After a 20-year-long circus of financial instability, weak fan support and arena uncertainty, it appears the NHL is down to its last breathe with the flailing Arizona Coyotes franchise.
In a three-page letter sent to state Senate President Steve Yarbrough on Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman threatened to move the struggling club to a different part of Arizona if $225 million in public funding for a new arena in Downtown Phoenix isn't approved. The note from Bettman is a last-ditch attempt to get SB-1149 passed, a proposed public funding bill that would provide money for the Coyotes' new arena, but doesn't currently have enough support to pass.
"The Arizona Coyotes must have a new arena location to succeed. The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale," Bettman wrote.
Arizona Coyotes majority owner Andrew Barroway doubled-down on the commissioner's sentiments by issuing a statement of his own on Tuesday regarding Glendale and the improbability of the Coyotes' survival in Arizona without funding for a new arena.
"As Commissioner Bettman made clear in his letter to legislators, the Arizona Coyotes Hockey Club cannot survive in Glendale. The Glendale location is wrong—both geographically and economically.
"Over the past 15 years, different ownership groups, including the National Hockey League itself, have worked arm in arm with the NHL office and officials to explore every possible option to make Glendale and its arena work as the Coyotes' home. The bottom line remains the same: the team's owners continue to lose tens of millions of dollars annually," Barroway wrote.
In an attempt to justify the value of the Coyotes franchise to the Greater Phoenix Area, the commissioner also noted that though it's providing nearly a quarter-billion dollars in funding, Senate Bill 1149 would avoid putting taxpayer money at risk since construction contracts would be paid using part of the taxes generated by the new development, while making reference to a study that concluded a new arena and accompanying business district in the east Phoenix suburbs would generate nearly 3,000 permanent jobs when all is said and done.
Bettman's aggressively honest statements on the viability of the Coyotes franchise in Glendale represents a major shift in philosophy for a league that's been, beyond all reasonable explanation, desperate to keep an NHL franchise in the desert. Bettman has been adamant for more than a decade that the franchise can succeed in Arizona, even taking over temporary ownership of the team in 2009 when prior owner Jerry Moyes filed for bankruptcy and tried to sell the club to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie—who wanted to move the Coyotes to Southern Ontario.
Bettman said Wednesday that the purpose of his letter to the state senate was to "counter the lobbying" he believes Glendale has been doing with several senators in the Phoenix area.
"I believe the city of Glendale was lobbying, saying if the other municipalities, the senators from those municipalities don't approve it, then the team will have to stay in Glendale," said Bettman, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.
"That's not going to be the case. The team has got a number of options and is going to pursue them, so nobody should think that team is moving—other than out of Glendale."
The city of Glendale has done its part in trying to keep the team, reportedly paying the NHL more than $50 million to cover the Coyotes' large operating losses from 2010-13. The city later awarded an annual $15 million arena management fee to the Coyotes, but terminated that contract after an emergency city council meeting in 2015.
It's been quite the shitshow since that near-fatal fallout with the city of Glendale. In July 2015, Glendale city council approved a temporary two-year lease agreement which guarantees the team to stay until the end of the 2017-18 season. As the team searched desperately for a new permanent home, it signed a deal with Arizona State University to build a joint arena in Tempe, Arizona, in 2016, but the school pulled out of the deal in February—once again leaving the NHL franchise without a roof over its head.
The NHL's tumultuous tenure in the desert just keeps rolling on.