GLENDALE — Hell no, the Phoenix Coyotes don’t want to go.
As the talk swirls about the Coyotes ownership mess reaching a point of no return and moving vans to be lined up to return the team back to Winnipeg, the players are adamant they’d rather not pack their skates.
But they’re quick to point out they have nothing against Winnipeg.
“If I’d been in Winnipeg for 15 years and my family had been there and they told me we had to move, it would be the same thing. People don’t like being told they have to move,” insisted captain Shane Doan, whose career started while the franchise was the Jets. “It’s why people don’t like being traded. When you sign as a free agent, it’s different. You make a choice. When you get traded, it seems harder to deal with. So when you’re told you have to move and been in a place a long time, it’s going to affect you.”
The skeptic would assume the resistance boils down to those warm Arizona winters compared to Winnipeg’s chilly Decembers.
Not true was the retort repeated as the club readied to play the Calgary Flames Thursday night.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re going to Vegas, Hawaii, you could name a million places and guys just don’t want to pick up and move,” maintained Adrian Aucoin. “That’s just the way it is. When you sign somewhere, especially as a free agent, you sign somewhere because you want to be there. You never really think the prospect of moving is going to be a possibility.”
Outspoken Paul Bissonnette earlier this week was quoted as saying he wouldn’t mind moving to Winnipeg because the team would be in the spotlight and the girls in the Manitoba capital were “hot.”
Bissonnette stepped back a bit from that assertion Thursday.
“The question was, ‘If your team had to move to Winnipeg.’ I play here and support staying here,” he said. “What wasn’t put in the paper was the question, ‘If you had to’. I’m not going to belittle Winnipeg, playing in Canada would be fun. But this is my main focus, I want to stay here. Right now, we focus on this, and if we go, we go.”
Going is a possibility.
The Coyotes seemingly never-ending sale to Matthew Hulsizer — which originally had a Dec. 31 deadline — appears no closer, with a US$110-million bond sale to seal the deal facing a variety or hurdles.
Which has the Coyotes, who are in a dogfight for a playoff spot, on alert at a critical juncture of the season.
“We’re doing our best just not to think about it,” Doan said. “That’s the only way we can handle it. You can say you want closure, but that’s not going to happen (right away), so it’s not worth worrying about or saying, ‘We wish it would get done.’ You just have to deal with it.”
They may not have a choice, although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman earlier this week met with a handful of players to reiterate the league’s stance of keeping the team in Arizona.
“He’s pretty much stated that he’s working his butt off. They’re doing everything they can,” Aucoin said. “He has no guarantees either. That’s kind of depressing a bit, because it’s just dragging it out. But it is what it is. Literally, things haven’t changed in the last two years, but it seems like it’s drawn out and more on the frontburner now.”
Ultimately, the players are pulling for Hulsizer’s deal to pan out.
“It seems like this guy is really committed,” Aucoin said. “It seemed like the other guys were just hanging around hoping to get something done. But this Hulsizer, he has pounded the pavement really hard. I’ve met him, and he seems like a genuine guy.
“At times like this when the economy is so bad, it’s really neat to when you have someone who is trying to work something like this. That’s what makes it so unfortunate, because he’s really stepping up to the plate. But as players, there’s nothing you can do really.”