If it happened, Coyotes relocation would give Arizona closure more than mourning

Apr 5, 2024, 3:30 PM

Arizona Coyotes Phoenix arena plan rendering...

Rendering of the Arizona Coyotes' Phoenix arena plan. (Courtesy Arizona Coyotes)

(Courtesy Arizona Coyotes)

The Coyotes are a franchise full of foibles and failed visions. They’ve been a debtor’s prison for every brave man who tried to own them. They made me the only columnist in North America who routinely ripped Wayne Gretzky, who is more deity than royalty in the world of ice hockey.

Sorry, Wayne. This franchise is a hill too steep for everyone, even the goats.

The thunderous sound of “relocation” that reverberated through the Valley on Thursday – a word finally dropped by Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez as the last possible outcome if their Scottsdale land purchase goes awry – is the endgame we’ve all been waiting for.

There will either be a bright and permanent future in Arizona. Or the franchise will be sold and replanted in Salt Lake City, in a ready-made arena, ending a tired shell game forever.

And while hockey might be the sport that made us all believe in miracles, there was something foreboding in Gutierrez’s tone on Thursday. Something that sounded like goodbye.

If owner Alex Meruelo is truly a billionaire, and if the land is up for auction on June 27, the Coyotes merely need to put their money where their mouths have been.

But this real estate is also extremely valuable: prime acreage with mountain views on the border of Phoenix and North Scottsdale, at a time when people are flooding to Arizona, in a state effectively built and apportioned by savvy and ruthless developers. The owner might not like where this price tag is going, looking to cash out while the getting is good.

Here’s the bigger issue:

Even if Meruelo wins the land auction, he immediately inherits zoning issues. Can a hockey arena be constructed on such a parcel? The delays could be endless, and if there’s confusion on the issue or dissenting voices such as billionaires in the neighborhood who don’t want the traffic and commotion, the issue might go to a referendum. A public vote. And Meruelo doesn’t want any part of that.

Clearly, he’s getting some kind of parachute ready.

I hope for the best. It’s nice to stake a claim as a legitimate major league sports town, equipped with all four major professional sports franchises. But this franchise has worn me out. I came to Arizona just as a previous owner was threatening to move them to Portland, and they’ve been searching for stability ever since.

Conventional wisdom says we will somehow feel diminished if the Coyotes relocate, that it will be a blow to our self-esteem if we lose an NHL team and our “big league” status. But the ongoing saga of the Coyotes has nothing to do with unsophisticated or disinterested fans or our failures as a sports market. While their presence triggered a grassroots movement that spawned NHL superstar Auston Matthews, the Coyotes never gave the Valley consistent tastes of the postseason, when the sport becomes irresistible and compelling to the masses. We are also a region saturated with options and big events, from Super Bowls to Final Fours to PGA Tour stops to NASCAR championships.

So, with great respect to the diehards, who are many, fervent and loyal: There is no public mourning over the word “relocation.” Threats of relocation sound more like much-needed closure. For a journey that has been long and ludicrous. And a journey that has finally reached the crossroads.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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