Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans. In this week's edition we take a look at a number of concerns surrounding the club as well as Keith Yandle being named to the 2012 All-Star team. This time around the FFH staff is joined by Mike Muraco. Mike is better known as 'Roc' from the Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch show heard weekdays from 3 - 6 p.m. on KDUS. Roc can also be found on Twitter.
The Coyotes have won only twice in their last 11 games. Should fans be worried or is this just a rough patch due to injuries at key positions?
[Editor's Note: This question, along with the others in the post, was posed prior to the Coyotes 6-1 win over the Avalanche on Monday afternoon]
Roc: I believe it's a little of both. The fact the team is owned by the league, they are doing nothing to improve their depth or hit the market for help. They have so much money under the cap, but because of the ownership situation, they are not doing a thing. According to various NHL salary cap websites, the Coyotes have between $8 to $11 million in cap space. It's not fair to players, coaches and fans. Not to mention, the NHL has handcuffed this team with a brutal schedule. I have a feeling that the schedule makers put together the Coyotes last by just filling in the holes. It's unfortunate that the Coyotes have been very disappointing at home - only 19 points heading into the Colorado game. However, they can make up some ground as nine of their next 11 are at Jobing.com. I just hope the fans will show up.
The Dude: The Coyotes have won only twice in their last 11 games. Should fans be worried or is this just a rough patch due to injuries at key positions? I'm not sure that fans should be worried at this time, there were pretty tough injuries last month and those seem to be ending so hopefully the team will go back to performing the way that they did in the first two months. Now that Smith, Aucoin, Gordon are back and it looks like Hanzal will be back soon I'm hopeful that they will be winning more. I'm also hopeful with Gilbert Brule and Marc-Antoine Pouliot being on the lineup now, they can hopefully add something to contribute to more wins.
Jonathan: While major injuries, especially the double-whammy to Boyd Gordon and Martin Hanzal, have certainly played a role in the team's recent struggles, I believe the slump is more an issue of glaring weaknesses finally being exposed. The league's worst power play unit, routine defensive lapses leading to heartbreaking goals at the end of periods, inconsistent play from major contributors like Shane Doan and Keith Yandle, all of these are systemic problems that have existed for a while now. The world class goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov, and for a portion of the year at least Mike Smith, tended to conceal the team's blemishes but eventually in sports regression is inevitable. Unless the coaching staff can turn the PP around and find a way to get maximum production from their key players, I fear stretches of poor play like we have just witnessed may become the norm.
Carl: Probably a combination of both. There is no question that the injuries on the blueline and at center have hurt the Yotes chances in recent weeks. Add in starting goalie Mike Smith being out and there are built in excuses for the losses. However, other concerns such as lack of execution on the power play and late in periods were there well before the recent rash of injuries. It's not time to panic quite yet. But that time is may be approaching.
Jordan: I don't really like to make excuses because there are plenty of teams battling injuries, but the Coyotes lack the depth of talent of some of those teams to weather such a storm. Clearly the losses of Martin Hanzal, Boyd Gordon and Mike Smith all at once did little to help the team win games. Having Gordon and Smith back in the line-up seems to have rejuvenated the club a bit as they have played very good games in three of the last four contests, despite only the single win. Hopefully, this extended blip in the season will be matched by a very successful run of wins on home ice as they push through the All Star break.
Why do you think a significant portion of the local media is so unwilling to embrace the Coyotes and make them part of the local sports story?
Roc: This is a great question and very difficult to answer since I am part of the media and support the Coyotes. I think the naysayers just like an opportunity to bitch about something. Since the June 2009 Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Jerry Moyes, much of the mainstream media has vanished. I can't fault them completely. But I can't stand the media types that say "They'll never make it in the Arizona" or "Let 'em leave, no one cares" - That's just ignorant. They are also the first ones to ask for tickets in the playoffs! The drama surrounding this club has been exhausting. The NHL, City of Glendale, past Phoenix Coyote ownership has not been honest with the media or fans. Unfortunately, the numbers don't lie to the situation. The attendance has been awful.
The Dude: Why do you think a significant portion of the local media is so unwilling to embrace the Coyotes and make them part of the local sports story? I have no clue why the local media does not seem to want to embrace the Coyotes. It could be that fans aren't going to local media looking for info about the Coyotes, and as such the media doesn't feel the need to publish information about the Coyotes. It could be the people in charge hate hockey. I know I frequently go to some of the local media's websites looking for Coyotes stories and I rarely find anything good. I would like to see Arizona media paying more attention to the Coyotes, but I would like to see media pay more attention to hockey in general.
Jonathan: I feel that a combination of mitigating factors have colluded to submarine the local media's commitment to the Coyotes. First of all, the ongoing soap opera over the team's status and eventual sale has soured the general public on a team which is viewed mainly as a nuisance by the casual sports fan. Second, the lingering demise of print media (at least major newspapers as we knew them), has compelled the management of corporate rags like the Gannett-owned Republic to seriously cut costs and streamline their operations. Unfortunately, with hockey still the 4th sport on a 4-sport stage, this means relegating the Coyotes to the back pages. Finally, the sheer reality of the team's history in the Valley, filled as it is with meager success and playoff failures, seems to have spoiled Phoenix's mainstream sports scene on hockey, at least until we bring the Cup to Glendale.
Carl: Part of the problem is the whole chicken or the egg thing. Local media complain that there isn't much interest, yet how do you gain interest without media coverage. The Ellman/Moyes years were terrible from a marketing standpoint and then add in the fact that there hasn't been a true owner since the bankruptcy and the local media has been left off the hook.
The other issue is personalities on the team. Part of the reason the Coyotes got better media coverage during the Burke years was due to Walt and J.R. The media, for whatever reason, really focus on big star personalities. Hockey, even more than football, tends to be a very team focused sport. Unless the media are following the team they tend to miss the cool stories surrounding the team itself and/or its players.
Finally, you have the issue that you have throughout the country both at the national and local media level. The majority of sports writers, editors, TV anchors, and management appear to have little appreciation/understanding for the sport. Most of them don't appear to have grown up watching or playing hockey. Like anyone else they gravitate to what they know. The NHL has struggled with the issue since before I became a fan in the early 80's.
Jordan: I think the biggest problem is a lack of familiarity with the game. It comes in all markets, really, with the exception of the Canadian ones and some of the American hockey hot-beds (New England and Minnesota). For the rest of the country where hockey has caught on, it has been through some extended winning, deep playoff runs and a large enough population to embrace the game that it simply forces the media to give it equal attention. I really think the Coyotes will get there - despite the D-backs' surprising year, it is still going to be a fairly disappointing sports season for the Cardinals and Suns. If the Coyotes can get going in the right direction and be the one team playing in the postseason from our "winter" sports, then I think that will get them a bit more coverage. If we can get an owner and a bigger marketing budget to push them to the forefront, that will just solidify everything.
With the December 31 exclusive negotiation deadline now passed, are you more concerned about the team's prospects of staying in Glendale?
Roc: I don't believe there was a deadline. But who knows anymore. For the first time, I do believe they are leaving Glendale. I hope I am wrong. It might not be after this season, but eventually. As soon as there's a suitable city with a NHL arena, they're gone.
With Greg Jamison's group pulling out and the rumors of challenges within the Jerry Reinsdorf team, I believe the NHL has no other choice than to move them. If there is someone out there with the resources - $170 million. Gary Bettman can not afford to lose anymore money with this franchise. Especially with the current CBA is set to expire on September 15, 2012. I am sick to my stomach over it. Now if the NHL decides to come down considerably with their asking price, then there is a chance.
I do believe with a solid ownership (foundation of hockey enthusiasts and marketers) they can be successful on and off the ice in Glendale. They have already proved it on the ice.I do feel the NHL is playing us - meaning they are not reporting anything until later in the season to avoid a lame duck tag. We all know if they made an announcement the Coyotes are moving after this season, no one would show up at Jobing.com.
Why isn't Quebec City following Winnipeg's game plan - owner with cash and a plan. It worked perfectly for them grabbing the Atlanta franchise. Put a check in front of Bettman and team is theirs. Don't be surprised if Jim Balsillie's name resurfaces or even Matthew Hulsizer. The NHLPA's Don Fehr may get involved in some capacity due to realignment issues and the upcoming CBA deadline.
The Dude: I'm a little bit more concerned about the team staying in Glendale but I have faith that someone will realize the potential that a hockey team has in Arizona. I doubt that Phoenix will ever be one of the major hockey cities like Toronto, New York, Detroit, or Saint Paul but I know we can support an NHL team and I like to believe that people out there with the money know that and are working hard to keep the Yotes here.
Jonathan: I suppose I am still in the denial stage of the grieving process, because I don't really think about the ownership situation anymore. Something about recognizing the things I cannot change I suppose. In reality, the deadline passing is yet another ominous sign, and I recognize this, but until any final word is given I feel better simply enjoying the players, the games and the season as it unfolds.
Carl: I think I'm where Jonathan is at. I'm trying to control the one thing I can which is having fun watching hockey. I've given up worrying about the future.
Jordan: Not really. It's still in the NHL's best interests to keep the team here and hold out on the so-called "ideal" hockey markets through expansion, and the requisite fees that the league could collect. With Winnipeg already getting a franchise, there is not really a market ready to take on the Coyotes right away, so I think there is nothing more to the exclusive negotiating rights than the prospect of perhaps putting a bit more pressure on Glendale to get something done.
Were you surprised by Keith Yandle being named to the 2012 All-Star roster?
Roc: Yandle is solid player who averages more ice time than anyone else on this team. He can play both ends of the ice as indicated with 25 points in the first half of the season. I do wonder if the NHL just wanted a Phoenix representative. I would have liked to have seen Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata on the roster. Maybe a late injury will open a spot.
The Dude: I was pleasantly surprised with Keith Yandle being named an All-Star, he definitely deserves to be on the roster, but I wasn't sure that the hockey world would think so. Yandle is a good defenceman, and he played last year so knows what its like to be an All-Star, so it makes sense that he is on the roster. To be completely honest, I'm more surprised that Yandle is the only Coyote going to the All-Star game, but it seems like more people are talking about the snubs than the people who are going so I'll let others than me in other places do that.
Jonathan: Not really, simply because for the average hockey fan in Philadelphia or Chicago, the Coyotes really only have two players to speak of: The Doaner and Keith Yandle. Even though his play has not been as strong this year as it has in seasons past, the fan-voting process means players who are household names will generally make it over relative newcomers. To wit: our resident sniper and scoring leader Radim Vrbata, who has also pushed himself to the top of the Western Conference scoring lists, failed to get the All-Star nod.
Carl: Yes and no. Yes, because I wouldn't have chosen him based on his play in the first half of the season, and no because of the way the system/rules work and there haven't been a bunch of stand out performance by defensemen this season. The two Coyotes, who in my mind, were deserving were Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney. With the all-star game still over a week away and injuries piling up I wouldn't be surprised if one or both of them find themselves in Ottawa for the festivities.
Jordan: A little bit, but only because I thought that Radim Vrbata deserved to go ahead of Yandle. There haven't been very many great seasons coming from off the blue line, however, and Yandle has gotten a certain amount of national media notoriety, so he becomes the obvious choice for the Coyotes where they are only looking for a single representative. I do hope that with the injuries to some players that were selected Vrbata and Ray Whitney will get a good look and perhaps get to fill those spaces.