The resigning of Mike Smith was key to the Coyotes future.
Now, the Phoenix Coyotes can resume “normal” hockey activity.
That is, for the foreseeable future.
With the burden of franchise stability, physical destination, economic reality and organizational structure settled, the focus is now on the ice.
Despite general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett’s preparation for training camp, there still remains a dark cloud hanging over the recent sale of the team from the NHL to IceArizona AcquisitionCo.
In the agreement struck with the Glendale city council, IceArizona made sure there was an exit clause. After all, the Coyotes have not turned a profit since relocating from Winnipeg at the start of the 1996-97 season and their economic woes are well documented.
If the Coyotes lose $50 million in the next five years, IceArizona can walk away from the deal just struck. That would put the entire scenario of franchise location and the related quagmire back on the front burner.
For now, there are plenty of smiles to go around and immediate task is to put a quality team on the ice.
With the start of training camp about a month away, several pieces appear in place for Phoenix to present a strong charge in the newly-realigned Pacific Division.
The recent signings of goal keeper Mike Smith, unrestricted free agents Lauri Korpikoski, Kyle Chipchura and Mikkel Boedker, free agent center Mike Ribeiro as well as Maloney and Tippett all point to an energized start.
“I really like this team and I love our blue line,” said captain Shane Doan. “There’s a great excitement around this team and we can’t wait to get started.”
Coming into camp, the Coyotes defense is strong. Built around veteran Keith Yandle and emerging star Oliver Ekman-Larsson, play at the blue line should complement the renewed energy of Smith. The veteran goalie was hesitant to re-sign with Phoenix until the franchise plight was resolved.
If the new owners are looking for help in their collective attempt to fill Jobing.com Arena, they may have received assistance from the NHL schedule makers.
In their favor, the Coyotes schedule is quite favorable and several attractive opponents come in for Saturday night games. Here, Detroit makes its only visit on Oct. 19, the Capitals skate in on Nov. 9, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Nov. 30, the Flyers on Jan. 4, the Penguins on Feb. 2 and the Bruins on Mar. 22.
The Coyotes also close the regular season with a pair of home games, Sat. Apr. 12 against the Sharks and Sunday, the 13 against the Dallas Stars.
One result of the sale to IceArizona is a level of comfort and security absent over recent years. That’s because of the uncertain future of the franchise and the economic dark cloud are no longer ever-present.
Just because George Gosbee, Anthony LeBlanc and other principals of IceArizona have moved in as financial gatekeepers, the Phoenix market needs to be exploited. While Gosbee and others claim this is “a hockey town,” that assertion remains comical to most.
It is true that per-game attendance and television ratings rose slightly last season.
At the core, IceArizona must find ways to put fans in the stands and cut off the economic venom from destroying any credibility the recent sale may have generated.
As captain, Doan senses a spirit and comfort level absent the last four years. That should translate into greater confidence in each player, he pointed out, and give the Coyotes a clear rebirth.
“What the sale tells me is that we have a chance to be a good, solid franchise,” Doan added. “There’s an element of excitement I have not felt before. Now, we can attract players to come here. This is a great place to live and play hockey and we can now bring that message to the rest of the NHL.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.