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(L-R) Former attorney general of Arizona Grant Woods and U.S. Senator John McCain attend the NHL game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on March 20, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 2-1. (Christian Petersen/2011 Getty Images)
(L-R) Former attorney general of Arizona Grant Woods and U.S. Senator John McCain attend the NHL game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on March 20, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 2-1. (Christian Petersen/2011 Getty Images)

Stephen Brunt

Goldwater Institute unmoved by McCain's endorsement Add to ...

For a delicious minute there, it looked like John McCain would be able to include both the discovery of Sarah Palin and the salvation of the Phoenix Coyotes on his long and distinguished résumé.

Alas, it seems it will be only one of two.

Those plucky ideologues at the Goldwater Institute, who must be thoroughly enjoying their 15 minutes, were unmoved by the senator's appearance at the side of potential owner Matthew Hulsizer, trying to head off their legal challenge to the massive subsidies offered by the City of Glendale to keep the hockey team there.

They were also unconvinced by Hulsizer's peace offering, presented through a faxed letter to the GWI, which read in part:

"While we have structured the transaction in a way that complies with the Arizona Gift Clause, Arizona Hockey is willing to modify the lease agreement with Glendale to guaranty to the city that they will receive direct revenues from the Coyotes, Arena and parking that have a value to day of at least $75-million [all currency U.S.] If the cumulative direct revenues received from the Coyotes, Arena and parking are that amount, than (sic) the shortfall will be the liability of Arizona Hockey Holdings."

Hard to believe that didn't do the trick.

And so, once again, the National Hockey League is faced with a dilemma entirely of its own creation: how to prop up the moribund Coyotes in Glendale beyond the end of this season?

In fact, there is a simple solution available. Find someone willing to buy the team with their own money - or at least money they have borrowed from conventional sources on their own tab. And in order to facilitate that, the current owners of the Coyotes - that would be the governors of the NHL - could lower the current asking price of $170-million until it approaches Glendale market value, which would presumably inspire buyers (and private sector lenders) to get in the game.

Alas, there's the rub. Drop the price, and the NHL owners won't get back most of the money they have already invested buying the 'Yotes out of bankruptcy and keeping them safe from the clutches of the evil Jim Balsillie. Plus, in a league in which there are multiple distress sales in progress right now, and in which franchise equity (as in all pro sports) is a big part of the ownership equation, finding out what the Coyotes are actually worth in Glendale would be in no one's interest.

Which leaves? Well, barring the commissioner pulling yet another rabbit out of his hat … Winnipeg.

Do you get the feeling, perhaps, that there are people in the NHL who just hate that idea? The easy course is to blame NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and his mythical anti-Canada animus, and after that to lay responsibility at the feet of the owners of American franchises, who might fantasize that location is the key to U.S. television riches, and who in any case just don't want to have to the word "Winnipeg" plastered on their marquees.

But consider another group who might not be all that thrilled to have a team playing out of the MTS Centre next season. That would be the owners of the six existing Canadian NHL franchises, who are now faced with the prospect of their hockey-loving domain being divided into at least one more slice, and probably two, when Quebec City finds a tenant for its new arena. There's nothing in Winnipeg for them, and at least a little bit to lose.

(Don't hold your breath waiting for any of them to voice that sentiment in public, which would be viewed here as the equivalent of desecrating the flag.)

You add the Canadian owners and the American owners and that would be everybody who pays his salary, which is why Bettman will not surrender - at least not until the Coyotes' playoff run is complete, and they have sold the last deeply discounted ticket, the last hot dog and beer to the tiny core of loyal fans.

Still this would be the eleventh hour, and this would be a C-minus potential-owner paired with D-minus municipal government, trying to work around a gang of pesky right-wingers who have nothing to lose, everything to gain, and who from the beginning have been badly underestimated.

It ain't over yet, and it won't be until the words "We're going to Winnipeg" spill from the commissioner's mouth.

But we're getting there.

 

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