Could Coyotes Howl North of Toronto?

By HOWARD BERGER

GLENDALE, Ariz. (Apr. 21) – I’m back in the desert for the first time since a trip with the Maple Leafs a year ago January, but I’m not expecting to travel here beyond the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. A victory over Chicago at Jobing.com Arena tonight will lift the Phoenix Coyotes into the Western Conference semifinals, joining the first team to advance this spring – Nashville – which eliminated Detroit on Friday. The joint here will be hopping, with fans creating the “white-out” that originated in the Coyotes first home [Winnipeg] during the 1990s; virtually all spectators in the building will don white T-shirts while screaming their lungs off… and nary a seat will be vacant.

But, once the cheering stops – even if that occurs after the Stanley Cup final – the Coyotes are all-but certain to pack up and re-locate after a 16-year term in the greater Phoenix area.

As you might imagine, this will be a little different than the NHL losing Atlanta – a place I happened to enjoy, but one that was mostly abhorred by colleagues in the media. No reporter (or leisure traveler) has ever spoken unfavorably about Arizona, particularly those that contend with winter conditions up north. There are few journeys more exhilarating than a December or January escape from southern-Ontario to the southwestern United States, where clouds are scarce and temperatures hover beyond 70 degrees F during the day.

This time of year isn’t ideal, as the thermometer in my rental-car registered 101 F yesterday during the 20-minute drive here from Sky Harbor International Airport [Glendale is located roughly 10 miles west of downtown Phoenix]. I’ve also spent time in this city in July, when the mercury soars close to 120 F and the night-time “low” dips to 105 – generating the most spectacular heat-lightning you’ll ever see. But, mid-winter here is Paradise.

THE BEAUTIFUL SCENE FRIDAY AFTERNOON OUTSIDE JOBING.COM ARENA HERE IN GLENDALE, ARIZONA, AS THE PHOENIX COYOTES ARE POISED FOR HOME-ICE ELIMINATION OF CHICAGO IN THE FIRST ROUND OF THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS. ONCE THE COYOTES ARE DONE, IT’S ANYONE’S GUESS AS TO THE FUTURE OF THE FRANCHISE.

The question, of course, on everyone’s mind is: What happens to the Coyotes once they pull stakes? There appeared to be a consensus in recent weeks that Quebec City would land the club and house it at the ancient Colisee while a new arena is being built in the provincial capital. That still may be the leading scenario. But, the proposed 19,500-seat arena in Markham, Ont. – northeast of Toronto – could open a door for the much-rumored second team in the GTA. The NHL; the Maple Leafs, courts of law in Ontario, and whichever God you believe in may have to unite before the complicated arrival of such an entity. Many hockey observers are convinced, however, that the Toronto region – so rich in capital and hockey fervor – is bound to attract another NHL franchise; perhaps that team will be the Coyotes.

Conventional wisdom suggests the Leafs would move heaven and earth to prevent such competition for the sports dollar – and debate has often raged over the territorial “veto” Leafs’ ownership claims to occupy. But, the hockey-business landscape is about to change in unprecedented fashion around Toronto, with Canada’s two communications giants – Bell and Rogers – co-investing in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.  Wouldn’t a second GTA club capable of filling “content across all platforms” (as the media moguls like to say) be rather attractive to the new Leaf owners – particularly if that club had to fork over an exorbitant rental fee to use the Air Canada Centre for the better part of three seasons (on top of the amount charged to indemnify the Leafs for territorial invasion)? New ownership would be able to pay off the Bay St. Beast  a hell of a lot quicker with such a revenue influx.

This line of chatter is purely speculative, as the Gary Bettman regime has repeatedly offered its preference to avoid franchise re-location. The difference here, of course, is that the NHL owns the cash-draining Coyotes and might be rather exultant over the prospect of real money-men grabbing the club and placing it in a hockey-rich environment. Fronting the proposed Markham arena are a couple of internationally-recognized entrepreneurs: Toronto land-developer Rudy Bratty, and Graeme Roustan, chairman of the Bauer brand of hockey equipment. Bratty’s personal fortune is estimated at close to  $1 billion and he already owns the land west of Kennedy Rd. and north of Highway 407 on which the arena would be built. That has to sound infinitely more appealing to Bettman and Co. than the annual skirmish with municipal leaders here in Glendale and the Coyotes tepid following in non-playoff months. The Commish and his lieutenants would welcome a little peace-of-mind.

In the meantime, hockey in the desert will be all-the-rage tonight, as the Coyotes and Blackhawks resume the most intriguing first-round series – all four games, thus far, having been decided in overtime with the typical (and potentially turbulent) back-drop of the Raffi Torres – Marian Hossa train-wreck. NHL warden Brendan Shanahan will announce the league’s decision on supplementary discipline for Torres prior to Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinal. [NOTE: SHANAHAN LEVELED TORRES WITH 25-GAME SUSPENSION THIS MORNING]. 

Now, for some visual evidence of my rather spectacular journey from Los Angeles to Phoenix on Friday afternoon:

EVER WONDERED WHAT A SMOG-LAYER IN L.A. LOOKS LIKE FROM AFAR? CHECK OUT THE TOP-LEFT IMAGE (ABOVE) AS I LEAVE THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY FOR MY DRIVE EAST – AND THEN SOUTH, IN MEGA-TRAFFIC – TO LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.

LEAVING THE GROUND AT L-A-X (ABOVE) AND TURNING LEFT OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN TO HEAD SOUTH (BELOW) WITH THE DISTANT BUILDINGS OF DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES VISIBLE IN UPPER-RIGHT OF PHOTO.

PASSING JUST SOUTH OF ANAHEIM, I GOT A NIFTY SHOT (ABOVE) OF ANGELES STADIUM (LOWER-LEFT) AND THE WHITE-TOPPED HONDA CENTER (UPPER-RIGHT), HOME OF THE ANAHEIM DUCKS.

A LIGHT DUSTING OF SNOW COULD BE SEEN ON THE PEAKS OF THE SANTA ANA MOUNTAINS (ABOVE AND BELOW), EAST OF ORANGE COUNTY, CALIF.

FREQUENT AIR TRAVELERS BETWEEN LOS ANGELES AND PHOENIX QUOTE INITIALS TO DESCRIBE SCENERY DURING MUCH OF THE HOUR-LONG FLIGHT: “N.B.D” – OR “NOTHING-BUT-DESERT.” THE IMAGES ABOVE LOOK LIKE SOMETHING FROM THE MANNED LUNAR VOYAGES 40 YEARS AGO, WHILE CIVILIZATION IS APPARENT BELOW.  

ON APPROACH TO SKY HARBOR AIRPORT, WE PASSED PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY (ABOVE) IN AVONDALE, ARIZ. – 19.4 MILES WEST OF DOWNTOWN. THE 67,000-SEAT OVAL, OPENED IN 1964, IS HOME TO A PAIR OF EVENTS IN THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES.

MOMENTS LATER, WE FLEW SOUTH OF SUN DEVIL STADIUM (ABOVE) ON THE CAMPUS OF ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY IN THE CITY OF TEMPE, SOUTHEAST OF DOWNTOWN PHOENIX. THE 71,706-SEAT FACILITY WAS HOME TO THE NFL’s ARIZONA CARDINALS FROM 1988 TO 2005; TO THE ANNUAL FIESTA BOWL COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME FROM 1971 TO 2006, AND TO SUPER BOWL XXX ON JAN. 28, 1996, IN WHICH DALLAS DEFEATED PITTSBURGH, 27-17 – COWBOYS WINNING THEIR THIRD NFL CHAMPIONSHIP IN FOUR YEARS. 

PHOENIX/SKY HARBOR INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (ABOVE) – EAST OF THE DOWNTOWN CORE. WE PASSED THE AIRPORT AND TURNED LEFT FOR APPROACH TO THE WEST.

VIEW OF MOUNTAINS BEYOND SKY HARBOR AIRPORT (ABOVE) AND OF DOWNTOWN PHOENIX (BELOW), DOMINATED BY CHASE FIELD, HOME OF THE ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS, WHERE THE LOCAL CLUB WOULD BE MAULED, 9-1, BY THE ATLANTA BRAVES A FEW HOURS LATER.

ON THE DRIVE HERE TO GLENDALE – AND KEEPING WITH THE SPORTS THEME – I PASSED THE ARIZONA VETERANS MEMORIAL COLISEUM (ABOVE): HOME OF THE NBA’s PHOENIX SUNS FROM 1968 TO 1992; PHOENIX ROADRUNNERS OF THE WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE (1967-1974) AND THE WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION (1974-1977).

APPROACHING GLENDALE ON THE NORTH-BOUND 101 LOOP, A MOTORIST’S LINE-OF-SIGHT IS DOMINATED BY THE GIANT UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA STADIUM (BELOW), CURRENT HOME OF THE NFL CARDINALS AND ADJACENT TO JOBING.COM ARENA.

HOME OF THE PHOENIX COYOTES (ABOVE AND BELOW) AND SITE OF TONIGHT’S GAME 5 AGAINST CHICAGO – THE BLACKHAWKS FACING ELIMINATION.

 

SUNSET IN LOS ANGELES…

 

SUNSET IN PHOENIX…

      

 

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