It seems fitting that the latest attempt to purchase the Coyotes fell apart within 48 hours of Groundhog Day. The NHL has owned the troubled Glendale-based franchise four long years now. Despite every effort to keep the team in Glendale, they’re back to square one. Make no mistake, Jamison’s failure to meet the deadline is a bigger deal than the NHL brass want to let on. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to avoid a lame duck season in the desert. On the other hand, the stands couldn’t that much more vacant, could they? The league won’t admit it just yet, but the question is no longer if the Coyotes will move, but when and to where.
How would relocation affect the National Hockey League? Let’s examine the logical possibilities. Assume the Coyotes are sold this offseason. The only realistic destinations, in order of likelihood, are Seattle, Quebec City, Markham, and Portland. Portland is the dark horse, but has an eager potential owner. Markham seems more likely for expansion or relocation down the line. Realistically, it comes down to Seattle and Quebec. Bettman has demonstrated a strong desire to keep a team in the American West. Seattle’s unique sports history, including America’s first Stanley Cup team, and their impending deal to bring the Sonics home in a new arena make it a very attractive market. Quebec City is building an NHL caliber arena partially funded by citizens who actually want to help fund their team. Imagine that. Either is possible, but what would an NHL with Seattle or Quebec look like?
Let’s start with the cleaner geographic option. The NHL would likely just keep Seattle in the Pacific. But let’s say, hypothetically, the NHL is as neurotic as I am. Seattle has to be in the Northwest with Vancouver. In that scenario, Colorado drops in the Pacific. (Which should then be renamed the Southwest Division considering the Aves and Stars.) The vagabond Jets will be looking to finally settle in the West. As previously rumored, they swap with Columbus. The Jackets get new life in the Southeast and Winnipeg becomes the lone Canadian city in the Central.
A Nordiques resurrection would trigger a serious shakeup. They obviously can’t play in the West. A straight swap with the West-bound Jets makes little sense for either team. Start by putting Winnipeg in the Northwest. Colorado takes the open slot in the Pacific. Columbus replaces the Jets in the Southeast. Here’s where it gets messy. Another team must go west. Quebec would be the second easternmost city in the league, so it’d be insane for them to play in the West. Quebec joins some old rivals in the Northeast pushing Toronto into the Central. It seems crazy to move Toronto out of the east, but consider a) the NHL will not break up the Atlantic Division b) No team in the Northeast (or Quebec) makes sense in the Southeast c) Columbus will benefit more from being in a convenient time zone than the Maple Leafs will be hurt by the move. Bags over head or not, the diehards in T.O. aren’t going anywhere.
Will Jamison’s failure to purchase the Coyotes be the final dagger in the heart of Desert Dogs? If so, the NHL could be in for a major facelift. In the meantime, fans in potential relocation cities and Shane Doan’s horses watch with bated breath.