Over the past four years, the Phoenix Coyotes have had a very topsy-turvy experience. Potential owners have come and gone ever since the NHL took over the franchise. Attendance has been near dismal, consistently amongst the lowest in the league, and has actually been that way since the Coyotes opened the doors to their very own arena some 11 years ago. The Detroit Red Wings gave them black eyes during the 2010 and 2011 playoffs, still seeking their first ever series win since moving from Winnipeg. Worst of all, talks of moving the franchise had always loomed over them.
But one cannot forget about the good. Dave Tippet took the helm after Wayne Gretzky’s disappointing tenure, and led his team to three playoff appearances during those four years. They achieved their highest point total as a franchise in 2010. Two years later, they not only won their first ever division title, but also shocked even themselves by winning not one, but two playoff series before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals. Longtime Winnipeg Jet and loyal Coyote Shane Doan had options of leaving after the 2011 season, but decided to stay just before the lockout hit.
Still, all that history, good and bad, came down to a breathtaking 4-3 vote by the city of Glendale to allow Renaissance Sports and Entertainment (RSE) to pick up a 15-year lease of Jobing.com Arena that has caused the franchise problems since the move from America West Arena (now known as US Airways Center). This will allow the company the right to purchase the team for $225 million and allow the team to remain in Arizona.
As with all “too good to be true deals,” there is a catch: the company or the city can back out on the deal after five years if the team accrues $50 million in losses. How that should be a problem remains to be seen considering RSE will be working with Global Spectrum – owners of the Philadelphia Flyers – to provide events other than hockey in the arena.
Now that all is said and done, where do the Coyotes go from here? They have had a very difficult time trying to make themselves known, but making the playoffs in three of the last four seasons certainly has helped. Even after the move from AWA in 2003, the team had failed to make the playoffs between 2002 and 2010, putting them on the back-burner for most casual area sports fans. The Arizona Cardinals have now become a considerable hot ticket since the NFL is thriving, while the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks have also solidified their fan bases. The Coyotes, meanwhile, have never had true success, and even though their fans have proven their loyalty, the 2013-2014 will arguably be the most important season in franchise history.
So far, they have started off strong in the free agent market. The Coyotes were able to resign goaltender Mike Smith to a long-term deal, as well as quickly filling the shoes of their backup goalie in adding Thomas Greiss from San Jose. They also re-signed Kyle Chipchura, Lauri Korpikoski and Michael Stone to multi-year deals. That was all considered to be old news when just a few days ago, former Washington Capitals center Mike Ribeiro fell into their laps and they snagged him with a four-year, $22 million deal. Without question, Ribeiro should significantly improve the Coyotes’ offense.
The team has done its part to start building up their fan base, making a concerted effort to improve via free agency. The goal coming into the 2013-2014 season will be trying to become more noticeable to Arizona’s sports fans. Most likely, their first home game of the year will be a sellout, but the key will be whether they’re able to sustain that interest. The Coyotes have won the battle to stay in Glendale, but winning the war will require that they gain and maintain a strong core of loyal fans. If their offseason moves to date are any indication, they’re on the right track.