It appears that my now non-HDMI R972 will spend the next phase of its life as a multi-channel integrated. I have it upstairs powering an active x-overed bi-amp setup using the NHT Xd monitors from the closeout sale several years back plus a set of woofer modules. I still need to dial things in, but it's working. Somewhat surprisingly, the 7.1 ext in actually obeys the speaker setup config. I had the unit set up in 2.1 mode, and when I switched to the ext.in input with L/R/SL/SR in use, only the L/R channels came through - I actually had to go back into the speaker config and enable the other channels.
I'm still not sure the 972 will be ideal for the 4-ohm woofer modules, but we'll see how it goes.
I've ordered an Emotiva 8100 to try out in the theater space.