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(Ross D. Franklin)
(Ross D. Franklin)


Lessons learned in Phoenix? Add to ...

We have just passed the two-year anniversary of Jerry Moyes taking his Phoenix Coyotes into bankruptcy, having decided it was his only way out.

(The team's former owner was right, by the way.)

Tuesday, the political leadership in Glendale, Ariz., seems certain to make sure this tawdry little drama will continue for at least 12 more months, when they vote to throw another $25-million (U.S.) into their massive, good-money-after-bad sinkhole, committing to covering the Coyotes' losses for the 2011-12 NHL season with absolutely no assurance the team won't pack up and move the minute it is completed.

That's $50-million, straight up, in handouts, not counting the cost of the arena, and not factoring in the $50-million cheque Jim Balsillie had promised to write Glendale if he had been successful in acquiring the team and moving it to Hamilton - or $200 for every hockey-oblivious man, woman and child in the small, suburban city.

Whoever is your elected representative - yes, even in Toronto (yes, even the Brothers Ford) - sleep a little easier understanding it could be worse. Your tax dollars could be in the hands of these people.

So just what have we learned here?

A whole bunch of things, none of them flattering to the NHL or the people who operate it, who have had the dirtiest of their dirty linen aired, have watched franchise values erode in marginal markets, have allowed their weakest link to distract everyone from their core strengths as a sport business, and who - directly and through their loyal minions - have told dozens of little white lies about "irresponsible reporting" and rosy finances and prospective buyers lining up.

(A personal favourite: "Interestingly, [the Coyotes']gate receipts are up 12 to 18 per cent over last year. Their attendance is up. They are not on life support. There are some cash-flow issues that we're helping them with. We haven't made any formal loans to that franchise. All of that speculation is wildly exaggerated." - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, 2009.)

We have learned the Atlanta Thrashers must be in significantly worse shape than the Coyotes, that they must represent a whole other level of unsalvageable, which really, is hard to imagine. Because there are no patsies offering bags of money in Georgia, the league needs a solution there, pronto.

We have learned other than Winnipeg, there is not a single place in North America where the NHL could relocate a team next fall. Even in Kansas City, where there is a brand-new empty arena awaiting a tenant, no prospective owner has stepped forward. Same goes for the familiar list of possibilities: Houston, Portland, Seattle, Las Vegas, etc. If any of them had the wherewithal, they'd have a hockey team by now. In fact, they'd have their choice.

We have learned the true value of the Coyotes in Glendale is zero - actually, something less than zero, since no prospective investor has offered to put their own money into a deal, leaving Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer with the only offer to "buy" the team, underwritten by a $116-million municipal bond issue and a $97-million management contract. In the end, even he got cold feet.

We have learned Arizona Senator John McCain's decision to select Sarah Palin as his U.S. presidential running mate in 2008 suddenly makes a lot more sense coming from the same person who claimed the loss of the hockey team would result in the loss of a thousand jobs.

We have learned the Goldwater Institute taxpayer watchdog group was wildly underestimated by the NHL, and is certainly not (in the words of NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly) "irrelevant."

We have learned the NHL owners, who have already sunk $140-million into buying the Coyotes, and more to cover losses beyond $25-million, are willing to follow their commissioner even farther down this dead-end road, despite having been assured they would be in and out and made whole by now. (They will be placated to some degree if the league can turn around and charge the prospective Winnipeg owners a "relocation fee" for Atlanta, which in itself will be worth more than the team's actual market value.)

Head coach Dave Tippett and company worked miracles with the Coyotes the past two seasons. But imagine what's coming with no extra money to build or market the franchise, with the NHL just trying to hold losses down and get to the finish line, with yet another deadline looming. It will redefine "lame duck."

Winnipeg, you're still going to get your hockey team. It just looks like it will be a different hockey team.

Quebec City, if you can get the money and arena together by this time next year, say hello to Les Coyotes.

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