As if things weren't tough enough for the neglected franchise that is the Arizona Coyotes, now they are the subject of widespread relocation rumors.
Disclaimer: This is not meant as a jab at the Arizona Coyotes franchise. I have no beef with the Coyotes nor with the lovely people of Arizona, I am just here to state facts.
A history of neglect from the hockey world
The Arizona Coyotes franchise has a controversial past. Founded in 1972 as the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association (WHA) the Jets were the most successful team in the WHA, winning three WHA championships (Avco World Trophy) in the short-lived seven season WHA lifespan. The Jets were absorbed by the NHL as part of the 1979 NHL-WHA merger, where Winnipeg had a tough time translating their WHA success into the NHL.
The Jets played in Winnipeg from 1972 to 1996, where they never amounted to much. After the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, the Winnipeg Jets became the NHL's smallest market, where they quickly fell into financial hardships.
Jerry Colangelo, who owned the Phoenix Suns of the NBA at the time, Steven Gluckstern, Richard Burke and a Phoenix investor group, purchased the Winnipeg Jets franchise in December of 1995, and despite desperate cries and pleas from the passionate Winnipeg fan base, the team was moved to Phoenix, Arizona and renamed to the Phoenix Coyotes for the 1996-97 season. (Later renamed to the Arizona Coyotes in 2014)
A Canadian team being ripped away from a major Canadian city in an effort to move the hockey club to... the desert?! If that sentence seems crazy to you now, imagine how crazy it was back in 1995, when the NHL wasn't even half as popular as it is in 2020.
Two decades of mediocrity and relocation rumors
The Arizona Coyotes were one of the worst teams in the league from 1999 to 2007, breaking 80 points in only one season during that time span. As you can probably guess, a bad hockey team in a bad hockey market spells disaster for attendance and profit. In cities like Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Montreal, New York, and Toronto, you can have last place hockey teams, and still see arenas sell out; those are hockey towns, and great hockey markets, Phoenix is not a hockey town.
Fan attendance quickly plummeted to abysmal numbers from 1999 to 2007, and even in the 2019-20 season, which was a playoff year for Arizona and featured one of the league's many electric stars in Taylor Hall, and a top defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes were still 28th in attendance. The Coyotes have never made a Stanley Cup appearance, and have only ever won their division once, in the 2011-12 season, where they lost in the Western Conference Final to the Los Angeles Kings, four games to one.
In 2018, it was reported that Houston Rockets owner, Tilman Fertitta, contacted NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, about bringing an NHL franchise to the city of Houston. The Arizona Coyotes were among the teams that Fertitta suggested could relocate to Texas.
The Seattle Kraken and division realignment
The NHL's 32nd franchise was awarded to the city of Seattle in 2018, they were later nicknamed the Seattle Kraken, and will kick off their inaugural year in the 2021-22 NHL season.
Naturally, as their history has gone, the Arizona Coyotes were the team that was left out in the cold. The NHL moved the Coyotes from the Pacific Division to the Central Division, in order to make room for Seattle in the Pacific. The city of Phoenix is geographically closer to cities like Los Angeles, Anaheim, and Las Vegas, all three of which have NHL teams in the Pacific Division. With the move to the Central Division, the Coyotes closest division foe will be the Colorado Avalanche, and now travel from Phoenix to other Central Division cities such as St. Louis, Chicago, and Nashville multiple times a year will be grueling for the Arizona Coyotes.
Many have speculated that this is the NHL's way of grooming the Coyotes franchise for a future relocation to Houston, the team just doesn't know it yet; a conspiracy of sorts, if you will. There is even a whole entire website dedicated to the idea of the Coyotes relocating to Houston. Fans of the future Houston NHL team have even gone as far as to subliminally influence the Coyotes to come to Houston, see a couple of the concepts below.
Courtesy of lakepowelllife.com Concept by Quenten Brehler via Reddit
Many like myself argue that the NHL should stop investing in southern cities, and start focusing on bigger hockey markets in the northern U.S. and Canada. Cities like Milwaukee, Quebec, Hamilton, and Kansas City are primed for an NHL team. I think the NHL struck gold with Seattle, I have a feeling that is going to be a great hockey town.
What are your thoughts on this, hockey fans? After years of mediocrity, an almost non-existent fan base, and financial struggles, should the Coyotes pick up and move elsewhere? Let me know in the comments below!
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