For most NHL fans, the sight of Gary Bettman sitting at a table during a press conference is far from a memorable experience. On Aug. 5, 2013, that exact same sight was one of hope, relief and exuberance for fans of the then Phoenix Coyotes.
Gary Bettman was officially announcing the sale of the Coyotes to their new owners, Renaissance Sports & Entertainment/IceArizona. The conglomerate of mostly Canadian business men that made up IceArizona were represented at the presser by George Gosbee, who flanked Bettman on the left, and Anthony LeBlanc, seated at Bettman's right. The three men brought to an end five years of endless speculation as to the future of the Coyotes franchise on that day and set the course for a new beginning for a franchise that sorely needed it.
Today is the one year anniversary of that introductory press conference and the official sale of the Coyotes to IceArizona. How have things changed in the year since the Coyotes have had owners? For one, the Coyotes have begun a re-branding process, officially becoming the Arizona Coyotes on June 27, 2014. The name change was both symbolic and necessary, the Coyotes haven't played in Phoenix since 2003 and the name change allows fans all over the state to call the Coyotes their own.
IceArizona has shown a willingness to spend money to improve the on ice product, OKing a four-year, $22 million contract for top free agent center Mike Ribeiro on July 1, 2013. The results of that signing were less than expected and Ribeiro has since been bought out, another indicator that the owners are not afraid of spending money to make the team better. There were also rumblings during last season's trade deadline that ownership approved adding salary in trades if it improved the team in the long run, so they have no intention of handcuffing general manager Don Maloney with hardline budgets. The Coyotes are a long way from being a cap spending team, but its nice to know that ownership has a flexible budget in mind when building a team.
The new owners also improved the game day experience at Jobing.com Arena with weekend tailgating, often attended by Team Chairman and Governor Gosbee barbecuing in the parking lots with fans. They also signed a deal to bring Canadian institution Tim Horton's into the arena, giving relocated native Canadians living in the desert and newbies alike a chance to experience the joy of a coffee and Timbits.
There were also all the great moments on the ice that new ownership made possible. Few will ever forget the raucous opening night atmosphere against the Rangers when IceArizona was introduced to a fanbase rabid for this exact moment. How about the nostalgia that infused Jobing.com when the Coyotes became the first NHL team to celebrate the accomplishment of the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic hockey team's Miracle on Ice. How about the fact that the Coyotes were still playing in Glendale instead of Seattle or Quebec City or Kansas City or wherever the rumor mill had them moving to for the season.
They also reached a long-term contract agreement with FOX Sports Arizona for television coverage and signed endorsement deals with multiple large scale companies like Papa Johns.
For all the positive change that surrounded IceArizona, there were also some less than positive developments in their first year. The Coyotes once again missed the playoffs, finishing two points out of the top eight in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. Attendance was up for the Coyotes on the season over the last full NHL year in 2011-12, but the team was still last in the NHL in average attendance and next to last in capacity percentage according to hockeyattendance.com.
Ownership should also allow the Coyotes to exist in some semblance of stability, but the five-year out clause and the hubbub over possible Arizona open meeting law violations have left the window of needless speculation open. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
With the first year of IceArizona in the books, the Coyotes have changed greatly but find themselves in much the same position. They are still underdogs fighting for respect, on the ice and off. They have massive obstacles to overcome to find success, but with the watchful eyes of Gosbee and LeBlanc (not to mention Daryl Jones and Avik Dey et.al) the Coyotes are better prepared to face those challenges than ever before.
Hockey the hard way. As it should be.