For all the promise shown from the Phoenix Coyotes over the past two seasons, it’s really a shame how everything is playing out and seemingly winding down in the desert for the 2011-12 season.
Despite the fact the team made the playoffs in five of its first six seasons after moving south from Winnipeg, there was no real draw to the squad outside of Arizona and the curse of the Jets continued as the Coyotes got rotten post-season draws and failed to advance beyond Round 1.
When the team should have been building itself in the community and developing as a franchise, it hit a glut of down seasons that ended with it picking in the top eight of the NHL draft in five of six years. The only exception during that stretch was another bout of bad luck as the sixth-worst team from 2003-04 drew the 17th overall selection in the lockout lottery 2005 draft. None of those first-rounders became anything close to an asset you’d build a team around.
But, just two years ago, the Coyotes won 50 games (up from 36) and Don Maloney was named GM of the year for his shrewd dealings that finally put Phoenix on the hockey map. With all the negative press surrounding the team in recent years, it was a really nice story having Phoenix in the playoffs the past two seasons, but the Jets curse struck again with a couple more horrendous draws against the Red Wings.
Despite all the ownership uncertainty, the team still became somewhat of a contender. The league had a desire to keep the franchise in town and the dedication of a core fan base that does indeed exist in the area was alive. It may not be as large or as visible as, say, Edmonton, but hockey fans are hockey fans in any geographic location. Just not enough of them were showing up at the misplaced arena.
Even though we’re still in the middle of July, doesn’t it feel like 2011-12 is a requiem mass for the Coyotes and their followers? Not only has the latest potential owner, Matthew Hulsizer, turned his attention to the St. Louis Blues, but the Coyotes roster is falling apart.
THN staffers gathered Tuesday to break down our predictions for the next NHL season as they’ll appear in our Yearbook. When you think of it, there isn’t a ton of change across the league. Some teams are intriguing picks to move up a little, some are popular to fall a tad, but no team held such a consensus to drop off the face of the standings page as Phoenix.
The biggest loss, of course, was Ilya Bryzgalov. For all his pitfalls in the post-season, Bryzgalov was a contender for the Vezina Trophy two seasons in a row and really tied the team together.
Ed Jovanovski, despite his age, is another significant veteran loss, while Eric Belanger and Vernon Fiddler are no slouches either. Most importantly, no one was brought in to adequately replace these players and that, in turn, will doom the Coyotes this season.
Even the mayor of Glendale is resigned to the fact that this is the end of the line.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence,” Mayor Elaine Scruggs told Phoenix’s NBC affiliate last week. “I have never supported having the team leave, however now I believe that the only realistic thing to do is to take a look – for all of us elected officials – what would life be like with no team in the arena?”
I’m also not a supporter of having the team leave, but realistically time is running out. Each time I talk to a certain producer of a radio show in the city who is a rabid hockey fan I can hear the love of the game, but also the pain in his voice at the helplessness of the supporters on the ground…and that’s when they were good.
You never want fans to lose their local team, but the writing is on the wall – it has been for a while. And for all the progress that was made on the ice recently, it’s really sad the Coyotes will almost assuredly exit the NHL stage in such a meek manner.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His blog appears regularly only on THN.com.
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