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They are who we thought they weren't

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With their eighth consecutive home loss, the Arizona Coyotes are clearly a team we didn't see coming.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

I got it wrong.

In our season preview, I thought the Arizona Coyotes would scratch and claw their way toward a playoff spot, but ultimately come up short in the final throes of the season. Apparently I was too optimistic.

Midway through December, the Coyotes are 10-16-3. Only the Edmonton Oilers keep the Coyotes from being dead last in the Western Conference, and that gap is shrinking every week. The Coyotes could find themselves in the hunt for the 1st or 2nd overall pick in the NHL draft by the end of the year, with a totally blown up roster to boot.

What was once heresy to suggest is now appearing to be more possible than ever before; the Coyotes may seriously consider parting ways with head coach Dave Tippett and general manager Don Maloney by the end of the year. The gritty defensive work that was a signature of the Tippett era just doesn't seem to be there this year. Understandably, fans are not pleased.

But it's quite possible that the root of the problem is all the way up at the top of the tree.

I have not seen the financial statements of the Coyotes organization. I do not know for sure how deep the fiscal hole really was, or where the biggest drags on the team's profitability are. I may never know that. But at some point, by necessity or by choice, the decision was made to preserve the payroll budget at levels comparable to last season, despite significant upgrades around the rest of the conference. The hope was almost certainly that the team could will itself into playoff contention.

That hope appears to be misplaced.

Now ironically enough, the decision to limit the payroll may actually cost ownership in the long-run. Attendance at last night's Nashville Predators - Coyotes game was just 10,194. Although it's true that the team was up against the Arizona Cardinals playing a Thursday Night Football game, the Coyotes also only managed 13,114 fans at a Saturday night game against the Boston Bruins. It's hard enough for die-hard fans to watch a team lose so badly night in and night out, for a casual fan it's simply not worth the emotional (and financial) investment.

It is too late to make any changes that will improve the team's fortunes this year. That ship already sailed. If the Arizona Coyotes cannot figure it out and win with the roster they have, then they aren't going to win much at all this year.

That doesn't just fall on management. That falls on ownership. There will likely be deservedly hard questions that get asked this coming summer at all levels of the team's operations. What exists now is not good enough. Free spending money is clearly not the answer, but neither is staying the course on the budget that currently exists. Something has to give.

The future of the franchise may depend on it.