In Coyotes saga, Seattle reprising its role as Leverage City for NHL

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Forgive Gary Sherwood for being both irked and bemused by the notion of Seattle taking his Phoenix Coyotes away.

The Michigan transplant and lifelong hockey fan is Glendale City Council’s leading proponent of keeping the Coyotes right where they are. Since his election last November, Sherwood, 59, has forged a tenuous local consensus that the team is actually worth saving.

He has nothing against Seattle, having enjoyed visits during his previous career in the aerospace industry. But he’s sure of one thing regarding the NHL’s threat to move the Coyotes there unless Glendale ratifies an arena lease by July 2: our city is being used — again.

“It’s just gamesmanship,” he says. “That’s all this is.”

Indeed, the NHL’s half-baked “Plan B” involves uprooting by September to a Seattle market with foggy ownership, no firm arena deal and questionable hockey demand.

Quebec City is the more plausible threat, given its new arena being built, solid temporary facility, local ownership and rabid fans. But the league would rather expand there later and charge hundreds of millions in fees.

That leaves little else but Seattle to throw in Glendale’s face.

Even if no one calls the NHL’s bluff, it’s worth examining why we suddenly became leverage for a second sports league in two months.

The NHL is now fairly certain Glendale will reach agreement by Tuesday with prospective new Coyotes owners on a 10-year lease at the city-owned Arena. It could then be ratified by a July 2 city council vote and allow the hockey universe to return to thinking of Seattle merely as the place where the 1919 flu pandemic was the last thing besides a lockout to cancel a Stanley Cup Final.

Like the NBA, the NHL is intrigued by our city’s beauty, income levels and television market — as well as a potential rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks.

But we see ourselves as the glamorous debutante at the ball, with handsome suitors vying for our affections. The NHL and NBA saw us as just attractive enough to throw a jealous streak into the woman across the bar that they really want.

The NBA wanted Sacramento. The NHL wants Glendale — badly.

After four tumultuous years operating the once-bankrupt Coyotes, a league besieged by troubled markets would love to park this particular headache in someone else’s desert garage for a decade and worry about it later.

All that now stands in the way is Glendale’s seven-member council debating whether the Coyotes make their devastated economy better or worse.

The NHL sensed enough indecision to swing a lease vote. Hence, the footsie with Seattle.

Sherwood talks up the team’s impact while on a stroll through the sprawling Westgate entertainment complex facing Arena. He sees the economic spinoff of Coyotes games helping revive stalled development on acres of surrounding land. Without those games, he envisions a “wasteland” of boarded-up Westgate restaurants, bars and stores.

But the team wants $15 million annually from Glendale, which budgeted only $6 million. Glendale gave the Coyotes $25 million over their first four years under NHL ownership, while cutting parks, police and fire services. Sherwood’s council rival, Norma Alvarez, opposes additional guarantees.

“I just do what’s right,” Alvarez said Friday.

While Sherwood sought out more amenable councilors, a worried NHL dangled Plan B — hoping to avoid extending another Glendale deadline. With a deal now close, it likely won’t have to.

The good news for Seattle? We’ve still got our looks. If the NHL wants a serious relationship, without scribbling arena plans on cocktail napkins, it could eventually work.

But right now, the NHL is even more desperate than we usually are.

“They want this to succeed in Glendale probably more than we do,” Sherwood says.

And that’s why Seattle, for all its barroom beauty, will again be headed home alone.