Lessons Learned From the (North) Stars: What the Arizona Coyotes can Learn from Past NHL Relocations
There have been five relocations since the start of the 90's including the original Winnipeg Jets relocating to Phoenix back in '96 under new ownership. Since then, the team has had multiple owners, including a period in which the Coyotes were owned and operated by the NHL. It's perhaps one of the only "failures" of the legendary Wayne Gretzky's career that even The Great One couldn't make things work in Arizona as both minority owner and coach.
Of the last five relocation teams, three of them have since won the Stanley Cup at least once; the Carolina Hurricanes (Hartford Whalers), Colorado Avalanche (Quebec Nordiques) and Dallas Stars (Minnesota North Stars). While the reformed Winnipeg Jets have yet to lift Lord Stanley's Cup, they have made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons.
So then, what's next after the Coyotes' arena deal with the city of Tempe failed to pass and what can the team learn from the other four relocated organizations? Well, for starters, maybe don't leave Winnipeg. It probably wasn't the best idea to leave a Canadian market that loves hockey for the unknown of moving to Arizona where rinks aren't exactly easy to come by. In fact, the most recent example of NHL relocation has been the Atlanta Thrashers bringing hockey back to Winnipeg as the reformed Jets. I'm not saying hockey can't work in Arizona, it is the home state of world-class center Auston Matthews, but perhaps it should have been an expansion franchise instead of leaving the Great White North.
Since we can't close Pandora's box on that one, and moving back certainly isn't an option, the priority has to be moving to someplace that has an arena ready to go, even if the team would have to wait for a city like Atlanta to build one. The Stars moved into an existing arena shared with the Dallas Mavericks while the Avalanche were able to join the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena.
There are a couple of quick arena answers, the first being a move to Salt Lake City where the for-now-named Coyotes could join the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena. Meanwhile, Kansas City has the T-Mobile Center, which doesn't currently have a primary tenant, and Quebec City built the Videotron Centre with the intended goal of bringing in an NHL team. In fact, Videotron is the third-largest arena in North America that doesn't currently house an NHL team.
But of course, there are problems with each of these options. Salt Lake City and Quebec City are considered small markets and there currently isn't an interested ownership group in Kansas City, especially after Chiefs owner Clark Hunt backed out of any future interest in NHL ownership. Larger markets like Houston and Atlanta seemingly don't have ready-made arena solutions, with questions about how easily an NHL team could make the Houston Rockets' Toyota Center work.
The bottom line (pun intended) is this -- the Coyotes have struggled financially throughout their time in the desert, leading to bankruptcy and multiple ownership changes. Playing in the 4,600-capacity Mullet Center, which is actually home to the Arizona State Sun Devils, is not going to help the organization get into the black, which means they are unlikely to spend to the salary cap any time soon. For example, this season Arizona barely made it to the cap floor, much less pushing toward the cap ceiling. They've got to make a decision soon if they ever want to be competitive, which will require spending money. According to our friends at Bookies.com, Houston seems to be the favorite.
Personally, I'd try and find somebody in Kansas City that would be willing to bring the franchise in. The city has a ready-made arena, a solidly sized media market and built-in rivals in the St. Louis Blues. Who knows, maybe Patrick Mahomes wants to expand from baseball and soccer-team owner into the NHL. It would give the new team some instant star power and perhaps convince some of the locals to give ice hockey a look.
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