Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why the Coyotes May Finally Work

By Mike Chen

You have to hand it to Phoenix Coyotes fans that have stuck with their team. They've been through a lot, from an arena with obstructed views for 1/4 of the upper deck to a head coach with no head coaching experience to bankruptcy to failed buyer after failed buyer. They've lost star players due to financial reasons, had players openly question the viability of the team, and had hopes dashed by empty suitors too many times to count.

Through it all, the league insisted on keeping the team there. Pundits outside of the southwest may have wondered why, as if the team was a Gary Bettman vanity project (remember, the much-maligned NHL commissioner stuck his neck out to save the Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, and Pittsburgh Penguins, as well). The real reason why the NHL wants Phoenix to succeed comes purely down to numbers; when you look at the metro area's size and demographics, a successful Coyotes franchise would translate well to the NHL's bottom line.

So why is this time different? Unlike the initial rush of the Jeremy Roenick/Keith Tkachuk era, the Coyotes actually have an arena properly capable of watching NHL hockey. Unlike the Wayne Gretzky/Mike Barnett era, the Coyotes actually have a strong coach and GM in place. And unlike pretty much anytime over the last fifteen years or so, the Coyotes have ownership that will provide stability.

Stability is the key word; without it, teams have difficulty retaining star players and wind up relying on young prospects before they're ready. This causes a roster shuffle that fails to allow chemistry to develop which, in most cases, hinders long-term success. Stability is the foundation to any successful on-ice product.

But what fans in the seats? Detractors eagerly point to the Coyotes' less-than-stellar attendance numbers over the years, though just about any franchise will experience attendance problems when ownership is apathetic or doesn't plan on staying. The other key factor to attendance problems is a prolonged poor product. Younger fans may not remember a decade ago, when tickets for the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins could be had for pretty cheat, and most nights saw empty seats masquerading as fans. Stability on and off the ice is the key to a successful franchise.

Of course, there's no guarantee that the Coyotes will be successful. However, the team's combination of absent ownership and poor management has constantly put the Coyotes behind the 8-ball. For the first time, they have all their proverbial ducks in a row (no, not Anaheim Ducks), meaning that Don Maloney and Dave Tippett only have to focus on the task at hand — and that business-like approach will trickle down to the players, who no longer have to answer questions about a possible move to Seattle or Quebec City. And for their fans, they can finally breathe easy and enjoy the drop of the puck.

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