Phoenix NHL franchise eyeing Seattle?


The Vancouver Canucks’ announcement Friday of Utica, N.Y., as their affiliate in the American Hockey League didn’t seem like bombshell news.

But as radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, there is a rest of the story.

According to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report broadcast Saturday on the network’s “Hockey Night in Canada” telecast of the Bruins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final game, Utica wasn’t the Canucks’ first choice for an AHL affiliate.

Their first choice was Seattle, where the farm team would have played at KeyArena (there is precedence for a Vancouver-Seattle relationship — the Seattle Totems of the Western Hockey League were the Canucks’ top minor league affiliate from 1972-75).

No deal, the Canucks were told, and here is where it gets interesting: KeyArena is off limits for the AHL because an NHL team might move into the building as early as next season. That team would be the Phoenix Coyotes, whose ownership is in flux.

Ray Bartoszek, a New York oil trader and limited partner in the Yankees, and Anthony Lanza, son of the late founder of L-3 Communications — a military-equipment company whose clients include the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security — have plans to buy the Coyotes and relocate them, yep, to Seattle, where KeyArena would serve as a temporary home.

The future of the Coyotes in the Phoenix area figures to be resolved next week, when the City of Glendale, Ariz., decides whether it wants to pay $15 million a year to keep the Coyotes in Jobing.com Arena. If Glendale can’t reach a deal, it’s likely the NHL Board of Governors will approve the team’s relocation July 2.

In addition to identifying Bartoszek and Lanza as potential Coyotes owners, the CBC reported the hockey operations director of the team would be Jeremy Roenick, on the short list of greatest American-born players in NHL history.

At first glance, the idea of Roenick as the face of a hockey franchise in Seattle is curious. A Phoenix-area resident whose career included two tours with the Coyotes, Roenick long has championed the NHL’s viability in the sunniest of sun-belt markets.

Then again, Roenick can’t be blamed for moving the franchise out of Arizona. That potential tag would be on the City of Glendale, no?

This much we know: Whenever Roenick took the ice, he was literally the center of attention, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound package of dynamite. Off the ice, he carried the same swagger.

Outspoken, edgy, candid, insightful, Roenick’s personality, even in retirement, inspires enough adjectives to fill a thesaurus. He played for five teams during his 20-year NHL career, and yet when the Blackhawks — who drafted him and propelled him to stardom — won the 2010 Stanley Cup, the NBC studio analyst almost wept on the set.

“For a kid who was there in 1992, crying when I came off the ice after we lost Game 4 at the Chicago Stadium, you waited 18 years,” Roenick said, his voice cracking. “I hope you have a big smile on your face.”

As somebody introduced to sports by hockey — there’s nothing like a first love — the thought of filling up a notebook with Jeremy Roenick quotes puts a big smile on my face. Thanks to the CBC, a potential relocation of the Coyotes to Seattle is more than a rumor.

It’s an authentic possibility, and now that Roenick has surfaced as a leading candidate to serve as the organizational front man in Seattle, the possibility has been given legs, if not wings.

Granted, the sudden prominence of Seattle in the future of the Coyotes might be a smokescreen, to be used as the leverage that forces the City of Glendale into achieving a save-the-team solution. We’re familiar with the cynical tactic of pro sports leagues applying pressure at the 11th hour.

But, still, I’m stoked about the CBC’s scoop. The Coyotes in Seattle, with Roenick calling the shots?

Fasten your seatbelts, folks. We might be in for the ride of a lifetime.

My favorite Jeremy Roenick memory: During the Blackhawks’ 1996 playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche, he was tripped en route to a breakaway shot and — the playoffs being the playoffs — no penalty was called.

“I would have saved it anyway,” Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy said.

Roenick, who already had scored a breakaway goal against Roy in the third game of the series, heard that and countered: “I’d like to know where Patrick was in Game 3. Probably up trying to get his jock out of the rafters.”

Back to Roy.

“I cannot really hear what Jeremy says because I’ve got two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.”

There’s no sport like hockey. If this Coyotes-to-Seattle scenario is nothing but a dream, whatever.

Don’t wake me up.