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NHL In Seattle: The Lowdown on the Phoenix Coyotes

The City of Seattle appears poised to potentially land an NHL team, most likely the Phoenix Coyotes. Here's some historical background information on the franchise that you may find interesting.

Future rivalry?
Future rivalry?

In case you haven't been paying attention these past few days, there has been an announcement of a proposal for a new arena in Seattle that would be home to NBA and NHL franchises and will be built, likely, as long as said NBA and NHL franchises can be acquired.

The NBA teams in question are most commonly believed to be the Sacramento Kings or the New Orleans Hornets. There are big, huge question marks about both of those options as they pertain to a move to Seattle. The NHL question though, is much more concrete - if Seattle manages to get an NBA team, the accompanying NHL franchise is most probably going to be the Phoenix Coyotes.

Cassie McClellan, the Associate Managing Editor at Raw Charge, the SB Nation Tampa Bay Lightning blog and a Seattle/Tacoma native now living on the East Coast, gave me an illuminating look at a bit of history on the franchise and how the NHL has come to own the team. She also explained why and how it's likely Seattle will be their next home.



Just to bring you guys up to speed in regards to Phoenix ....

The Phoenix Coyotes were the original Winnipeg Jets that were moved to Arizona in 1996. The Atlanta Thrashers, which were an expansion team 12 years ago, moved last summer to Winnipeg (that was a fiasco in and of itself), and they were renamed the Jets. Immediately, the city began to treat them like an expansion team, essentially wiping out the fact that they had been relocated. People were very not happy about that - not most NHL fans, and certainly not the Atlanta fans.

Anyways, the Coyotes have had a series of awful owners, and in 2008, the then owner declared bankruptcy so they could offload the team to Jim Balsillie - one of the recent CEOs of Blackberry. The NHL has pretty much blacklisted Balsillie from the NHL, because they don't want a team moved to his hometown Hamilton, Ontario, which has always been Balsillie's intent. (He's tried to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators, previously.) The NHL (plus Toronto and Buffalo, both of which are near Hamilton) would rather see expansion into the Greater Toronto Area rather than to relocate another team, since there's far more money in the expansion fees than in the relocation fees.

After not being able to find a local owner, or at least a suitable owner that would keep the team in Phoenix, the NHL bought the team in October 2009 - though, they've been running the team since at least December 2008. However, the NHL doesn't want to own the team anymore. They've placed a self-imposed deadline of August (I think) to sell the team to somebody. As of January 1st, the bidding has been opened to anyone and everyone - even to those who would move the team. The cities rumored to be in the running are Seattle, Quebec City, Las Vegas, and Kansas City.

From everything I've read and heard, Seattle's the frontrunner, by far.

One of the current owners of the AAA minor league hockey team in Chicago, Don Levin, is very interested in bringing an NHL team to Seattle, and his bid is considered the best one right now - despite Kansas City having a new building, and Quebec City wanting another team since the Nordiques left for Denver in 1995.

Reportedly, the owner of the Portland Winterhawks wants to bring a team to Portland. His problem is Paul Allen, though. Allen is okay with letting them play in the Rose Garden, but only if they do a feasibility study first to see if it's a good investment. They did one 10-15 years ago or so, and it wasn't.

The stumbling block for a team in Seattle, of course, is an NHL-suitable arena. Sadly, the NHL still operates in a very 1950s/good ol' boy sort of way, which drives fans crazy. They'd be willing to accept nothing more than a promise from, well, pretty much anybody. If the City of Seattle tells them, "Oh, we'll renovate Key Arena in a few years," then that'll be good enough for them - despite the ludicrousness of that statement, as we all know.

Thankfully, Seattle now have something more than Key Arena potentially in the works. Chances are, an NHL team would probably play at Key Arena until another place is built. And that's about where things stand right now.

The Coyotes will be sold this summer, regardless, and right now it's looking like Levin will buy it and move it to Seattle - perhaps in conjunction with Hansen? It's possible. The Canadian hockey media is all over this like a bad date, since they would like to see every team in a warm climate moved to Canada (seriously). Vancouver Canucks fans would love a team in Seattle, for road trips, if nothing else. And the NHL see dollar signs with the Seattle area - Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, etc. and so on - as well as an instant rivalry with Vancouver.

Yeah, right. The Lightning and the Panthers are a four-hour drive thru the Everglades, and they're not, at all, rivals. (Seattle to Vancouver is a 3-hour drive plus border crossing.)

Geographic location does not a rivalry make. It helps, but it's not guaranteed.


Big thanks to Cassie for the Coyotes franchise background information, and stay tuned. I've got a lot of questions and based on the detail and knowledge in her background update, I'm sure she'll have answers. Make sure you head over to Raw Charge and read a piece Cassie just posted about the Seattle NHL situation and history of hockey in the city - a must-read, and you can also follow her on Twitter.