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The Lost Decade Of Coyote Hockey-Can Hockey Survive In AZ?

No one likes to talk about it. Everyone is just trying to stay positive. It seems like hockey is growing in the desert and more fans are interested but why doesn’t it translate to the team and the organization. Looking back on the past 10 years, the Coyotes have missed the playoffs very often and are currently on a 7 year streak of missing. The Coyotes are just a poorly run organization and currently have the worst set of metrics of any other team in the NHL. Only 7 draft picks are on the team from the last decade the least amount than any other team in the league.

LAST OR NEAR LAST IN THE FOLLOWING CATEGORIES:

1) Attendance 2) Revenue 3) Prospects (minor league system rated #25)

Even though the owner has vowed to keep the team in AZ, it is very apparent that even millionaires and billionaires do not like losing and they don’t like losing money even more. By all accounts, the Coyotes have lost 100 million is just the past few years and in this lost decade, may have lost over 200 million. The team was re-located from Canada during a time where the conversion rate of the Canadian dollar and the American dollar did not bode well for a Canadian team competing against American teams. They had to move! However, the NHL and their so called "experts" did not understand the market and re-locating a team to the desert with no history of hockey, was going to be extremely challenging. What they could not have foreseen and what is now abundantly clear, the residents are not HOCKEY fans, they are fans of their ORIGINAL hometown teams. All the retirees and re-located people from the East and Midwest, are fans of the Blackhawks, Red Wings, Rangers, Islanders, Bruins, etc. This is why when the Coyotes sell out, its because these people are coming out to root for the other team and the Coyotes season ticket holders are more than happy to sell them tickets for a profit instead of the usually 50% discount. This problem is NOT going away. The Canadian cities are clamoring for a team again and the currency issues of 20 years ago, are no longer issues. These teams have hockey DNA and will not have the same attendance issues as the Coyotes do. The owner has made it clear that if he does not get a new arena and a chance to increase his revenue stream, he will eventually have to do something drastic. If the Coyotes stay, it will come at a huge cost to the tax payers of AZ because he will demand huge public money to build the new arena. The current miss playoff streak is definitely causing issues with the owner because the playoff money is how teams break even or turn a profit.

COMPARING TWO TEAMS IN REBUILDS ONE GOING STRAIGHT UP AND ONE FLATLINING OR GOING DOWN

DETROIT RED WINGS

The Detroit Red Wings in a pre cap era was considered the New York Yankees of hockey. They simply went out and bought top free agents to supplement their superior drafting and scouting prowess. As the Cap was instituted, the Red Wings could not go out and get just anyone so they poured more money into scouting and drafting. They have been making money for a long time and their revenues were always near the top tier of the league. This was impressive since they rented the Joe Louis arena and rented the parking venue. They shared a good deal of their revenue with the city of Detroit. However, as time went on it became clear that with the rising salaries and the decrease in tv revenue, the Red Wings would have to evolve and get creative. To no one’s surprise, the Illitch organization built a new state of the art arena and created an all encompassing food ecosystem with many new restaurants so people would come downtown and not have to travel far to eat quality food before the game and place to drink after the game. The Red Wings made a ton of money last year with 50 million in new revenue coming from the arena. This has the Coyotes owner attention! The Red Wings, who have always been one of the classiest and profitable organizations in the NHL has set a new standard of how to create revenue surrounding the team. Detroit being one of the original 6 is obviously a great thing and they should be at the top of all things hockey because of it but they have done it over a very long period of time. Which brings me to their rebuild; after a string of 25 years of consecutive playoff appearances, the Red Wings missed and now they have missed 3 years in a row. After the retirement of Zetteberg, the Red Wings were left with nothing but a few aging veterans and a whole slew of rookies and 2nd/3rd year guys. However, Ken Holland with his deft trades and shrewd drafts, have the Red Wings in a position to make the playoffs in 2020. They have a young core, a top 1 to 7 pick coming in this draft and a top 10 prospect ranking. It took them 3 years to totally rebuild the team and they will compete for a playoff spot in 2020 and at the worst, they will return in 2021.

AZ COYOTES

The team has changed ownership a few times, changed GM’s, and changed coaches. They are sitting on the outskirts of town, the team has missed the playoffs 7 years in a row, the team is bleeding money, the team can’t make money because they are near the last in attendance every single year. For the fans that do support them, I feel very badly for them. For the guys that play hard every night, I feel badly for them as well. The original reasons why the league chose AZ over many other locations was sound in the idea that they needed to expand West and there were definitely enough people living in AZ to support a team. What they underestimated was how long it was going to take to build up an identity for the team and the length of time for hockey to catch on. Its not their fault really. The early metrics were sound otherwise no one would have agreed to it. However, its not working and my feeling is that it never will. Do you honestly think this "next generation" of people actually born here will be rabid hockey fans? I think the experiment has failed and there is no way I see this team or organization even making it to the middle of the pack in attendance anytime soon. Even if they get a new arena and new sources of revenue, it will take 20 to 40 more years for them to reach even the middle ground. There are multiple cities in America and Canada that will not face the same issues the current team and organization now faces. These places have already said they will contribute heavily to a new arena or in some cases in Canada where they already have it ready. I am not here writing this to bash Coyote hockey for the fun of it its simply to point out that the AZ fans and the NHL have suffered long enough with all the ownership and management changes, and of course all of the losing. How much more losing and bleeding money will the owner endure? 3 years at most!

Even some of the faithful, two of my cousins living in AZ are diehard Coyotes fans, are tired of all the losing but are blinded by the realities. They even tried to argue that this organization is not the worst in the league and that Buffalo and Ottawa was worse. Splitting hairs a bit here but even if you falsely believe that these two are worse, does being the 3rd worst any better? I have pointed out that Buffalo in the past decade have been in the middle of the pack in attendance so even during the worst of times, their fans are coming out in droves. Even Ottawa has higher attendance figures the last 10 years than the Coyotes but I admit they are in the lower tier but never last or near last like the Coyotes. This past season the team tantalized their fans with a possible playoff appearance but as usual, faltered and missed the playoffs again. My cousins were so giddy, that they actually said stuff like "I am confident they will make the playoffs" because they had a 3 point lead. However, they failed to calculate the remaining games Colorado had at home and their competition. The AV’s had a better season then they realized. They scored more goals and had it not been for the OT losses (lead the league) they would have had a 6-10 point lead. It was their failure not the Coyotes success that was keeping things close. To make matters worse, the AV’s made the playoffs and could get the top pick and Hughes which will make the Coyotes season next year even harder to catch them. The Coyotes actually had one of the worst outcomes of any of their 7 years of missing. They miss the playoffs and will have the second worst draft position of any team that missed the playoffs. Drafting 14 in a year where the top 5 are off the charts good and next 5 are not too bad either. Drafting 14 will require the Coyotes to find a prospect that the previous 13 teams passed on and have that guy be a difference maker. I will point out that Dylan Larkin was drafted 15th overall in the 2014 draft so great players can be found but the Coyotes have rarely found top flight talent if they don’t draft in the top 5 so the history does not bode well for them but you can always hope.

To Conclude, the Coyotes and the Red Wings are going through rebuilds and 2020 will be a huge year for both organizations for sure. However, if history is any indication, the Coyotes will miss again the Red Wings will make it and the drumbeats for the team to get a new arena or face the reality of moving the team out of the desert and into a more hockey friendly city with a hunger for the game! The past decade has proven one thing that no one can ever dispute, last or near last in attendance is not a recipe for success its a clear indicator of a city and a state not embracing a sport that clearly has no future but too many people are too stubborn to face the reality. However, if the attendance remains near the bottom and the owner keeps bleeding money, he will have no choice but to make drastic moves.

Five for Howling is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Arizona Coyotes and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor(s) of Five for Howling