Winnipeg mayor doubts the Coyotes will move; Thrashers might relocate there instead

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Many people in the hockey world wondered if the Coyotes played their final game in Phoenix when the Detroit Red Wings completed their first round sweep. In fact, the very premise prompted a steady stream of cruel jokes on Twitter.

While relocation is still a legitimate possibility amid the troubling Coyotes sale situation, it doesn’t take an expert to notice that the NHL and City of Glendale are doing the best they can to avoid relocation. Their best efforts might not overcome the threat of a lawsuit by the Goldwater Institute, but the bottom line is that more money might be lost if the Coyotes leave than if they stay.

(That’s a sad sentence, but sometimes sporting reality is pretty depressing.)

There’s at least one rather significant party who thinks that the Coyotes will stay put. That would be Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz, who believes that the hockey-hungry city should look for a different team to bring the NHL back to the ‘Peg. Here are his comments via the Winnipeg Sun.

“Do I believe the Coyotes are coming to Winnipeg? My answer would be no,” Katz said. “I believe the Coyotes will stay in Phoenix. I happen to know some of the commitments that were made when they went there, and there were commitments that, if they were not fulfilled, there could easily be a lawsuit.”

If you believe Katz, then the Coyotes sale faces a lose-lose scenario: a possible lawsuit whether they stay or go. Both the NHL and Goldwater Institute’s people seemed confused by the claims Katz made about the possibility of a lawsuit if the Coyotes relocate, though.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said he didn’t know what commitments Katz might be talking about.

“I can’t say that I know what he is referring to,” Daly said via e-mail Wednesday.

Nick Dranias, constitutional policy director for the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, a taxpayer watchdog group trying to block the Coyotes’ sale to would-be buyer Matthew Hulsizer, was equally baffled by Katz’s claim.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Dranias said. “If he’s talking about obligations or agreements that were reached before the Hulsizer deal, that would have come out during bankruptcy.”

Even if Katz was incorrect in his claims that a lawsuit would be a possibility, his comments underscore the notion that the Atlanta Thrashers might be a strong Plan B for Winnipeg. Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press claims that the Atlanta Spirit ownership group is desperate to sell the Thrashers after failing to do so with a local group for years. (Regardless of former MLB pitcher Tom Glavine’s best efforts, it seems.)

Despite some reasonable possible other cities for relocation (Kansas City’s cushy arena deal comes to mind), Lawless writes that it would be difficult for the Thrashers to relocate to any other market than Winnipeg with such a short window between the sale and the start of the 2011-12 season in October.

In other words, all signs point to Winnipeg being the only relocation option for both the Thrashers and Coyotes. So the Atlanta Spirit must wait and see if the Coyotes remain in Arizona before they can make their move.

Keep in mind all of this talk is based on speculation from unnamed sources, so there might be a few factors that are a bit based on conjecture rather than facts. Either way, the fate of two troubled franchises – not to mention the puck-based future for one former NHL city – hangs in the balance over the next weeks/months, so we’ll keep you informed as this messy picture begins to come into focus.