11 October 2009
It was May 5th when surprising news broke that the Phoenix Coyotes franchise had filed for bankruptcy. What was even more surprising was the intent with which the move was made; to hand the team over to billionaire Jim Balsillie and move the team to Hamilton, Ontario.
As if the NHL and Gary Bettman didn't already hate Balsillie enough after attempts to buy and move both the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins, this was fuel to that fire as Balsillie thought he had found a way around the owners voting process and that he would be given his team no questions asked.
An offseason long court battle drug on for months and as the 2009-2010 NHL season was set to get rolling, the case came to a close; the decision, no sale to neither Balsillie nor the NHL.
This means now that the NHL will do whatever it can throughout the regular season to find a person or a group of people willing to buy the team and willing to keep the team in the desert. While having a seventh team located in Cananda would likely produce more fans and revenue than one in Phoenix, Bettman doesn't want to look like a hypocrite. He was adamant about how he and the league were committed to all 30 franchises, and where they were located, so it's quite clear that Bettman doesn't want to see one of those teams relocate only five years removed from the lockout season.
When the team is sold and to who it is sold will be another multi-month endeavor that will go on throughout this season. The time for schematics of the franchise can wait for another time, though, the season has started, so let's talk about the actual game of hockey.
The Coyotes had their first three games on the road, going 2-1, but were ready to open up for their first game of the season at home. News broke days before the Saturday match up with Columbus that Jobing.com Arena was sold out.
After finishing 28th in average attendance in the league last year, Phoenix stepped onto the ice in front of a capacity crowd of 17,532 fans. The "Welcome Back White Out" saw the thousands of fans wearing white t-shirts and the team, although at home, wearing their white road jerseys to match the fans. (This move actually makes sense, unlike the "white outs" the Penguins have at home during the playoffs, despite the fact they're wearing the black home jerseys, go figure)
The fans were pumped and electric, ready to support a team they almost lost. But in the two hours and seventeen minutes it took the game to be played, fans at the game or watching at home realized why hardly anyone goes to see this team play.
Everything was aligned for Phoenix to win this game: The offseason turmoil, the subsequent sellout to show support, an adrenaline filled arena screaming and backing their home team, an opponent in Columbus playing their third straight road game and starting their backup goaltender. Every angle you could possibly take on this game there was an advantage for the Coyotes. Even if it was the first road game of the year for Columbus, it still would have favored Phoenix, but a three game road trip, especially early on in the season when the players are still trying to get their legs under them, and they're already playing a trio away from home? Come on. We probably didn't even need to watch this game; just chalk up two points for Phoenix.
But then you look at the stats and the final score, and you think to yourself, "This is why no one cares." A 2-0 loss, shutout, at home, blanked by a backup. Seven power play opportunities, including a 5-on-3 for over a minute and a half, you outshoot your opponent nearly 2:1, racking up 36 shots to their 19. All of that considered, and you can't win the game? You can't even score one goal?
You look at this team's makeup: Dave Tippett, a coach who two years ago was in the Western Conference Finals with Dallas. Young, up and coming players like Yandle, Hanzal, Boedker and Mueller. Veteran leaders like Upshall, Doan, Aucoin and Jovanovski. And a solid goalkeeper in Bryzgalov. All that, plus again, the offseason, the emotion of the home opener, and you lose?
It was unlikely to think or believe that the Coyotes would sellout a bulk of their games this season, or possibly even another game this year. Fans may have been more likely to pay attention, but consistent sellouts were unlikely. And after the performance they gave to their fans at the first home game of the season, now there's even more reason to doubt they'll fill every seat every night.
If you want to generate interest and sell tickets, you need to win games, everyone knows that. Now more than ever, the Coyotes franchise, players and fans realize that. So for that team to come out and drop a fat zero in the goal column, it's like they're begging to be relocated.
Much was made of their 2-0 start, but two games later, they're 2-2, and played a game nothing short of embarassing in front of the fans that came out to say they do care.
If there are 10,000 less fans at the next Coyotes home game, not even Bettman can put on blinders and say the reason isn't because the on ice product is just time and time again, disappointing.
Phoenix's play this year will do one of two things; pack the seats or pack the franchise's bags. Early indications, it's the later of the two.
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