Coyotes hand grenade

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:04 AM ET

Sure, it appears to be awfully quiet down in Phoenix.

But if you listen closely, you might hear the sound of gears grinding in the brains of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his closest advisers.

Because that no-win situation involving the Coyotes is going to demand some gut-wrenching decisions involving tens of millions of dollars.

If the desperate and doomed deal with Matt Hulsizer to keep the team in Arizona has, in fact, taken its last breath, then that morsel of information becomes a hand grenade the league will have to carry around for a while.

How long?

How about until April 9, the day after Phoenix plays its last home game of the regular season? Or maybe even later than that, if the Coyotes make the playoffs.

With the team in a mad scramble for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, thatís going to be one fascinating race to watch.

Because publicly acknowledging the Coyotes are leaving, with games still to play at the Jobing.com Arena, would crater any efforts to sell tickets down the stretch or even in the post-season.

Remember that last lame-duck Jets season? A lame Coyote would be worse.

We in Winnipeg may have continued to show up to pay our last respects, but I canít see the average Arizonian doing the same.

And you know what thatís going to mean: an even bigger financial hit.

Remember, the City of Glendale agreed to cover losses of up to $25 million this season, giving it time to find a buyer after potential deals with Jerry Reinsdorf and Ice Edge Holdings fell through.

Hulsizer agreed to pick up this seasonís losses, but thatís only if he takes over the team. If heís out of the picture, Glendaleís back on the hook, and wonít that go over well with the folks at the Goldwater Institute.

But thereís more.

The Coyotes, 29th in attendance with an average announced crowd of less than 12,000, are reportedly on track to lose $40 million this season.

That leaves a nice little $15 million for the teamís current owner, the NHL, to pick up ó a number that will only grow if attendance goes completely into the tank.

So Bettman has to keep whistling his way through this graveyard, avoid microphones at all cost and hope nobody leaks the inevitable conclusion, or heíll have the other 29 owners demanding to know why he pulled the pin on the grenade, forcing them all to write a bigger cheque.

At the same time, Bettman canít leave Winnipegís True North Sports twisting in the wind for too long, assuming thatís whose hands heíll eventually want the franchise in.

So this whole mess will quickly go from a desperate salvage attempt to damage control.

And just to throw another crazy idea out there: considering money does, indeed, make the NHLís world go íround, could the man who runs it decide heíd like one or two more groups to bid for the franchise?

Or does he have a formal enough agreement with True North that heíll feel obliged to honour?

As usual, more questions than answers in this sordid affair.

But not too much longer to ponder them.

We hope.


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