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While Coyotes focus on hockey, speculation over potential Winnipeg move grows intense

Apr 15, 2011, 11:51 AM EDT

Ray Whitney, Eric Belanger, Shane Doan Getty Images

Life as a Phoenix Coyote is pretty trying. The team has their hands full in dealing with a Detroit Red Wings team in the playoffs that looked all sorts of tough in Game 1 as the Wings took it 4-2. As things go these days for the Coyotes, half of what gets discussed about them comes off of the ice with regard to their in limbo status with ownership. The NHL still owns the team and time is ticking away for potential buyer Matthew Hulsizer to get a deal done to purchase the moribund Coyotes.

While the team is rumored to be getting closer to a decision being made, rumblings out of Winnipeg are growing louder that they’re soon to be in the serious planning stages of preparing to get back the franchise that left them 15 years ago. Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gary Lawless shares that the True North Sports and Entertainment group that would be the buyers for the Coyotes should Hulsizer’s deal fall through is preparing to start a campaign to sell season tickets for the returned NHL franchise.

A Winnipeg franchise is not a guaranteed economic success in the minds of many NHL types and it’s a certainty the league’s board of governors will tell True North, should they get to the point where they are prepared to relocate to Winnipeg, to go to its constituents and ask for a vote of confidence.

Such a cash call could come as early as next week.

True North, in order to satisfy the board of governors, will likely ask Winnipeggers to commit to purchasing season tickets for a minimum of three seasons.

It’s unknown how long the community will have to respond but count on a week to sell the vast majority of the MTS Centre’s 15,000 seats.

Before you get too excited about this, remember that Jim Balsillie also started to sell season tickets in Hamilton, Ontario when he thought he was about to land the Coyotes. Of course, that scenario is a bit different in that Balsillie ignored everything the NHL was trying to do in questioning his attempted purchase of the team. This time around, David Thomson’s True North group would seemingly be still playing by the rules and trying to prove something to the NHL in that Winnipeg is ready to have a team once again.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News says that a deal is a lot closer to being done with Winnipeg than not. As with all things having to do with reports on sales being imminent, take it with a grain of salt because nothing is ever as clear as it might read and you can never discount the possibility of a last minute Hail Mary coming through for Gary Bettman and the NHL. As it is, Campbell’s report looks like something we’ve read before and says that a potential deal would be announced between the end of the Stanley Cup final and the NHL Draft.

According to the source, the deal calls for the Coyotes to be sold to True North Sports and Entertainment for $140 million. It’s believed the deal will be announced at something north of $200 million, but that includes more than $60 million in renovations to add 2,500 seats to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

The source said the deal has not been signed, but there is a memorandum of agreement in place and that the deal will be signed when the NHL’s deal with Hulsizer officially dies.

Sources and insider takes on these things are what they are but with the way the chatter has inconveniently picked up just as the playoffs have started, the flashbacks for how the Winnipeg Jets initially left Canada  are starting to become a bit too surreal. In 1996, the Jets final game was played at home in Winnipeg as the Jets were bounced from the playoffs by none other than the Red Wings.

Should things break down the way it’s being said that it will the coincidences and the sadness that will be felt in Phoenix and Glendale will be all too similar and under the circumstances it’s a tragic story not just for the fans but for the city itself. Glendale has invested a lot of money in the area, the team, and the arena and to see it possibly go away for colder climes will be a bitter pill to swallow for the residents of Glendale who will be paying for an empty arena for years to come.

This isn’t the last we’ll hear of all this for sure, but the bell is beginning to toll on the Coyotes days in Arizona.

  1. theolgoaler - Apr 15, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    So where do the Atlanta Thrashers relocate? Who buys the St. Louis Blues (who “sold out” every home game this season, despite missing the playoffs)? How will losing the Phoenix TV market affect the NHL’s next TV contract? Or is the next TV deal “bullet-proof” because competing companies (ESPN/Disney, Comcast/NBC/Versus) are involved?

  2. scrouch - Apr 15, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    The Phoenix TV market that averaged 9000 households per game for Coyotes games through January this season? I have a feeling losing that market won’t have a huge impact on contract values. If anyone actually watched the games it would be a different story. But then, the team could probably find a buyer willing to pay for it.

  3. whatagreatfootballmind - Apr 15, 2011 at 10:29 PM

    Atlanta would go to Kansas City, even though I think they should go to Quebec. NHL is never going back to ESPN, even though the NHL wants to so badly, Bettman burned the bridges with ESPN/ABC. Versus, does a great job of broadcasting their games, and their studio broadcast is also very good, however, it takes an hour to find Versus because not everybody has it and if they do, they can’t find it. The NHL’s biggest problem is it’s self.

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