WINNIPEG - I don’t know if you believe in hockey gods, but sometimes you just have to wonder about the existence of a higher puck power.
For 15 years the Phoenix Coyotes either didn’t make the Stanley Cup Playoffs or they flamed out in the first round.
This desert dog’s breakfast of underachievement, of course, came after the ’Yotes broke hearts here, pulling up stakes after a similar period of time as the Winnipeg Jets.
Any self-respecting ’Pegger knew it was blasphemy to declare Arizona a hotter hockey hotbed than Manitoba, but what could we do about it?
Turned out we didn’t have to.
Because coincidentally, or maybe not, the Coyotes have been cursed ever since, not only with the Jinx of the Jets in the playoffs, but also with an off-ice fiasco that’s made Wile E. Coyote’s eternally futile chase of the Roadrunner look believable.
From ownership changes to the debacle of a decision to build a new arena out in no-man’s land (a.k.a. Glendale) to the disastrous head coaching stint by Wayne Gretzky, the failure in Phoenix has been a Great One, all right.
But the Gong Show that’s been going on over the last few years has made even all that pale in comparison.
This past weekend marked three years since owner Jerry Moyes plunged the franchise into bankruptcy, one of his shifty eyes set on a backroom sale to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie. BlackBerry Jim planned to move it, lock, stock and Shane Doan, to Hamilton.
Delivering a face wash to Moyes and a well-aimed elbow to the jaw of Balsillie, the NHL stepped in, bought the team and made it clear who was the enforcer to beat in this bankruptcy brawl.
Ever since, it’s been the poor taxpayer of Glendale taking the punches, covering $25 million per season in losses while the NHL takes its sweet time finding the perfect new owner, aka, the one rich guy who thinks hockey can work in Arizona.
It can’t, of course, not without huge taxpayer subsidies. The latest plan reported would see Glendale prop up prospective owner Greg Jamison to the tune of some $16 million per year for 30 years.
But here’s the kicker: it seems this latest tentative agreement might actually go through. The majority of Glendale councillors, still backed against a wall of debt on the arena, seem ready to support it, the Goldwater Institute be damned.
Meanwhile, on the ice, the Coyotes have not only shed the curse of the Jets and won a playoff round, they were on the verge of winning a second and reaching the conference final, Monday night.
All this in the same year preparation met opportunity, not to mention a multibillionaire, allowing Winnipeg to regain its place in the NHL.
Or else there’s a force working to ensure these things happen the way they’re supposed to.
Maybe after all the losses — the millions of dollars, the legal battles and the games — the desert debt is paid. The folly forgiven, if not forgotten.
With all ties to the Jets now cut, give or take a few lines in the record books and some retired jersey numbers in the rafters of the Jobing.com Arena, the Coyotes can begin anew, unfettered by their past.
Like the one tree that manages to grow where nothing else will, perhaps hockey will survive in the desert, in some financially twisted form.
Regardless, any Jets fans who were still hanging onto a history gone south have moved on, their affections now targeting an Atlanta team moved north.
And if all that isn’t miracle enough to make you believe, take a look back at what’s happened to BlackBerry Jim, scorched like Sodom or Gomorrah since his NHL strikeout.
The hockey gods can not only be cruel.
They apparently even have some pull on the stock market.