The slow death of the Phoenix Coyotes in an Arizona courtroom is painful to watch, but it is highly instructive. It’s a bit like a wounded dog begging for mercy from a too-proud master.
What is astounding is not that the NHL is trying to protect its ability to place franchises. Nor is it surprising that the league flinches when a maverick tries to lure a weak member of the herd to greener pastures.
No, what really makes you scratch your head is that in tough economic times, the bosses of pro hockey are deaf to the fans’ voices.
The bottom line in any sport is that loyal and devoted followers are needed in order to flourish. There has to be a fervent commitment to the cause. In hockey’s case, the disciples live in Canada. This is where the game is bred in the bone and where people crave the chance to see an NHL game in real life. In Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, there are millions of these obsessed fans.
In the southern United States, pro hockey is at best an amusement with a handful of curious onlookers. At worst, the NHL in places like Phoenix is an experiment conducted by mad scientists who think they can sustain ice in the heat of the desert.
It’s unnatural — at times cruel — to the fans of a beloved game.
The NHL did not fight this hard to keep the Jets in Winnipeg. There were few bleeding hearts in the boardrooms when the Quebec Nordiques were allowed to escape to Colorado, thus robbing hockey of its most compelling rivalries.
What is a good fan to think?
All of this pain and angst and a trumped-up court case in order to breathe life into a barely limping bunch of Coyotes.
Maybe the NHL should do what’s fair and what makes good business sense. Perhaps the league might agree that its future is north of the border in Canada where the fans run wild.
It’s time to put the Coyotes out of their misery and end the dog days of hockey for good.
– Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons. He has covered professional and amateur sports including nine Olympic games and numerous world championships.