The NHL needs to Pull the Plug on Arizona


It was announced earlier this week that Gila River Arena, currently the home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, would not be welcoming the team back following the 2021-22 season. The announcement has been a long time coming as the city of Glendale, where the arena is, has been losing money hand over fist during this venture. The stadium wasn’t going to work long-term. The team had been renewing the lease on a year-to-year basis for the last few years. The arena also needs substation improvements, and the attendance figures weren’t there.


The idea of hockey in the desert has always been a hard sell. The Coyotes were formed as a byproduct of the weak Canadian dollar in the late ’90s. Small Canadian markets and a weak dollar forced the NHL to pull the plug and relocate two teams, the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques. The Nordiques settled in Denver, but the NHL took a punt on Arizona for the Jets.


Despite Phoenix’s massive market size with a population of about 4.6 million people, it was always going to be hard to pull hockey off in the desert. The team has struggled on the ice for years, and playing in a stadium away from downtown Phoenix doesn’t help. The city of Glendale has been losing money on the deal with the Coyotes for some time, and the pandemic has only made that worse.


Since Glendale announced, it wanted the coyotes gone; the team said they are hoping to build a stadium in Tempe, Arizona. While this could work, I think the NHL needs to cut its losses and move the team. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been committed to keeping the team in Arizona, but it’s clear that it is not working.


With the announcement of the arena troubles in Arizona, three cities have been on everyone’s minds for relocation. Houston, Quebec City, and Kansas City seem to be the best bets to land a team, each having pros and cons.


Houston continues to be a popular name simply due to the market size. Houston is home to 6.7 million people and is the largest US city to lack all four big four pro sports teams. Despite being in the southeast, there is a belief the market has enough people to support a franchise. The Houston Rockets owners have expressed interest in bringing a team. The city does face an arena hurdle. The Toyota center was once home to Houston Aeros, an AHL team. The stadium wasn’t built with hockey in mind and had poor sightlines. There is also the belief the NHL wants to avoid putting another team in a non-winter climate. While non-winter climate franchises can work, see Tampa and Las Vegas, it is a gamble.


Following the Coyote’s announcement, all of Canada has been screaming for the NHL to bring back the Quebec Nordiques. As mentioned before, the Nordiques moved at the same time as the Coyote’s, and since then, the city has begged for a team back. Winnipeg got its team back in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated in the middle of the night. The fan base in Quebec City is huge, and they would sell out every game. They also have a purpose-built NHL arena already. The city built the Videotron Centre with hopes of bringing a team. Quebec City does find itself with huge problems, though. The market would be the second smallest in the NHL, with a population of about 800,000. It would be just behind Winnipeg in terms of population. The team would also be competing with the Montreal Canadians in terms of popularity.


Quebec City being primarily a French-speaking city, also creates problems. The city lacks an English-based daily newspaper and only has one English T.V. station. The original Nordiques ran basically everything in the arena in French. The team was unmarketable in English, and non-French-speaking players were hesitant to join the team. Couple that with the volatile Canadian Dollar and the ever-present potential of a Quebec sovereignty movement, the NHL might think it is best to avoid the city.


Kansas City may well be the NHL’s best option. Kansas City has roughly a population of 2.1 million people and strongly supports its current franchises. The city also has a purpose-built NHL arena with the T-Mobile center (Pictured above). The arena was built in an attempt to lure the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007 prior to them getting a new arena. The market has failed with a team in the past; the Kansas City Scouts only lasted two years. That was a different time; the 1970s were rough for the NHL. The city has stayed away from NHL expansion recently as no investor in the city seems interested in paying $500 million for a team. A relocation may be significantly cheaper, considering a stadium is already in place.


For me, the NHL needs to pull the plug on Arizona. Hockey in the desert isn’t viable long term, and it was never viable, to begin with. The NHL should plan and move the team to Kansas City. The situation there seems to be the best and the easiest to work with. While personally, I’d love a Quebec team, the volatility in the city and the French-speaking dominance seems like a headache the NHL should avoid. With the arena situation not perfect and considering Houston’s location, the NHL should pass on the opportunity. It seems simple to me; the NHL should move the Coyotes to Kansas City and forget the desert experiment even happened.

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