Now that the Columbus Blue Jackets are on the precipice of finally rewarding their trod-upon fan base with the first post-season appearance in franchise history – and yes, all you inquisitive emailers, I’m still prepared to pay up on my bet – the fans I feel worst for these days are the ones in Phoenix.
For a while this season, it looked as if the Coyotes would be joining Columbus in the fight for one of the final playoff berths. However, the bottom fell out for head coach Wayne Gretzky and his charges after the NHL All-Star Game.
Not only did Phoenix lose nine of their first 10 games after the all-star break, they also dropped all except three games – and all those losses came in regulation time – in February.
Now, with less than a quarter of the regular season left to play, the Yotes sit only two points out of the Western Conference basement and are a virtual certainty to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year.
If that’s not depressing enough for Phoenix fans, the future looks to be more of a downer – and that’s even if the organization’s well-documented financial woes don’t force the team to relocate.
I mean, I’ve got all the respect in the world for GM Don Maloney, but how in the world does he properly remake the Coyotes, especially under the current economic climate?
Does he start by firing Gretzky, who, as the company line goes, might be the biggest fan magnet the franchise has?
Does he take a long, hard look at trading captain Shane Doan, the face and on-ice leader of the team who would probably fetch the most in any potential swap? Or does he deal away some of the team’s NHL prospects for the type of veteran savvy Olli Jokinen failed to provide this year?
Only two things about the Coyotes’ future are assured.
No. 1 – they won’t be a player in the unrestricted free agent market this summer.
And No. 2 – with one hand tied behind his back, Maloney clearly has the most difficult of all GM jobs.
• Oh, and did anybody else catch this line from ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons last week?
“…(O)f all the wildest predictions I heard (at the 2009 NBA All-Star Game) in Phoenix,” Simmons wrote, “the craziest came from a connected (NBA) executive who predicted that fifteen NHL teams would go under within the next two years (and was dead serious)…”
Fifteen teams! What a massive, unparalleled, disgraceful disaster that would be.
On the bright side, at least we’d be able to depend on the current NHL commissioner/honorary Iraqi Information minister to reassure us that nothing was amiss.