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With prospects waning, Coyotes’ fate could be decided while they’re still in the playoffs

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As much as we admire every NHL fan base – especially one as resilient as the group that sticks by the Phoenix Coyotes – it’s getting tougher and tougher to believe that the league can fit this square peg in a round hole. Wednesday was another ugly day in the proceedings, as Nick Kypreos reported that the Coyotes would relocate to Winnipeg once their playoff drive concludes while league exec Bill Daly denied the rumors.

Thursday’s batch of news indicates that the league’s repeated measures to delay an inevitable decision might have run their course, forcing what some are calling “The Bettman ultimatum.”

On the brightest side (even optimism has traces of harsh reality in this case), the Phoenix Business Journal reports that there still remain some options to keep the Coyotes from relocating. Even if their front office staff told Gary Lawless that the team has a 50-50 chance of moving to Winnipeg, it’s not set in stone just yet.

There are two main options to pay off the $100 million in bonds that would help seal the $175 million deal with Matt Hulsizer, the chief issue that is holding up the sale.

  • The NHL itself could buy some of the bonds to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix.
  • Conversely, the City of Glendale could reach into its $400 million Enterprise Fund to help buy up the bonds themselves.

Of course, with each option, it comes down to the sides actually agreeing to fork over a big chunk of cash.

Would the 29 NHL owners be willing to pay off some of the bonds for another team? It seems far-fetched if they are unwilling to pay Wayne Gretzky the $8 million he was supposed to receive as the Coyotes’ fired head coach. (It’s tough to stomach stories about the league stiffing the most important player in its history a day after the NHL boasted its best business year ever with $2.9 billion in projected revenue, but whatever.)

The City of Glendale might be more likely to spend that money, although the city seems to have taken a few hits already, including covering the $25 million the league lost when it kept the team in Phoenix for another season.

I hate to ask this question, but is this all really worth it for a team that isn’t exactly selling tickets like hot cakes? At what point will everyone realize that Phoenix just isn’t that into the Coyotes? It never feels good to see fans lose their team, but reality must factor into the equation too.

Lawless discusses the possibility that Gary Bettman and the NHL will be forced to make a decision in the very near future in this Winnipeg Press column. In fact, Lawless claims that the league might be forced to make the call by the end of the Coyotes’ first round series or at least the Stanley Cup finals.

Bettman may reportedly use a transfer agreement with True North (the group looking to bring a team back to Winnipeg) as leverage, forcing Hulsizer and the City of Glendale to match a deal in a short window of time. Lawless points out that the Winnipeg group wouldn’t be out in the cold if the Coyotes do stay in Glendale/Phoenix, though, as the league would be forced to cough up a few million in compensation for True North’s “role and efforts” in leveraging Hulsizer and Glendale.

It’s important to note that most (if not all) of this information is based on speculation and anonymous sources, but the truth is undeniable: the countdown is absolutely on. We’ll keep you up to date as the Coyotes soap opera keeps spinning.

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…