GLENDALE, Ariz. – Phoenix Coyotes general manager Don Maloney walked in front of the two dozen or so cameras and tape recorders set up in the bowels of Jobing.com Arena and raised his eyebrow in mock disbelief.
“Wow, there’s a lot of you,” he said. “You do know that we’re not going to Winnipeg, right?”
It’s true, the Coyotes are staying. But for how long, no one’s quite sure.
The ownership situation, not to mention whether the team will stay in the desert or not, still hasn’t been resolved and doesn’t really appear to be close at this point. That makes three straight years of uncertainty for the Coyotes, who couldn’t help but have that here-we-go-again feeling as they took physicals and filled out paperwork Friday at Jobing.
“It’s not ideal and we all know that,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “We talked about that this morning, that that’s not going to be a distraction for us. We’re going to do what we do best and that’s play hockey.”
The Coyotes entered the previous two seasons under NHL control after the team filed for bankruptcy in 2009. They thought they had the ownership situation worked out with Chicago businessman Michael Hulsizer on board to buy the team last season, but that fizzled when the conservative watchdog group Goldwater Institute inserted itself in the situation with a series of acerbic news releases and threatened a lawsuit.
Rumoured to be headed back to Winnipeg, where the franchise was located before moving to Phoenix in 1996, the Coyotes instead will stick around for another season after the city of Glendale committed US$25 million to keep the team in the Valley of the Sun for another year.
There are currently two bidders for the team, including former San Jose Sharks President and CEO Greg Jamison, but progress has been slow, leaving the players and coaches to wonder if it’ll ever get resolved.
“You just hope it will end soon,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said.
Funny thing is, Phoenix managed to have a productive off-season despite the constraints of being run by the league.
A year ago, Maloney and Tippett lamented the lack of resources to go out and get impact players. That hasn’t been the case this year. The team was given a little more budgetary flexibility and used it to bring in a solid mix of new players.
Phoenix lost a key cog in goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, trading away his rights to Philadelphia because they felt he was asking for too much money, but managed to lock down All-Star defenceman Keith Yandle to a long-term deal—loosening the purse strings in the process—along with productive forwards Radim Vrbata, Lauri Korpikoski and Mikkel Boedker.
The Coyotes were busy on the first day of the free agency signing period, too, adding goalie Mike Smith and veteran forwards Raffi Torres and Boyd Gordon, then traded for former player Daymond Langkow, who will provide a veteran presence in the locker room with close friend Doan.
They also signed Hoby Baker Award winner Andy Miele, a talented centre who could have an immediate impact if the team isn’t able to re-sign Kyle Turris—the two sides are still far apart. Even with all these deals, the team still has plenty of money to make moves if needed.
“The ironic thing was a year ago, we were trying to save every nickel or dime we could to keep a couple of players we lost. It was really, really tight,” Maloney said. “This year, we have money, we’re flexible a little bit. It’s different this year. We have money to add a good player.”
The Coyotes have been resilient through this who’s-going-to-be-the-owner waiting game, focusing on what they need to do on the ice instead of worrying about what happens off. It hasn’t been easy, but they’ve managed to fight through it, making the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
Used to it by now, they enter this season ready to keep going forward—no matter how long it takes.
“All indications are still people are talking about situations that could come that would allow an owner to step in there and we all hope that happens here, but right now we’re all concentrating on getting ready for the season,” Tippett said.
That’s all they can do at this point.