Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Who are the Phoenix Coyotes?

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

They are a team that once played in the worst NHL arena where I've ever seen a sporting event!

When the Phoenix Coyotes moved to Arizona in 1996, they played in the America West Arena for eight years which was barely large enough to fit a standard NHL rink. The building was hastily re-engineered to accommodate the 200 foot rink, and the configuration left a portion of one end of the upper deck hanging over the boards and ice, obscuring almost a third of the rink and one goal from several sections.

As a result, the capacity had to be cut down to just over 16,000---the second smallest rink at the time. For the fans to have to rely on the scoreboard to watch the action was absurd. The only thing that I gained out of my experience when watching two Red Wings games in The Valley of the Sun, was they had a tremendous following with snowbirds in the Southwest in 2000. After watching recent games, that hasn't changed.

With all due respect, the Coyotes should have played at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum which even though the building holds 13, 730 for hockey, it would have been a more fan friendly venue. The Coyotes could have charged more for the tickets but the fans would have gotten their money's worth because there isn't a bad seat in the house. In the late 1980's, I saw two Phoenix Suns games and this venue gave me a cushy feeling like the old Olympia Stadium in Detroit.

But the Coyotes are a franchise which was supposed to build a new arena in Scottsdale and even had a shopping mall demolished to accommodate the stadium. But those plans fell through.

The presence of Wayne Gretzky as a minority owner and coach had little impact as the Coyotes eventually went bankrupt.

This franchise has gone through numerous ownership changes, has had very little success on the ice as it finally made its first playoff appearance since 2002. Even announcer Darren Pang bolted for the St. Louis Blues amidst the instability.

Yet with all of these problems, I give the NHL a lot of credit for realizing it has a Sleeping Giant sitting in the Southwest as it purchased the Coyotes for $140 million from owner Jerry Moyes on October 26, 2009. The sale was finalized on November 3, 2009.

By doing this, Commissioner Gary Bettman has a first class hockey facility in the Jobing.com Arena which does hold 17,125 and cost $180 Million to build. Playing in the Glendale Sports Complex next to the Arizona Cardinals who play in the University of Phoenix Stadium, with winning comes the sellouts as both teams have experienced.

As I mentioned before, Phoenix could be a great hockey market with all of the transplants. There are plenty of "Winged Wheel" jerseys and fans in the area. The same could apply to other cold weather large market teams. Especially Chicago which does have both of it's baseball teams in the area during Spring Training.

With Bettman and the NHL buying this franchise and determined to keep the team there, he's been able to maintain rivalries with the Dallas Stars, LA Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. These three markets also have teams that make their Spring Training homes in Arizona.

But Bettman got the best break he could receive in this years playoffs. He has the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes locked up in an excellent series which is tied 2-2. The Red Wings are the first ever playoff opponent for the Coyotes at the Jobing.com Arena.

I can't believe that Versus showed the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night instead of the Red Wings and Coyotes. Even though Versus wanted Sidney Crosby, you don't bypass two USA based franchises in a competitive series.

However, Bettman does have the Coyotes and Red Wings on NBC for two Sundays in a row. It's a match-up that features a marquee franchise and a resurrected one which saw Gretzky resign as coach two weeks before the start of the regular season, yet managed to win 50 games and locking up the fourth seed in the Western Conference.

I never thought I'd see the Coyotes on the NBC Game of the Week. But the ratings intrigue is indeed there. You have two great media markets featuring a dynasty and a feel good story. The Red Wings always produce good ratings which is why they're constantly featured on NBC.

I'll never forget recently at dinner with my father and nephew Branden Morganroth that when we were talking about hockey, when I was growing up, the Red Wings rarely made the playoffs plus the NHL rarely got national television coverage.

My father reminded Branden that he's had it pretty good. I also know that the Red Wings success has motivated Branden into playing hockey himself as he pursues his dream looking to eventually attain professional status.

How things have changed. The Red Wings have made the playoffs 19 straight years and Branden's never seen his local NHL team ever miss the postseason. I hope Branden doesn't miss a post-season game and with Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland in charge, they're in good hands to keep the winning tradition in tact.

As for the Coyotes, even though their national appearances are at the Joe Louis Arena, any exposure figures to give them a boost!

If Jerry Reinsdorf is successful in purchasing the franchise and he's able to negotiate a sensible lease at the Jobing.com Arena, then Bettman looks like a genius for persevering and keeping this franchise afloat.

Even though the Coyotes have lost hundreds of millions of dollars and the greatest icon in hockey, I believe that if Reinsdorf lands this team, like the Chicago Bulls & White Sox, I'd predict they would be a consistent winner and championship contender. If the Anaheim Ducks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes could hoist the Stanley Cup, there is no reason that Coyotes shouldn't be able to celebrate as well.

By the same token, if Reinsdorf is unable to save this franchise, then Bettman may find himself out of options and it will end up moving to another market with a fresh start and new ownership. Although I'm not a gambler, the safe money is on Reinsdorf to make it work and $180 Million for a stadium won't become a waste of money.

Since the White Sox train in Glendale at Camelback Ranch with the LA Dodgers and the Bulls make an annual appearance to face the Phoenix Suns, there is no doubt that Reinsdorf can multi-task without shoveling snow.

It would be an unbelievable accomplishment if he's able to win a championship in three major sports leagues, the NBA, MLB and the NHL.

But please Jerry, don't let the fans throw snakes on the ice. They give me an edgy feeling and even NBC Play By Play Commentator Mike Emrick said that he could handle octopuses but hated snakes.

Yet, for now, the Red Wings get a "Major Assist" in putting the once dormant Coyotes on the Hockey Map. The Coyotes even employ former Red Wings Announcer Dave Strader, who was at the beginning of the Red Wings long playoff run.

On Sunday, NBC will once again remind us that they couldn't be happier to have their "Real Business Parter" The Detroit Red Wings making another run at the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings won four Stanley Cups in an 11-year span and have made the playoffs in 25 of the last 27.

In a year where the Butler Bulldogs made it to the NCAA Mens Basketball Championship Game, the Coyotes success is just another feel good story and we're just four months into the new decade.

Scott Morganroth's Blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com and he can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

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