The Atlanta Thrashers will move to Winnipeg, Manitoba for the 2011-12 regular season, pending a June 21 vote by the NHL board of governors.
This post is not a celebration of the Thrashers' relocation -- I'll leave that to the Canadians. I personally would never wish that fate on any fanbase, regardless of size. Atlanta was doing a poor job of supporting their local team, but we were in the same boat, and it could still happen if fans don't act quickly.
There are still towns that could theoretically support the Coyotes if they relocate. Quebec City, Hamilton (Ontario), and even a town like Milwaukee could be players if an ownership group with deep pockets came forward.
How can both the metropolitan Phoenix area and its population ensure that hockey stays in the desert? There's a few things that need to happen, and soon.
First of all, the Coyotes need to expand their footprint. The location of Jobing.com Arena is unfortunate, but it's not an impossible burden to overcome. Holding publicity events in the east valley, and perhaps even playing a game (exhibition or otherwise) at US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix would be an interesting way to improve awareness.
Secondly, the supposed fans of hockey need to put their money where their mouth is. Chicago Blackhawks fans always seem to sell out Jobing.com, but then disappear for the rest of the season. Become Yotes fans! Cheer for a team that you can actually watch on a regular basis!
Third, the valley must improve access to Westgate. While Phoenix doesn't want to give away consumers to Glendale, a speedy form of public transportation must be developed quickly to take fans from Westgate to downtown Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. If a fan can get to Glendale within an hour using a light rail or an advanced street car, attendance will improve. Plus, less drunk drivers!
Finally, Glendale needs to accept reality. If no one is willing to support the team in Arizona through a purchase of the franchise, then they need to let the NHL handle the problem. Throwing $25 million away every season won't bring forward an owner any faster -- they will just wait until the risk is minimized before they put down the money.
The NHL is culpable in this too, but they will always take the money of a city that's so eager to part with taxpayer funds. If the fans in Phoenix want to avoid the same fate as the Thrashers fans in Atlanta, they need to show up at the games.
A Phoenix Coyotes fan lets his feelings be known regarding the troubles of the Coyotes, during the first period of an NHL hockey game between the Coyotes and the San Jose Sharks Saturday, March 26, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. The Sharks defeated the Coyotes 4-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)