NHL moving to Hamilton
Amidst the most successful season in franchise history, it was announced late Monday night that the Valley of the Sun will be without professional hockey starting in 2011.
The Phoenix Coyotes (47-23-6) will be changing climates to start next season as they become the Hamilton Tigers and return to the country that calls hockey home.
Before becoming the Coyotes, the team was known as the Winnipeg Jets and only moved to the Grand Canyon State because of financial difficulties. As irony would have it, a long financial struggle would send the franchise back to Canada nearly 15 years later.
After declaring bankruptcy on May 5, 2009, former owner Jerry Moyes was forced to sell the team to the NHL. Several attempts by the league to sell the club to a local business owner failed before the co-CEO of Research in Motion, Jim Balsillie stepped in and was approved as the new owner of the team.
Balsille will move the Tigers to Hamilton, Ontario and has an arena already in place for the team in Copps Coliseum.
"The people of Hamilton deserve this," Basillie said. "We're going to bring a Stanley Cup to the Great North once more."
This was Balsille's third bid to the league to purchase a franchise. His previous two attempts – Pittsburgh and Nashville – failed and hope seemed bleak for the millionaire.
With the move, the Coyotes will be changing their name to the Tigers, referring to the hockey club that once called Hamilton Home from 1920 to 1925.
Hockey in Phoenix has been abysmal since its inception. In 12 seasons prior to this year, the Coyotes only qualified four times for the playoffs and have never made it past the first round. Before this year, the team has gone six seasons without playoff hockey.
As strange as it may sound, the team is firing on all cylinders this season which makes this move even more puzzling. Not only is the team playing well, but they are exceeding the most optimistic predictions from the pre season.
Hockey icon Wayne Gretzky coached the team for four forgettable seasons and his departure prior to the season has only furthered the idea that great players don't necessarily make great coaches.
The Coyotes are fourth in the Western Conference and are ranked third in the league in points. Anchored by a core group of veterans, the Coyotes have found a perfect mix of youth and wisdom to carry them this season.
Starting goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has been brilliant between the pipes for the Coyotes and has been somewhat of a find for the team. A career back-up, Bryzgalov has found a home in Phoenix and has been mentioned as a possible Vezina Trophy candidate.
"I'm excited for the move," Bryzgalov said. "We'll miss our great fans in Phoenix but we're excited to gain a new family in the Hamilton area."
Like the rest of the team, however, Bryzgalov will be packing his bags next season when the Hamilton squad starts a new chapter in the long and storied history of the team.
The move will change many divisions throughout the league. The Tigers will move to the Northeast Division, with the Boston Bruins leaving to move to the Atlantic Division. To make room for the Bruins, the New York Islanders will then move to the Pacific Division, because "no one really cares about the Islanders anyways," according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Fans in Buffalo are devastated by the news as a large portion of the Sabres fan base comes from Hamilton and surrounding cities.
"Because of the move, I won't be surprised if we don't fill HSBC Arena up on a daily basis," said Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano. "We might have to look into relocation ourselves if the situation gets to be unbearable."
Olympic hero goaltender Ryan Miller released a statement after the announcement with some shocking news.
"I love Buffalo, but I do not love the situation that I am being thrown into," Miller said in the press release. "With that being said, I am demanding a trade or a release from my contract effective at the end of the season. I don't want to be thrown into a situation where my godly goaltending skills will be jeopardized."
As of late, there have been several police reports that the family of general manager Darcy Regier has filed a missing person report with the Amherst Police Department. A connection to the news has not yet been made.