Nordiques Nation, the imminent future of the NHL in Quebec City and the end of the NHL in Phoenix

The world in which the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes live collided in two different places on Saturday. When the dusts clears in the coming days, weeks and months, the Phoenix Coyotes will move to Quebec City in time for the start of the 2012-13 National Hockey League season. It is no longer a matter of “if or when” the final nails are being pounded into the Coyotes’ Phoenix coffin, as Quebec City is ready to start building the Coyotes future home, a $400 million state-of-the-art arena in Quebec City – the future home of the Coyotes.
More than 2,000 colorfully dressed hockey fans made the five-hour trek from Quebec City to Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place on Saturday, joining more than 20,000 fans in sending a loud and clear message to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman – Quebec City wants back in the NHL. At the same time, The New York Times offered an expose on the imminent end of the NHL’s failed Phoenix odyssey.
The NHL took over the ownership of the Coyotes at the start of the 2009-10 season while they were dead last in attendance. The Coyotes are averaging 11,624 fans per game this year, still dead last in NHL attendance. The Coyotes finished 29th in attendance last year of the 30 NHL teams.
The first edition of the Winnipeg Jets moved from that Canadian city to Phoenix in 1996. With a series of owners and a real estate deal that never worked, the Coyotes filed for bankruptcy protection during the 2008-09 NHL season.
Canadian Blackberry founder Jim Balsillie tried to buy the team. (He had failed to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins when they were in bankruptcy protection and then tried for the Nashville Predators.) Balsillie was interested in buying an NHL franchise and moving the team to the Southern Ontario market, where territorial rights are protected by the NHL Constitution.
The City of Glendale, AZ, owners of the Jobing.com Arena where the Coyotes play their home games, have covered $25 million in annual losses each of the last two years. There have been suggestions the Glendale City Council is ready to invest another $25 million of taxpayer dollars to keep the Coyotes there. This is a classic example of “throwing good money after (a very) bad” idea, but those taxpayer bailouts are about to come to an end in Glendale.
“We’re going to try to avoid a move of the Coyotes,” Bettman said in a radio interview before the All-Star Game last month. “But if we don’t sell the club, I’m not sure that this won’t be the last season here.”
On Saturday, The Arizona Republic reported former Coyotes and retired NHL’er Jeremy Roenick who played for the Coyotes for six years, is interested in joining former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison in his bid to buy and keep the Coyotes in the Phoenix area.
Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf has been talking about owning the Coyotes for the last four years. The NHL wants $170 million for the Coyotes. It’s safe to assume given the NHL has yet to approve either Jamison or Reinsdorf will be the next Coyotes owner.
Forbes Magazine in their latest NHL financial valuation believes the average NHL team is worth $240 million. According to Forbes (the well-respected list is subjective) believes the Phoenix Coyotes are worth $134 million, $106 million less than the NHL average and $36 million less than what the NHL is trying to sell the team for. No one is going to pay $170 million for a sports franchise that is losing more than $30 million annually and is only worth $134 million. The NHL needs to find a new home for the Coyotes.
The Quebec Nordiques formed as one of the original World Hockey Association teams in 1972. The franchise was originally awarded to a group in San Francisco, as the San Francisco Sharks. However, the San Francisco group's funding collapsed prior to the start of the first season, and the WHA hastily sold the organization to a group of six Quebec City-based businessmen who owned the highly profitable Quebec Remparts junior team.
The team left Quebec City after the 1994-95 NHL season. The Nordiques played their home games in the Colisée de Québec, originally built in 1949 with 15,176 seats. The Canadian dollar was in a free fall (as compared to value of the American dollar), NHL salaries were paid in American dollars and the teams’ owner Marcel Aubut believed the Nordiques needed a new arena.
Aubut asked for a financial bailout from Quebec's provincial government, the request was turned down, as few in Quebec were willing to subsidize a hockey club that paid multimillion-dollar salaries (bailouts for Ottawa and Edmonton were also rejected for the same reason). In May 1995, shortly after the Nordiques were eliminated from the playoffs, Aubut announced that he had no other choice but to sell the team to a group of investors in Denver, Colorado. The franchise was moved to Denver where it was renamed the Colorado Avalanche.
Sixteen years later, the long talked-about plans to build a new $400 million arena appear to be ready to put shovels into the ground and start building the cities state-of-the-art facility.
Friday, SportsNet.ca reported all that is standing between Quebec City and their new arena is an environmental assessment and clean-up. The new arena is to be built beside the Pepsi Colisee. Pierre Karl Peladeau, president and CEO of Quebecor (one of Canada’s biggest media groups) is ready to own the team. Quebecor has a management contract in place for the new arena. The $400 million cost of the arena will be covered by Quebec and Quebec City taxpayers. Quebecor has pledged to pay $63.5 million for naming rights and $4.5 million in annual rent if the company is able to buy the team.
The Coyotes death watch began in 2003. The team moved from downtown Phoenix to Glendale (20 miles outside the city). The real estate market collapsed the planned retail shopping outlets that were a key to the decision to build the arena never happened. The NHL missed the 2004-05 season due to the labor lockout and the NHL was all but dead in Glendale.
“The team was doomed the day they signed on to move to Glendale,” said Jordan Kobritz, who teaches sports management at Eastern New Mexico University in a New York Times report. “The Coyotes have had two strikes against them from the time they arrived.”
It’s time for the NHL to move this dead desert dog. The end long ago arrived for the Phoenix Coyotes. Losing tens of millions of dollars annually – enough is enough. The Coyotes will be playing in Quebec City next year, welcome back Nordique Nation to the NHL.