Phoenix Coyotes Face Uncertain Summer

Mark BrownContributor IJune 5, 2013

Without a permanent owner, free agent Mike Smith says he would not likely return.
Without a permanent owner, free agent Mike Smith says he would not likely return.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After the Phoenix Coyotes failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs earlier this spring, offseason events were quickly placed in perspective.

The future, once again, is a maze of mass confusion and several issues continue to languish.

Perhaps first and foremost, search for ownership continues as a priority.

Since the NHL took control of the Phoenix franchise four years ago, suitors appeared and disappeared. For various and sundry reasons, many did not have support from the league, the money, nor the favor of the Glendale, Ariz. City council.

Identifying a legitimate candidate to acquire this team has been elusive at best. Until an owner steps forward and opens a wallet, the essential on-ice needs of the team remain secondary.

The frustration level experienced by coach Dave Tippett and his players was exceptional. For Tippett, the lack of ownership haunted him like a bad dream. During the last several years, Tippett constantly told the media a permanent owner was essential.

After the Coyotes final home game on April 26, Tippett appeared to reach the point of no return.

“At some point, people will say, ‘I’m in or I’m out,’” he said at that time. “This is an important time for many, including the coaching staff and players.”

The reference is obvious.

Tippett’s contract expires on July 2 and he vowed to remain coaching in the NHL. Now that the Canucks fired Alain Vigneault and the Rangers dismissed John Tortorella, Tippett could be a nice fit in Vancouver or Broadway. Yet, Tippett remains under a Phoenix contract for nearly another month.

Don Maloney, the Phoenix general manager, avoided a similar situation. Maloney signed what the club called “a long-term contract” in late May. Length of the new contract was not disclosed.

While Maloney may be locked up for the foreseeable future, several key players could head for the open market.

Goaltender Mike Smith heads the Phoenix list of free agents, and the 31 year old made it clear that he would not likely return to Phoenix without new ownership in place. Restrictive free agents include forwards Mikkel Boedker and Lauri Korpikoski.

Defensive specialist Boyd Gordon is a free agent and speculation abounds about moving defenseman Keith Yandle, who signed a $26 million contract just before the 2011-12 season.

Last season, Yandle was guilty of several key turnovers in front of his own net, and that resulted in a chorus of boos from the Arena faithful. Though he remains one of the leading scoring defensemen in the NHL, his defensive liability was exposed.

After the season, Tippett identified a major reason for the demise of the Coyotes, and the importance to fill this critical need.

“We had no depth in scoring,” he pointed out. “We didn’t have enough players contributing, especially in road games.”

For the season, the Coyotes scored 121 goals, last in the Pacific Division, and only 49 during road games.

Tippett cited a seven-game losing streak, from March 14 to March 25, as rationale for his team’s fate.

“In that streak, the frustration was front and center,” he said. “That period showed we just had to get better, and we didn’t.”

In the end, Tippett praised his players for their commitment and singled out captain Shane Doan, who played the final two weeks with an injured back.

On the day before the lockout commenced last September, Doan signed a $21 million contract to stay with Phoenix. The move clearly caught the coach’s attention.

“Not many players would show that leap of faith,” Tippett said “(Doan) faced a huge dilemma and that was whether to sign with Phoenix or sign with another team.”

In the end, Tippett missed the playoffs for only the second time in his NHL coaching career. If the ownership merry-go-round is not settled by early July, Tippett and key players could drive off into the painted sunset.

Behind in the rear view mirror is a sad story of a productive coach, intrepid players and an apathetic marketplace.


Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.