Late last week, word came out that whatever it was Arizona State University and the Arizona Coyotes were collaborating on with regards to a new hockey arena had been scrapped.
It seemed a rather sudden development, and put the organization’s future, again, in doubt.
Where would the team, which has played in Glendale since December of 2003 but has essentially been told they are no longer welcome in the venue, go next?
As Arizona Sports’ Craig Morgan reported, the NHL itself believes there are a handful of options at the team’s disposal, and that locations near the Chicago Cubs’ spring training venue in Mesa as well as along the Loop 101 could be options.
Of course, there was also a report Tuesday that the team had sent representatives to check out locations in both Portland and Seattle.
“It couldn’t be farther from the truth; it is 100 percent false,” Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Thursday morning.
LeBlanc, who was not too keen on the initial report or the publication it came from, said “there is absolutely no facts whatsoever in that story.”
LeBlanc criticized the use of anonymous sources and then saying the information came from someone with the organization.
“We take this stuff seriously,” he said. “Maybe a little less seriously because of the publication, but because it has gone national — which is disappointing — we take this seriously, as does the league.
“There is absolutely, unequivocally, no truth to the story whatsoever. It’s incredibly disappointing.”
LeBlanc’s position apparently has some merit:
Even still, the truth is relocation rumors will continue to persist until the Coyotes find a new home somewhere in the Valley. The ASU option seemed like a good one in terms of location and funds, but with it no longer a possibility, it is time to look at other options.
“We really do believe that we will come up with a solution in the relative short-term,” LeBlanc said. “When I say ‘relative short-term,’ that could be six months, that could be a year.
“So we have said before and we mean it, that we’re OK staying in Glendale if we know that there is certainty of a new facility coming online and shovels in the ground. And of course, the time-frame has probably slipped since we’re back to, not square one, but probably square three.”
LeBlanc, however, noted that while they are confident things will move forward from here, if the organization is in this same predicament a couple years from now, “nobody is going to want to be in that situation.”
That’s fair. The question is, can it be fixed?
This season, Arizona ranks 29th out of 30 NHL teams in home attendance, filling an average of about 75 percent of their arena per night. Part of that no doubt has to do with their relative lack of success on the ice, where the Coyotes have the second-worst point total in the league. Another factor is the location of their arena.
One of those factors could conceivably change in time, as the roster is stocked with young talent that, if things go according to plan, will improve over the next few seasons.
That would only take care of part of the problem.
In terms of the deal with Arizona State, LeBlanc said it falling through was really difficult, adding it was unfortunate and calling it “a blindside.” That said, he praised ASU and athletic director Ray Anderson, saying this was a political decision that had to be made.
“The thought was they didn’t want to do anything that hurts the legislation that they’re working on in regards to research,” he said. “And look, at the end of the day the charter of a university is research and education.
“I get it, I understand it. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed.”
With Arizona State off the table, LeBlanc reaffirmed there are a number of other avenues they can go down, noting Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has been very vocal about his preference to bring the Coyotes to downtown Phoenix. That could possibly mean a joint venture with the Phoenix Suns, though LeBlanc said his group and Suns owner Robert Sarver haven’t had any discussions in a long time.
“We think it’s a great idea and we would just like to have the opportunity to have a discussion,” LeBlanc said, noting the Suns do a great job of running their own arena. “We just want to have a discussion and see where it goes.”
The process for finding any new location was restarted on Friday night, LeBlanc said, and even still he admitted the decision by ASU to pull out, and the way it was handled, felt a bit like a slap to the face. But while that may have stung for a bit, he expressed that he expects to keep a dialogue going with the school in the future.
But when it comes to where the Coyotes will turn to next, LeBlanc was careful not to make any bold declarations.
“I think I’ve learned from the past experience that I don’t want to put out any speculation at this point,” he said. “So it’s fair to say we’re working with Greg (Stanton) and his staff because he’s been very open that we are. There’s other sites, I think Craig (Morgan) mentioned a Mesa site, which is intriguing.
“We wouldn’t be wasting any cycles on a site if we didn’t think it had a lot to offer.”
But one site that at this point has nothing to offer is the one they currently occupy. When asked, LeBlanc said Glendale is not a possibility.
“Everybody seems to think it’s a battle between us, the Coyotes, and the existing Glendale council,” he said. “The decision to build the facility in Glendale was prior to our ownership group and prior to the existing city council. And the honest answer is, it was a mistake. It was the wrong location for this franchise.”
LeBlanc noted they love the arena itself, but that they are just losing too much money by playing hockey in it.
“But on the flip side, we have the option to essentially do what we want within NHL guidelines, and the only thing — Glendale Star aside — the only thing we’re focused on, and we’re spending considerable money on resources for this, is to find a solution in the Valley that makes sense,” he said. “Because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no available option for this team, if a relocation was ever considered, that is better than the greater Phoenix metropolitan area in the right location.
“But unfortunately, it isn’t a case of a new facility or greater Phoenix or Glendale. Glendale is only a short-term option for us and it pains us to say that, because it’s a great facility and we understand that there is still debt on that building, but that was a decision that was made by other groups and unfortunately we just can’t continue.”