In May of 2009 I did my Canadian duty by signing onto Jim Balsillie’s Make it Seven campaign to buy and relocate the Phoenix Coyotes. By May of 2010 the Coyotes were firmly entrenched at #3 on the list of my favourite NHL teams.
How did my opinion of the Desert Dogs change so much in less than 12 months? Quite simply, the team made it impossible for me to hate them.
The Coyotes, out of necessity, have become the perfect bargain team. Ownership and financial problems have created an environment where Don Maloney can sign once coveted players to low dollar contracts.
The Coyotes roster is a bizarre mix of desirable prospects, diamonds in the rough and players proving rebound seasons can happen. There is no Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin on this team. Just a group of underdogs who played hockey the way it should be played.
I find it incredible that the Coyotes’ leading goal scorer from the 2009-10 season re-signed during the offseason for a $1.9 million cap hit. Can Lee Stempniak repeat his 28 goals? Normally, I would say no, but I don’t dare predict anything with this team. I love that any player on this team could become leading goal scorer and it wouldn’t surprise me. That’s just smart teambuilding on Maloney’s part.
I’ve learned to love this team because I can’t let myself give up on the players, coaches and even the fans.
When the Coyotes made the playoffs, that rink was rocking. Seats sold and the fans loved what they saw. I’ve seen quite a few articles where Phoenix is noted for being a bad hockey market. It’s a tough hockey market, no doubt, but it’s a market that works when the team wins. Aside from Toronto, every other hockey market is the same. In the late 1990s the Calgary Flames, now stable and prospering, had to threaten moving their club just to bring fans back to the Saddledome. Hockey fans want to see a winning team – no one can say Phoenix is the first example of this reality.
I love hockey teams that win when they aren’t supposed to. I take little joy in watching teams with one or two superstars who win games on pure offensive overkill. Maybe it’s because growing up I was always a second and third line player, but it’s great when teams win because of their depth players.
I have no problem with one-goal games, and Ilya Bryzgalov provided plenty of those. The team seems to play as a cohesive group, which I directly attribute to the fact that no single player is guaranteed to swing the momentum of a game. It’s an underdog team, and people love underdogs.
Smart hockey, smart operations and smart acquisitions. Every fan wants their team to do that, and behind the cloud of uncertainty and low expectations, the Coyotes have found a way to do embrace three things. Shane Doan has epitomized the meaning of dedication, which has permeated throughout the roster. Maloney has brought stability to the front office and made sure the hockey operations group focuses on hockey, not ownership.
Most importantly, Maloney has sourced talent in a team-centric way.
An ageless Ray Whitney brings more leadership for the young prospects like Kyle Turris, not to mention some strong offense. Eric Belanger can provide solid double digit goal scoring when needed and works hard for everything. Wojtek Wolski was a lost soul, with strong offensive upside, on a young Avalanche team bristling with offensive talent. Adrian Aucoin was the odd man out in Calgary with lots left to prove.
The list is seemingly endless. The team exemplifies intelligent hockey management. You don’t have to love it, but you need to at least respect that. And to top it all off, Paul Bissonnette is a hilarious addition to my Twitter list. Follow @BizNasty2point0 right now if you haven’t already.
If karma is real, people will soon have the same realizations as I did, and the Coyotes undeserved time in hockey obscurity will be a distant memory.