For the love of all that is good and holy, let’s give the Phoenix Coyotes a break, shall we?
The speculation arose around this time last season that the ‘Yotes weren’t long for Phoenix and things began to come to a head over the offseason when Jim Balsillie took one in the blackberries as his bid for the Coyotes was denied.
Now, with the Coyotes heading to the playoffs for the first time since the beginning of this decade the speculation is beginning again, with the “likely” destination this time being Winnipeg.
Because we all saw how well that worked out last time.
The bottom line is that moving the Coyotes to Winnipeg, regardless of the circumstances and situations surrounding it, would be delaying a problem that needs to simply be dealt with.
The attendance problem would not be dealt with, as the arena that is readily waiting for an NHL team in Winnipeg boasts a seating capacity of 15,015, which would make it the smallest arena in the NHL.
Would it sell out nightly? Probably, but the idea that that 15,000 fans in Winnipeg are better than 15,000 fans in Phoenix is absolutely asinine.
With the addition of standing room only seats, it stands to reason that the MTC Centre could add maybe 500 or 600 more to that number so, for argument’s sake, let’s say that they were able to consistently sell 15,615 tickets for each and every home game.
That figure would still have them sitting in the bottom 10 of attendance in the league, with no hope for growth.
Since January, Phoenix’s average attendance has been roughly 13,194. Still in the bottom five of the league? Yes. A significant improvement on their season average of 11,725? Absolutely.
The team’s record since January? 22-10-2. This includes two separate extended win streaks—one of six and one of nine.
So, hold on now. You’re telling me that, if they actually have a winning team, fans will start to show?
Throw in a solid playoff performance and it’s not a stretch to imagine that the ‘Yotes might actually be capable of hitting the attendance mark of 15,015 that the organization should be setting for itself.
Let’s not forget this one singular fact, in all of this.
Right now, the Phoenix Coyotes are facing the exact same problem that the Winnipeg Jets were facing—waning attendance and corporate sponsorship.
You don’t believe me?
Winnipeg’s average attendance over the 17 seasons that the Jets were there? 13,004.
Phoenix’s average attendance in the 14 years they’ve existed? 14,596, and that’s including this season where season ticket sales were abysmal due to the ownership struggle over the offseason.
This is why the league is trying to save them. Because there is an interest there for this team if the team is winning—at least, from the fans' perspective.
But instead, we have fans from Canada that are now looking at this situation with Jets-colored glasses.
Now, I mean no offense to Canadian hockey fans. Hockey is to Canada what baseball is to the United States. It is your national pastime and it is very natural that you should want more than six teams in Canada and I completely support the notion.
But, for crying out loud, we’ve just seen the Coyotes go from the outhouse to the penthouse. From 79 points to 100+ points in one season.
A team whose financial struggles have been well documented and are now league owned for the time being.
A team that, for all intents and purposes, is a Stanley Cup contender this season, just one season after having the sixth pick in the NHL draft.
This is the type of story that sports fans and hockey fans everywhere long for. Phoenix is the prototypical underdog.
That’s why the 1980 and 2010 United States Olympic Hockey team were such big news. That’s why the world outside of Carolina rallied around the Edmonton Oilers in the 2005-06 season. That’s why people hate the Red Wings and the Yankees and the Lakers.
Right now, just sit back and watch the fun unfold. Leave your bitterness about there being hockey in the desert behind you.
Leave your conspiracy theories that the refs are ignoring calls against the ‘Yotes at home (What, you don’t think that NHL employees have a little thing called integrity?).
You can pick up your bitterness and your conspiracies after the postseason if you must but, for right now, just sit back and enjoy the ride because if you don’t, you’re cheating yourself out of one of the best Cinderella stories in the NHL and possibly all of sports.
And what’s more, I’ve got news for you.
The clock hasn’t struck midnight on this team yet. They’re the real deal, and they could very well be something very special come June.