Since their one and only playoff appearance, the Atlanta Thrashers have finished the last four seasons with point totals of 76, 76, 83 and 80. Because of this, we here in Thrasherville have lamented how our team simply seems to wander aimlessly in the Desert of Mediocrity. But there is one fan base out there…out west…that now find themselves hoping that their team continues to remain in the desert.
No, not the fictitious type that we seem trapped in year in and year out…but the actual desert of Arizona.
Wednesday night the Phoenix Coyotes were swept to the curb in the opening round of the NHL playoffs by the Detroit Red Wings. But if would-be owner Matthew Hulsizer is unable to maneuver around certain roadblocks that hamper his efforts to buy the team, then it’s quite possible the Yotes will be jetting their way back to Winnipeg…the city that the franchise called home until 1996.
The Coyotes and their fans have struggled through this situation for a couple years now. The team filed for bankruptcy in May 2009 and the league then took over the franchise. Since then, commissioner Gary Bettman has held out hope that a resolution could be found to keep the team in the 48th U.S. state.
Last year two proposed deals fell through involving Jerry Reinsdorf and Ice Edge. Then last winter the city of Glendale struck a deal with Hulsizer who would purchase the team from the league and keep them in Arizona.
But the threat of a lawsuit from the Goldwater Institute has held up the bonds sale that is needed to close the deal. The watchdog group objects to the funds going to Hulsizer in the lease agreement, and then repaid through parking fees.
Last month, Hulsizer promised a guarantee of $75 million of the city’s $100 million contribution, but that failed to win the support of the Goldwater Institute.
Recently Bettman told Rogers Sportsnet in Toronto that he is still looking for ways to keep an NHL presence in Arizona, but time is a finite commodity…and the clock is ticking.
“Do we have an infinite amount of time? The answer is obviously not,” the commissioner said. “But we haven’t been holding an announcement waiting to see when the Coyotes are done playing, I can assure you of that.”
To their credit however, Phoenix as been able to put together two straight playoff appearance seasons even while dealing with the pressing off-ice issues… a fact not overlooked by head coach Dave Tippett.
“We have scratched and clawed and I give our group a ton of credit because they dealt with it for two years”.
Regardless, the uncertain future of the team still has had an effect on the players as well as the fans. Coyotes captain Shane Doan…who played in Winnipeg during the Jets final season…admitted that the past two years have been difficult.
“I don’t care what anybody says, it’s a strain when you deal with your family and you deal with people outside of it”, Doan explained. “And if you’re going to lose a series 4-0, it’s a perfect example that we’re answering questions about what’s going to happen next. You don’t even get to think about the year. You have to think about what’s going on next”.
“That’s the part that bugs you”, the 34-year old forward continued. “You’ve only got so many years to play in this league and you want to enjoy them”.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Doan, his teammates, others involved with the Coyotes organization and their fans are facing…an uncertain future. And all they can do now is wait and see if the NHL is wiling to continue to exercise patience and allow the process to play out… or if they decide that after two years, enough is enough.
If the latter attitude prevails, then they could allow the Coyotes to be purchased by those actively seeking to bring NHL hockey back to Manitoba’s capital. If indeed that resolution comes to pass, then the only desert left with an NHL presence will be the Desert of Mediocrity where teams like the Thrashers continue to seemingly wander aimlessly.