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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.)

Flames dominate the Jets to take over top spot in the Pacific Division

CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 10: Dougie Hamilton #27 of the Calgary Flames celebrates after scoring his team's third goal against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Is there a changing of the guard in the Pacific Division?

It’s the middle of December and the Calgary Flames, now with six straight wins, lead the same division dominated last season by the California powers in Anaheim, San Jose and L.A. The Edmonton Oilers have been inconsistent at times this season but they are right there, too, one point back. Same goes for the Ducks. The Sharks and Kings are definitely in contention.

There is plenty of hockey remaining in the season. Plenty of chances for change in the NHL’s division standings, including in the Pacific. But there’s no denying the Flames are on an impressive run.

Late last month, they had a particularly frustrating loss to Philadelphia and coach Glen Gulutzan voiced his displeasure about it. They followed that up the next day with an overtime loss to the Islanders. Prior to that weekend, there had been rumblings about the future of Gulutzan with the club, despite being only a few months into his tenure.

But since then, the Flames have yet to lose. They continued their winning streak with a convincing 6-2 victory over the visiting Jets on Saturday.

Dougie Hamilton — remember all that trade speculation surrounding the Flames defenseman and Brian Burke’s classic response? — had two goals for Calgary. Chad Johnson was solid in net again. It was a pretty dominant performance all around.

Frustrating night for the Jets and it showed when Dustin Byfuglien dropped the gloves with Garnet Hathaway late in the third period.

There are more difficult tests ahead for Calgary.

The Flames face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and then the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

In previous seasons, a Friday night game between the Flames and Blue Jackets in the middle of December might not garner much interest. But they are both among the hottest teams in the league right now and it’s likely not many would’ve predicted that a short time ago.

Video: Perlini’s first NHL goal helps lift Coyotes over Predators

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Brendan Perlini #29 of the Arizona Coyotes reacts alongside Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators after Perlini scored his first career goal during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes have moved out of last place in the NHL’s overall standings, courtesy a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Minus forward Max Domi, placed on IR and expected to be out on a week-to-week basis, the Coyotes got a 44-save performance from goalie Mike Smith and recently recalled forward Brendan Perlini pitched in with his first career NHL goal.

That goal gave Arizona a 3-1 lead. Thanks to the play of Smith, the Coyotes wouldn’t relinquish the lead, snapping a six-game losing skid.

It wasn’t all good news for the Coyotes.

Defenseman Connor Murphy played only 4:12. He left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return. Per reports, Murphy is considered day-to-day at this point.

The Blue Jackets just keep on winning

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets after scoring his first career NHL goal during the third period of the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift.

Saad, Sedlak and Jones scored in a 5-minute span to make it 6-2 with 5:37 to go.

New York’s third-string goalie Jean-Francois Berube then replaced Halak and stopped the one shot he faced in his season debut.

The Islanders came out quick and it took Columbus a while to get going. New York took a 1-0 lead 5:59 in when a defensive pass by the Blue Jackets’ Sam Gagner at the boards was deflected by Bailey, and the popup was bobbled by Bobrovsky into the net. Bailey was given credit for an unassisted goal.

The Blue Jackets tied it up on a power play with 6:01 left in the first when Johnson wound up from just inside the neutral zone and fired a bullet past Halak. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season.

Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky and New York’s Travis Harmonic went to the penalty box for 5 minutes each when both threw down the gloves and threw punches near the end of the first quarter.

Columbus took a 2-1 lead when a speeding Atkinson took a pass from Johnson in the neutral zone and beat Halak on the breakaway 10:16 into the second. New York tied with 7:28 left in the period when Tavares lifted the puck over Bobrovsky’s pad from in front of the net.

The Blue Jackets took off in the third period.

After Anderson gave Columbus the lead for good, Saad made it 4-2 on a wrister from the high slot at 9:23.

Sedlak, who scored his first NHL goal on Friday night, scored another when he tapped in a loose puck with 7:21 to go. Jones capped it with just over 5 1/2 minutes remaining.

NHL schedules hearings for Stars’ Oleksiak, Sens’ Borowiecki after separate incidents

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 10: Jamie Oleksiak #5 of the Dallas Stars in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Two NHL players will have disciplinary hearings Sunday with the league’s Department of Player Safety for separate incidents that occurred Saturday.

The league announced Saturday evening that Jamie Oleksiak of the Dallas Stars will have a hearing for an illegal hit to the head of Philly’s Chris VandeVelde during the third period of the Flyers’ win.

There was no penalty called on the play.

The league also announced that Ottawa Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki will have a hearing Sunday for a boarding penalty he took against Kings forward Tyler Toffoli.

The incident occurred early in the first period. Borowiecki received a major penalty, but remained in the game. Toffoli left the game to undergo concussion protocol, but he did eventually return.