There is a Sliding Doors scenario, where the NHL simply let Jim Balsillie buy the Arizona Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, Ontario, more than a decade ago. Would it have worked? Hard to know. Balsillie’s BlackBerry tanked not too long after the proposed buy-date, and could have led to a host of problems north of the border just as there has been in Arizona. The Leafs certainly would have had to have been placated about a team moving in just 42 miles away. And perhaps having the league’s smallest arena, as Copps Coliseum (now FirstOntario Centre) was then, would have led to more complications.
Still, the NHL would have had a deep-pocketed owner (at the time) in a fervent hockey market. And none of it could have been worse than what the Arizona Coyotes have been, are currently, and will be going forward.
In the latest installment of “As The Coyotes Burn,” Katie Strang of The Athletic takes a deep dive into the latest buffoon-laden ownership group that promised the NHL they could save the ’Yotes once and for all but have proven to just be yet another clown-float in the constant parade of charlatans and pudwhacks that have acquired the franchise. This time it’s Alex Meruelo and the uber-clods that came with him. You’d think the NHL might have noticed that the NBA didn’t think he was capable of buying the Atlanta Hawks, thanks to finances that didn’t line up. But the NHL is always happy to pick up the NBA’s trash. That’s how they got Gary Bettman, after all.
It is masterful work as always by Strang, but a lot of it is stuff you’ve probably read before about someone else in sports. An owner who doesn’t have quite as much money as he told the league that accepted him as purchaser/owner he did. Rampant mistreatment of employees, justified to himself and his cronies by having a lot of money, just not as much as he wants the world to believe. Nickel and diming everyone in sight to give the appearance of streamlining, but in fact having nothing in their pockets, including the greater wherewithal to wait those people out for less money. Bewildering hires and internal organization. Employees from the last ownership group feeling utterly helpless, and those who aren’t around anymore having to go to court to get money they’re owed.
Oh, and to complete the set, because it wouldn’t be without it, the owner’s kid fucking up everything in a department he knows nothing about. A lot of this you could probably write from memory, and you’ve certainly seen it all before. Every owner should be considered a Bob Nutting until they prove they aren’t.
The whole piece is certainly worth your time, if only to clearly illustrate how desperate the NHL has been to keep the Coyotes in Arizona that they’ll hand the keys to just about any jackass that raises his hand. Including jackasses that tried to intimidate Strang, one of the most accomplished writers in hockey who is respected in every circle, unlike these nincompoops.
Alex Meruelo is the fourth owner of the Coyotes since the league snatched control of the team from Balsillie and anchored the team in the desert. It has been clear for a decade-plus that the team won’t work with their arena in Glendale, if it can work in the market at all, but no new arena plan has ever gotten off the planning stage. It looked for a second like one in Tempe might arise, but then Arizona State pulled out of their portion of the deal. With the article detailing how Meruelo’s group has attempted to stiff various vendors on what they’re owed, how they’re going to find the cash to build a new arena in a more palatable area is a laughable mystery.
Meruelo hasn’t been in charge that long, but the article does nothing to showcase how he would pull the Yotes out of this spiral. They have been in the bottom portion of the league in attendance, revenue, and standings for so long they have become the very definition of “entrenched.” Meruelo doesn’t come off as anything resembling a visionary either.
At some point, the NHL has to admit that the Coyotes have been tinkered with so much that they are now broken beyond repair. This is an organization that just in the past year had their fraud of a GM jump ship in such a way that the league banned him for a year, drafted an unrepentant racist that they then had to renounce the rights to thanks to the backlash, and now have this story breaking. And this is all just par for the course for an organization that spent years fighting with the very city it resides in over their massive losses.
The NHL gobbled up one possible relocation spot by awarding an expansion team to Seattle. And in a post-pandemic world, assuming we ever get to that world, moving a sports franchise could be near-impossible. Still, you’d have to think Quebec City would still be more than willing to fill its gleaming arena every night with an NHL team. Portland and Kansas City still have their buildings. How could any of them be worse than this?
The Coyotes can’t be saved. The NHL and various dimwits have spent nearly 15 years trying to prove that. When is it time to declare “victory” and move on?
Update: The Coyotes have released a statement, and it’s just about as balloon-handed as you might imagine the organization portrayed within Strang’s article would come up with:
Again, to reiterate, Strang is one of the most respected writers in the business. As she stated in the article, the Coyotes and the league were given the chance to respond to everything in it, and they passed. To attack Strang’s integrity after the fact is the height of amateurish idiocy. It hits all the moron buttons of “It’s all the previous guy’s fault,” “Hey we’re doing the community a favor here,” and “Don’t you know this guy is rich already?” Just brilliant stuff.