A tale of two (non-traditional hockey market) cities: The best of times and the worst of times.
It’s been 12 NHL seasons since we last saw the Winnipeg Jets take to the ice.
Considering how it’s clear to everyone not associated with the league’s board of governors that the Phoenix Coyotes are a failed franchise to this point, I think I speak for all Winnipeggers and longing Jets fans when I agonizingly ponder: But why?!?!
You can’t help but feel an enormous reason the Coyotes never really got it into gear was because of their lack of success on the ice; it’s hard to build a fan base around a losing team in a foreign sport. Despite starting the whole thing off with an optimistic attitude, the Yotes never made it out of the first round with big-splash additions such as Jeremy Roenick and Mike Gartner. Surely a city that had struggled to become a significant player in the Big Four sports world would embrace a contender.
By 2001, the Coyotes had lost Roenick, Gartner, Keith Tkachuk, Oleg Tverdovsky, Cliff Ronning and Nikolai Khabibulin – and two years before the lockout they shed themselves of Daniel Briere and Teppo Numminen. Among those who were brought in to replace them: Chris Gratton, Paul Mara, Ladislav Nagy, Mike Johnson and Mike Sillinger.
Phoenix tried to begin with another fresh, winning attitude after the lockout by having Brett Hull, Derek Morris, Mike Comrie, rookie Keith Ballard and headline-grabbing coach Wayne Gretzky along for the ride from start to finish. But it was not to be, as the whole attempt to patch-work a winning product flamed out with an 81-point performance. A year later, the franchise was again shifting its goals to the future, while baseball’s Diamondbacks and football’s Cardinals were both becoming threats in their own leagues.
Many players went to Phoenix over the years as the team eyed a playoff run, but every time the ending was unfit for a storybook. And now, while the team does have some promising prospects, they are nowhere near being in the same boat as the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues or Chicago Blackhawks, who cashed in their losing seasons for what seems like destined success.
It’s been 15 seasons since the Minnesota North Stars last took to an NHL ice surface, but despite loving all things old-school in this league, I don’t quite miss them as much and professional hockey fans in the Twin Cities got their team back in 2000.
The Stars moved to the heart of football country and, even though Dallas is a larger market than Phoenix, the challenges to attract attention during football season were certainly staggering, making playoff success crucial.
The Stars made the playoffs two of the first three years in Texas and in Year 4 won their first division crown with 104 points. Ever since, Dallas has been a contender or at least a tough customer, posting 90 points or more from 1997-2008. A strong system that brought along the likes of Jere Lehtinen, Jamie Langenbrunner and Brenden Morrow early on was bolstered with the shrewd additions of Sergei Zubov, Mike Keane, Kirk Muller, Darryl Sydor and the all-in acquisitions of Ed Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk and Brett Hull.
The Stars were a final four team in 1998, Stanley Cup champions in 1999 and finalists in 2000.
When its veterans became too old to challenge for a Cup, the team reinvented itself by adding Bill Guerin, Jason Arnott, Philippe Boucher and Stephane Robidas, introducing rookies Jussi Jokinen and Antti Miettinen and giving a heavier workload to Morrow and Marty Turco. Even though they have only made it to the conference final once since their last Cup final appearance, the transition was smooth and perfectly executed, and the Stars have been a perennial contender.
And now, both teams are facing challenges again, though very different. The existence of the Coyotes is on the line and the Stars are trying to reinvent themselves after a disastrous season in which they were pegged as a champion by many pre-season pundits.
But because they have a history of winning that has helped entrench them in Dallas, the Stars’ biggest risk is losing playoff revenue. The team has always committed itself to winning without sacrificing the future (and they traded prospect Jarome Iginla) and as another new crop makes its way into the winning formula (Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn, James Neal, Trevor Daley, Matt Niskanen, Fabian Brunnstrom), the Stars will continue to be a tough customer for seasons to come – and, now, on a budget.
So will it be a winter of despair, or a spring of hope for these two?
The fans have to enjoy prosperity if they are to eat cake.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season.
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