After the Phoenix Coyotes defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning at home last Saturday, they inched closer to the top of the Pacific Division.
With the beginning of play Tuesday, the Coyotes are within one standing point of first place in the Pacific Division. Tied with San Jose at 31 points, both the Sharks and Coyotes stand one point behind division-leading Anaheim.
The road to the top has been nothing less than dramatic.
It hasn't been a small feat for a team that was lost, forgotten, vilified and tossed amid the tumbleweeds, coyotes, cactus and scorpions, then left for dead in the desert of the American southwest.
Like a ship without a rudder, here’s a franchise that wandered aimlessly through the NHL landscape for nearly one-half decade. Owned and operated by the NHL for the last four years, no viable suitor came through to purchase the team, which set in motion an environment of great uncertainty.
The franchise was rumored to relocate more times than not and the future remained as clouded as the pervasive dust clouds that envelop the Phoenix region.
It wasn't until George Gosbee and his IceArizona organization offered a serious bid last summer that fortunes changed.
After a complicated deal with the Glendale City Council, along with the finalization of leasing of the Coyotes’ home rink of Jobing.com Arena and purchasing from the league, Gosbee took control.
For the first time since Jerry Moyes, the Coyotes’ last private owner, declared bankruptcy and sold to the NHL in 2009, the franchise had a fresh start.
After the resolution of the purchase, stability was brought upon by Gosbee’s group and the dark cloud of uncertainty was eliminated. Since then, the team has thrived.
“All the mental anxiety is gone,” coach Dave Tippett said. “The mental aspect was taxing on the players. They did not know where they would play, they remained uncertain about schools for their kids, unsure whether to buy a house in the area, and their future in general was up in the air.”
As a result of Gosbee’s ownership, there is now an appearance of comfort and ease. No longer concerned with issues off the ice, the players, Tippett and the coaching staff now concentrate on matters on the ice.
The result is increased production from the blue line and banner years from two possible Olympians—Keith Yandle, who could skate for the United States at Sochi, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, for Team Sweden.
After the Tampa Bay game, Yandle led the NHL in assists among defensemen and Ekman-Larsson was third among scoring by defensemen.
“Not only do we have owners, but owners who care,” Yandle said. “These guys are not invisible but attend every game and come to the locker room afterward. It’s not (like) a bunch of guys bought a hockey team and disappear(ed). They’re here all the time and we see that.”
Not only has production and accountability risen, the effect on players is clearly noticeable.
“(Captain Shane Doan) epitomes the attitude,” Tippett added. “He comes to the rink every day with a smile. On a larger level, the new ownership allows you to put more energy into what you’re doing on the ice.”
That translates into points in the standings and hopefully success beyond the regular season for the Coyotes.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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