BOCA RATON, Fla. â€” Fans of a potential NHL team in Quebec City should stand down for now.
While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stressed that the Arizona Coyotes did not have a future in Glendale, he also said the league was committed to the team remaining in Arizona. In other words, the Coyotes aren’t moving anywhere but within the boundaries of their current home in the desert.
“We have not given up on that market,” said Bettman on the final day of GM meetings. “But we wanted to make clear that the long-term future and viability of that team, the Coyotes, isn’t going to be in Glendale.”
Bettman was referring to a letter he sent Arizona politicians in support of a bill that would fund a new arena in the greater Phoenix area. The Coyotes currently play at Gila River Arena in Glendale, but with great uncertainty. The city cancelled a long-term lease agreement with the club in 2015, and the lease now operates on a year-to-year basis.
It was for that reason, Bettman said, that the Coyotes were looking for a home elsewhere.
“The team has got a number of options and is going to pursue them so nobody should think that team is moving â€” other than out of Glendale,” Bettman said. “But short-term they’re going to stay in Glendale while they’re pursuing the options.”
A plan to build a new arena in Tempe fell through when Arizona State university backed out last month.
The NHL moved the former Winnipeg Jets franchise to Arizona for the 1996-97 season. The club has since operated under a cloud of long-term instability, including bankruptcy in 2009. The Coyotes have struggled to fill seats and field a consistently competitive on-ice product, advancing past the first round of the post-season just once.
The club sits 29th among 30 teams this season.
“Look it’s on everyone’s mind of course,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said of the recent turbulence. “To be the organization we want to be we have to have a place to play that’s economically feasible long-term.”
Chayka said it wasn’t fair to suggest that the Coyotes experiment had failed and that the team should move elsewhere. He cited the story of Auston Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs centre and 2016 No. 1 overall pick who grew up in Glendale rooting for the Coyotes.
Arizona is averaging just over 13,000 fans this season â€” third-last ahead of only the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders.
“I think it’s a great market,” Chayka said. “I think players love playing there. I think it’s good for the league.”
“I believe that the greater Phoenix area is a terrific sports market,” Bettman added. “It’s a terrific hockey market. And I think if the Coyotes â€” when the Coyotes get a new arena better situated I think the team will do very, very well there, better than they have in terms of the attendance and business side.”
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press