Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Gretzky For Seattle

Reports surfaced today that Wayne Gretzky came out of hiding and was spotted in Seattle, Washington. Personally, Gretzky sightings are turning into more of a "Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?" game since he walked away from the Coyotes debacle, but Gretzky has been confirmed in Seattle for the time being. As you may be aware, Seattle is a hotbed of professional sports right now as multiple arena builders are lobbying for NBA and NHL teams in the city. Of course, none of those arenas have been built yet, but all of them are looking at the possibility of acquiring the one franchise that no one seems to want in the Phoenix Coyotes.

I want to say something upfront: in no way, shape, or form does Wayne Gretzky's involvement in hockey management mean success. If it did, the Coyotes would have already won multiple Stanley Cups and Gretzky would have been heralded as Coach of the Year. Just because Gretzky is in Seattle means little in the scope of the hockey world in terms of teams relocating. So let's set the record straight in saying that Gretzky may be in Seattle talking hockey, but it means nothing to the NHL or NHLPA.

The option of putting a team, whether new or established, in Seattle is a provocative one, especially if that established team is the Phoenix Coyotes. For starters, the divisions wouldn't have to be realigned nor would scheduling change as the Seattle-based team would still be part of the Pacific Division. Sure, Dallas has to travel a little further to player the once-called-Coyotes, but the Pacific Division would have four of its five teams on the Pacific coast.

Secondly, the NHL is getting exactly what it wants: a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena in which it can place a team in order to attract a fan base that already has a taste for hockey. While I doubt that Seattle citizens will take to the team like Winnipeggers took to the new Jets, there's already a solid fan base in the Seattle area, and they can also market themselves to people in Vancouver who may not be able to get Canucks tickets. In short, the NHL would be smart to move into the largest city on the Pacific coast north of San Francisco due to the market size and arena availability.

The availability of the Coyotes franchise is still on the bubble as reports surface that would-be owner Greg Jamison is a little short on the cash to make his end of the deal work. There is also a court date next week on July 30 to decide if a petition calling to put a sales-tax increase is valid. That sales tax increase put in place by the city of Glendale would go directly towards paying the $17-million to the Coyotes required in the first year of management lease for Arena that Jamison put forth. Looking at this house of cards Jamison and Glendale are building, it seems that any gust of wind will send this deal crashing back to the ground, and the NHL will once again be holding the lame-duck franchise.

If there is one thing that may kill the Seattle option for the NHL, it is the lack of an available arena at this time. If the Jamison deal falls through, the NHL will once again have to examine options to move the team if no buyers are on the horizon (and there appear to be none).

Kansas City has an arena that is ready and waiting for an NHL team, and the Coyotes are a good option to move there as they have a competitive team and can still fit into the Pacific Division. Hey, if Dallas is in the Central Time Zone and can play in the Pacific Division, so can Kansas City, right? The only problem is that there are no ownership groups who have stepped forward to say they are ready to own the Coyotes in Kansas City. You need good ownership, and there have been no Kansas City-based groups that have stepped forward yet to assume the reins.

Then there is the hockey-rabid city of Quebec City. The former home of the Nordiques is building a brand-new arena as well, and have already broken ground on the new venture. The potential ownership group is led by a media mogul who has buckets of money to spend on a team, so there is a significant ownership factor in the Quebec City equation. Hockey will certainly thrive in the capital city of La Belle Province in knowing this. Combine that with a never-resolved rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens, and you have yourself a hockey hotbed that just needs a hockey team. There would be realignment issues, but the Winnipeg Jets are poised to move to the Western Conference as it is, so the realignment wouldn't be as bad as initially thought. In short, Quebec City is viable and realistic as a hockey destination for the Coyotes franchise.

I'm not saying Seattle is not ready for the Coyotes in any way. In fact, if anything, they are probably the best destination for the Coyotes in terms of the work needed to be done to get the rest of the NHL aligned properly. The issue I see is that they have no suitable arena yet and they have yet to find an ownership group. Those are two pretty large factors in selling a team to a market that may have fans, but no one to assume the costs of running the team nor having a suitable place to play their games in order to cover those costs.

So while Wayne Gretzky may be investigating Seattle as a possible destination for the Coyotes for himself or some other interest, it seems Seattle may be third on the list right now in terms of cities that can house an NHL franchise. Seattle is definitely a great city and the fans are passionate about their teams, but there needs to be good ownership and a great facility. Seattle has neither at this time in terms of the public's knowledge, so all of this speculation may lead to nothing.

But if an ownership group is behind the Great One's appearance in Seattle, I want to make one thing clear: Gretzky should be part of the public relations team only. His track record as a hockey executive makes him nothing more than a footnote in NHL history.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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