Phoenix Coyotes roundtable: attendance problems?

Christian Petersen

The FFH crew delves into attendance concerns, prospects, free agents to be and referees in this week's roundtable.

Despite new ownership, why has average attendance barely budged from last season?

Brendan Porter: Strictly speaking, attendance is up 11 percent from the last full season (2011-12). The fact that the lockout cut off the first half of last season when the Coyotes typically have the hardest time drawing people to games makes the numbers slightly misleading. I think a lack of time to implement an offseason marketing plan, plus the team's struggles, has contributed to the attendance issues. For a really good look at the medium and long-term prospects of the franchise, next year's early numbers are going to be very important.

Ben Shroyer: With last years home schedule being shortened by 17 games it may be an unfair comparison to look at YoY numbers. However, if you look back to the 2011-12 season the average attendance for home games was 12,240, the average the Coyotes are at now is 13,357, a gain of 9.13%. Looking forward as the team makes a playoff push, six of the final eight home games are on either Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Those nights traditionally draw much higher than weeknight games, and while those games will certainly boost the attendance, I don't think I'll hit my prediction of 15,594.

Carl Pavlock: I think the reason attendance hasn't risen is because even though there is ownership, there are still issues that they have not had time to address and will likely be fixed before the next season. Season ticket holder numbers need to increase, marketing needs to keep improving in ways that we didn't see at the beginning of the season, the scheduling could probably be tweaked in ways that increase attendance as well. Earlier this season, the team did some afternoon weekend games which weren't a big draw and I think they could get numbers up by starting weekday games at 7:30 as opposed to 7:00 to allow people more time to arrive from work, but those are things that would have to wait until next season.

After seeing Brandon Gormley, Andy Miele and Brandon McMillan all play this week, who has impressed you the most?

Ben: The obvious answer is McMillan, with his two goals and one assist, however when you peel back the onion on Brandon Gormley you get to see a very capable two-way defenseman. I was especially impressed with his play in the Lightning game where several times he was matched up with one of the league's elite players, Steven Stamkos. Gormley did a great job shutting him down and keeping any shots to the outside. If he can continue to perform at this level it might make GMDM's job a little easier over the summer knowing what he has in the stable.

Jaime Eisner: I was very impressed with the performances of Gormley and McMillan this week. Gormely looks to be well on his way to earning that third pairing LD spot for next season with his solid two-way play. He is a smart player who makes great break-out passes and can play significant PP and PK minutes in the future. The left side of the blueline looks rather promising with Oliver Ekman-Larsson , Keith Yandle and Gormley on it.

When it comes to the young forwards, the stand out attribute is McMillian's speed and willingness to forecheck. His game reminds me a lot of Lucas Lessio's (who should get a shot next season) and both could be a solid bottom-six forwards for the Coyotes next season.

Miele has ups and downs, but his sub par faceoff ability makes it hard for coach Dave Tippett to rely on him in the defensive zone and late in games. In his last two games, Miele has a faceoff percentage of 33 percent and 36.6 percent for the season. The 25-year-old played solid for the big club in October and was much better on Tuesday than he was on Monday, so there is promise.

Brendan: Talk about too many good things. I'd have to say McMillan. He brings a ton of speed to this team that I really haven't seen since Matthew Lombardi's first stint in Sedona Red. He also is not afraid to get physical, and at 23, could be on this team for a while. Gormley has good upside as well, but McMillan was an absolute steal from the Anaheim Ducks.

Radim Vrbata is hot right now and a pending unrestricted free agent. What's a fair price for him?

Jaime: Even though Vrbata is one of the best goal scorers in the game, his fairly low assist numbers, comparatively, keep him below the upper echelon of players. During his latest three-year contract, Vrbata scored 66 goals (comparable to Taylor Hall and Wayne Simmonds). But, the guys who receive the $6 million+ contracts typically tally significantly more points than Vrbata has. The Coyotes handed out a $5.5 million deal to Mike Ribeiro and a $5.3 million deal to Shane Doan recently, I expect Vrbata to settle near the $5 million per year range given his skill set and the fact he took a discount on his last deal.

Brendan: I would expect Vrbata to be offered a contract very similar to Ribeiro's deal (4 years, $22M). As to what's a fair deal for him, that's a little tougher. When he's hot, Vrbata is a deadly goal scorer. The problem for him has always been how streaky he can be. Unlike other teams, Vrbata's cold streaks become magnified because the team doesn't really have another forward who can pick up the slack on a regular basis. The other consideration for Vrbata is that his last trek into free agency outside of Phoenix ended horribly; he was a disaster in Tampa Bay and eventually begged to be released so he could go to the Czech Republic [Editor's note: personal reasons also contributed to him leaving the Lightning]. He's a different player now than he was then, but that experience has got to make him reluctant to test the market. I think a fair offer is somewhere in the $4.5-5M range with a term that runs anywhere from three to four years, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the Coyotes overpay for his services.

Carl: While Vrbata is probably the Coyotes streakiest player, he is still a major part of the offense who fits in extremely well with the team. That being said, I think the reason he went on such a cold streak this season was because he didn't have the talent on his line that benefited his style of play, with the addition of Martin Erat and the eventual maturation of Max Domi, I think he is set to have better seasons the next few years the one he had this year. I think if the Coyotes offer him around $4.5 million for three or four years he would happily re-sign with the team. I think if he tested the free agency waters he could probably get around $5.25 million.

Do referees truly affect results of games or do officiating errors mask the real issues?

Carl: Officiating can definitely affect the result of a game, however it probably doesn't occur as much as people believe. Hockey is a game of small moments and the tiniest things can have a big impact on the final outcome of the game, and there is no reason to believe that officiating doesn't also impact games when something as small as how the puck bounces off the boards one time can be the difference between a win and a loss. Against the Capitals, Coyotes fans saw an instance of officiating having a definite outcome on the game, the waiving off of a goal that shouldn't have been waived off and the people who had the opportunity to correct the mistake being powerless to stop it because of the current rules. In the St. Louis game there were blatant Blues' penalties directly before goals and if they had been called, it would have had an impact on the game. These past instances in my opinion were the exception, but I think in those instances they highlight a league-wide issue that will hopefully be addressed in future seasons.

Brendan: Do referees affect the results of games? Absolutely. The Philadelphia Flyers may have lost at least one point on a disallowed goal under the rule that disallowed Brandon McMillan's goal in Washington. That isn't to say that every game is decided by the officiating, as in most cases it's impossible to say what would have happened had the officials gotten the call right. I also think it's a stretch to say that officiating mistakes "mask the real issues" as they simply don't happen often enough to cover teams that can't defend or can't score.

Jaime: Missed penalty calls can affect the flow of games but do not determine who wins or loses. That argument differs slightly in regard to disallowed goals because that is a direct action that takes a goal off the board. For the most part, the NHL officials do a great job. Often they verbalize their position on calls/non-calls to the coaches and players but it goes unnoticed by the fans. To aid the officials, the NHL should extend replay to all goals, because an interpretation about a goalie being pushed into the net is no different than the interpretation of a distinct kicking motion.

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