Friday, April 6, 2012

Last Lap in this race might just be Coyotes' last howl in Arizona

Final game in disheartening Wild season may double as last gasp for NHL in Arizona
By Wild Road Tripper

Well, the three-season-plus saga of the ownership problems of the Phoenix Coyotes may just finally end -- at least in the regular-season sense -- Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, as the beat-up and bloodied Minnesota Wild, still having to make multiple roster moves in order to field a competitive team, plays their last game of the 2011-2012 season.

For the Wild, the end of this 'tale of two seasons' season cannot come soon enough. The dividing point, the Dec. 13 game at Winnipeg's MTS Centre, stands out like the Grand Canyon does, dividing a 19-game stretch of unparalled success and a 41-game stretch of absolutely miserable failure, injury, and despair. The fact that the end of the season is coming at the end of a six-game stretch, the first five games where the Wild have 'amassed' a somewhat respectable (for a team out of the playoffs, that is) 4-0-1 record provides a ray of hope, while the rest of March was a series of drubbings, the likes of which Wild fans had not seen since...last March, when the Wild were throttled by Montreal, Toronto and St. Louis in four nights, after losing in overtime to the lowly (then, as now) Columbus Blue Jackets.

The fact that the Wild's roster has had to have basically been reconstructed, more than Todd Fedoruk's face following the Boogaard fight, says a lot about this organization's resiliency. The fact that the Houston Aeros are still doing anything at all in the AHL's Western Conference shows that the 'build from within' policy, adopted when Wild GM Chuck Fletcher tried to make chicken salad from the leavings of the Doug Risebrough administration, despite the club record number of callups to the 'big club' this season (47 players will have worn Iron Range Red by the end of Saturday night's game), shows promise for the near future.

And then, there's the draft picks, many of whom (maybe as many as six) will make the 'big club' roster by the time the puck drops for real again in October (assuming, of course, the NHL and its' players don't make the same mistake the NBA and its' players did this past fall, and stage a labor dispute, with millionaires and billionaires bickering about salaries, while the fans watch NFL and CFL football, and don't even care about missing hockey).

Sign a free agent (especially, say, one who is building a new home less than an hour's drive west of the 'X') or two (a certain offensive defenseman, currently playing South of the Mason-Dixon Line, would be nice, too) and you might be ready to rise from the ashes... a Phoenix. But this will happen in Minnesota, and not in Phoenix, where the Coyotes are standing on the precipice between staying and moving, with one foot on the proverbial banana peel, and the other on a base of very loose rock. Since the City of Glendale will not be allowed to further subsidize the operation of the Coyotes franchise, no thanks to the butt-inski attitude of the Goldwater Institute ("In defense of liberty"), whose current chair is none other than the wife of the majority owner of MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks, another Arizona sports team which hasn't exactly fared well in the last few seasons.

For all the complaining about the NHL Players Association that we as fans of hockey do, in my opinion, this time the NHLPA does have a valid point: the Coyotes are losing copious amounts of cash, upwards of $45-50 Million annually, with the NHL (read: every other team) and the City splitting the losses. The NHLPA is saying 'hey, wait a minute: if this team is losing that much money, where's our cut of the profits?'

They have a valid point. Any other team that loses $50 million dollars annually for more than three seasons in any other sport would either be moved or disbanded. But the NHL hierarchy refuses to give in (so far) to the calls to do something with the Coyotes franchise, as no one has an additional $140 million laying around right now with nothing else to do in this recession-ravaged economy, especially in ultra-conservative Arizona, where every little issue seems to set off major consternation.

Yes, the Coyotes have made the playoffs, something this franchise didn't do often when they were the original Winnipeg Jets. More than likely, the Coyotes will face off against either Chicago or Detroit (should they win Saturday versus the Wild), Vancouver (should they lose in regulation Saturday night), or St. Louis (should they lose in overtime or shootout, and San Jose wins at home vs. LA Saturday night). Yes, there will be a few more 'white-outs' in Arena next week. But the prospects for the Coyotes playing beyond the first round are very slim at best. And their prospects for playing beyond this year's playoffs in Arizona?

Even worse.

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