Defiance, denial mark Coyotes last stand

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:08 PM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If this is, indeed, the Phoenix Coyotes last stand in the desert, it began under a backdrop of defiance, denial and, yes, a touch of deja vu.

A Familiar Uneasiness was the ominous headline smack dab on the front page of Monday's Arizona Republic, where the shaky future of the franchise was laid bare in a detailed report that spilled onto, and took over half of, Page 6.

It's the second straight year the team has squared off against Detroit in the first round of the playoffs while those determining its future square off in the boardroom.

There was defiance, in the form of a full house at Jobing.com Arena for Game 3 Monday night. If fans weren't wearing white when they walked in, they found a T-shirt draped over their seat. Free, of course.

There was defiance from Coyotes players, coaches and management, who refuse to give in to the notion that elimination will be followed quickly by relocation.

"We know hockey works in Arizona," GM Don Maloney told the Republic. "We have to prove it."

And there's denial, still front and centre in some corners, where the threat of relocation is nothing but the product of vivid imaginations from the Great Reviled North.

"Teams don't move to Canada -- they escape its icy bowels," wrote Cory Williams at Arizona.sbnation.com, calling the Winnipeg conjecture "poor sportsmanship from desperate Canadian hockey fans."

It's been two years now since former Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes snuck his team into bankruptcy proceedings, just as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was arriving in Phoenix to broker a sale to Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf.

Moyes planned to unload it out the back door, for a lot more money, to brash Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, whose BlackBerry obviously doesn't come with a lesson in ethics.

What's ensued has been part backroom power struggle, part public soap opera, with would-be buyers moving in and out of the picture like apparitions in the night and public officials putting on clown shoes to argue something they clearly know little about.

Who'll soon forget Glendale city councillor Phil Lieberman vowing to kill a plan to cover $25 million of the team's losses this season, then changing his mind when a seven-year-old boy showed up at council with an oversized Shane Doan jersey draped over his shoulders, begging the grownups to save his hockey team?

Glendale now wants to front Matt Hulsizer $100 million of the purchase price, meaning that little boy would be paying for his Coyotes for a long time, whether he attends games or not.

The deal immediately drew the concern of the Goldwater Institute, that heartless group of ideologues who patrol Arizona's right wing, and who value taxpayer protection over emotional attachment to team colours.

Goldwater vowed to sue if the city proceeded with its hair-brained bond scheme, and the mere threat has scared off investors.

And here we are, four months after Bettman wanted this thing put to bed, still being kept up by it.

But like the parent who feeds their child Coke and chocolate before tucking him in, the NHL has nobody to blame but itself.

No wonder the kid has thrown off the covers and done his best Tasmanian Devil impersonation. That the league even wants Glendale to sleep in this bed speaks to its desperation.

This is a square puck trying to find a round five-hole.

Hockey in Phoenix may not have been sunk from the start, but it's been blowing holes in its own hull for eight years now, beginning with a move to faraway Glendale that, you guessed it, was precipitated by a taxpayer funded arena that should never have been built where it is.

Last stand in the desert?

More like one final wobble.


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