a blink."
But this looked like a desperate man, resigned to the fact his southern house of cards, propped up for so long on inflated attendance figures, was finally coming down.
Earlier reports of a potentially reworked deal that would see all the parties give a little appear to have been erroneous.
Hulsizer told one media outlet he shouldn't have to pay a dollar more than the $70 million he's reportedly committed, a quote that says everything about the real value of a pro hockey franchise in cactus country.
And it doesn't sound like Bettman is prepared to budge from his asking price.
"The deals have been struck," he said. "And there's only one thing left to do: to close them."
That leaves the puck on the stick of Glendale, and its delusional and desperate mayor Elaine Scruggs, who's never met a good dollar she wouldn't mind flushing after 180 million bad ones.
But even Scruggs has to admit the game's up. She can't pump more money in without council approval, and there simply isn't time. Besides, Goldwater won't have it. And those bonds aren't selling.
How much time Glendale and Hulsizer will even spend trying to come up with an 11th-hour solution, who knows?
We do know Bettman isn't long for Glendale Ñ he's scheduled to appear before a U.S. Congressional Hockey Caucus in Washington, D.C., Thursday, then join the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks at the White House, Friday.
So unless the President can save the Coyotes, it should be over in Phoenix.
With Winnipeg as the only option.
Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 632-2788.