Can Bettman save the cash-strapped Coyotes?

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's no secret that the current economic landscape is rocky to say the least and it should come as no surprise that the crisis is beginning to hit some franchises in the National Hockey League.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman revealed as much Wednesday night when he answered questions in a phone interview between the first intermission of a Phoenix Coyotes game.

Bettman told Coyotes announcers that the league has been helping the Phoenix franchise with recent financial problems. That doesn't mean the NHL is actually loaning the franchise money, but rather serving as a fiscal advisor to the club and its owner Jerry Moyes.

But what kind of advice can turn around a team that is reportedly losing more than $30 million per year?

The Coyotes have apparently taken over the mantle of the NHL's most fragile franchise from the Nashville Predators, who were very nearly relocated a few years back.

The NHL was able to walk the Predators through the rockiest of financial times and may be able help stabilize the Phoenix franchise in much the same way. After all, for all of Bettman's faults he has always been popular among owners for his ability to advise struggling teams on financial matters.

During the interview, Bettman was adamant that reports of the "franchise's demise are just ridiculous", but how could the prospect of the Coyotes financial ruin possibly be absurd when the team is hemorrhaging over $30 million a year?

The financial plan for the Coyotes is centered around the club renegotiating the lease on Arena, the team's home in Glendale. That strategy could help the club attract potential buyers, but there is no guarantee that the potential investors won't then move the team to a new city.

And why wouldn't a new ownership group think about changing markets? Local interest in the Coyotes is a problem considering the team is 27th in the NHL this season with an average attendance of 14,879 fans per game. That is despite the fact that Phoenix could very well make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

The most irritating statement made during Bettman's interview with the Coyotes announcing crew was when he said, "All of this blanket characterization of hockey doesn't work in the Sun Belt is just hogwash."

Really? Because dismissing the fact that the NHL's expansion to cities in the southern part of the United States may possibly have been a bad idea sounds like "hogwash" to me.

After all, the Coyotes aren't the only NHL team with a southern address that has fallen on hard times. Of course, the Predators aren't out of the woods yet and there have also been rumors that the Tampa Bay Lightning, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers are all facing serious fiscal issues. Not to mention, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are located in the northern part of the U.S. but are also struggling to gain a foothold in their market.

The fact is that the majority of teams that arrived through expansion in the 1990s and earlier part of this decade have faced money issues at some point during their existence.

The NHL's expansion to these new markets was always going to be an uphill battle and the current financial crisis isn't going to make things any easier.

Time will only tell if Bettman and the league brass can help the team survive in Phoenix, but if the Coyotes suffer a financial collapse it could sound a death knell for other struggling NHL franchises.

Having faith in Gary Bettman has never been something NHL fans in any market are wont to do, but at this juncture he may be their best bet.

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Dan Di Sciullo