The Coyotes concluded the first half of the 2009-10 season last night by beating the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in a shootout. It's the continuation of a wonderful story that is quickly becoming the talk of hockey.
Since the disaster of this summer, the franchise has far exceeded expectations on the ice, been sold to a new investment group and has seen attendance start to grow after a disastrous start. It's the kind of Christmas story that warms the heart. You can almost hear Jimmy Stewart saying “It ranks right up there at the top”.
For starters, the Yotes now have 53 points in 41 games. Only San Jose, Chicago, New Jersey and Washington have more. Unthinkable for a team that most pundits picked to finish 30th this year. And frankly surprising to those of us who thought the team would do well to battle for a playoff spot.
Right now, Dave Tippett is a lock as NHL coach of the year, Don Maloney likewise as GM and Ilya Brzygalov, he of the inconsistent game, a leading contender for both the Jennings and Vezina Trophies. And the team, which badly lacks star power, finds a way to win every night. Young kids have stepped up, different players have contributed every night and no team in the league outworks the Coyotes. In fact, I've been watching hockey for a long, long time and I have to go back years to think of a team that works as hard as the Coyotes.
The current 10 game home winning streak is a franchise record. Not just for the Phoenix franchise, but the entire 30 year Jets-Coyotes NHL history. As we told you earlier this month the Coyotes need to win their home games now to build a cushion when the schedule turns against them in February and March. Since we wrote that piece, the team hasn't lost at home.
Consider this, if the Coyotes play .500 hockey over the last 41 games of the season it would give them 94 points, which would very likely be enough to make the playoffs.
Point totals aside, the Coyotes look like a playoff team. Monday night, they played San Jose even for 65 minutes in the Shark tank before losing the shootout. The next night, they did the same against a red hot Canuck team that had been sitting in Phoenix waiting for them. Both games had a playoff look and feel. And in both cases they were playing elite teams with a distinct advantage.
Better yet, there's still room to improve the product. GMDM has available budget (the Coyotes are still barely above the salary cap floor) and tradeable assets to strengthen the team. The team still needs scoring help and as the trade deadline approaches, many useful players will be available. Maloney has been a shrewd trader with a tight budget and many pressing needs. With fewer needs and some financial room to move, he could be on the prowl for an difference making acquisition at the deadline.
Also reaching the halfway point this week is the time fuse on the letter of intent signed by Ice Edge Holdings to purchase the team.
While news has been sparse since the agreement was signed, there are several important facts that have leaked out.
Ice Edge and The City of Glendale appear to have an agreement in place that will generate additional revenue for the franchise in some way shape or form. Importantly, the lease will not contain any type of out clause that might dampen fan interest. As soon as Ice Edge and the NHL have a sales contract in place, it will be time for Glendale to show their hand.
Negotiations with the league appear to be centered around the group proving their wherewithal to absorb losses over the next few years. With 90% of the purchase price committed in cash, there's reason to believe that additional money is available to cover losses as well as the credit line all franchises are required to have. As I told you earlier this month, I've been told by people within the hockey universe that these guys have money. That's good because they won't be turning a profit on day one, but the recent performance of the team has to be heartening given the size of the project and the scope of the investment. A contract should be signed with the NHL in the next 15 days.
And as for the Saskatoon option, that idea has not been well received by NHL Governors. We suspect a compromise is in order here -- a lighter schedule (say 3 games for a two year test period)at a neutral (still likely Saskatoon) site. Ice Edge can schedule those games in the first half of the year when weekday crowds are light in Phoenix. That move as well as a shift in the home schedule to include more March games (to coincide with spring training and sport oriented tourists) should address much of the schedule concern. It gives Ice Edge additional revenue and helps the NHL move the team off their books.
Perhaps best of all, attendance is growing. Yes the crowds are certainly being bumped by cut rate and free tickets but the building is getting fuller and more enthusiastic every night. Saturday's game against Detroit is almost certain to be the teams first non-promotional sell out crowd in a long time.
The stocking are full for Coyote fans this year. The team is vastly improved, new owners are on the horizon and as anticipated fans are turning out to watch the much improved product. Here's a scoop -- hockey may, may yet work in Phoenix. How great is that?