They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. In the case of the Arizona Coyotes, the NHL simply dragged a dead horse into the middle of the desert and hoped it would sprout into a utopia.
Ever since they were force-fed to the Phoenix area after being ripped from the heart of Winnipeg in 1996, the Coyotes have been subjecting their fans to levels of pain and suffering that the Cleveland Browns can only dream of inflicting. The atrocities committed by the hapless organization include but are not limited to hiring Wayne Gretzky as a head coach and allowing assistant Rick Tocchet to bet on games (and then hiring him as a head
coach years later).
The organization also appointed a 27-year-old statistics wunderkind to be general manager, constantly finished last in attendance, never made it past the conference finals, and sported some of the ugliest uniforms in NHL history, being so bad that they bankrupted their former owner, with the cherry on top being Mike Smith’s butt goal.
The Coyotes have been subjecting their fans to levels of pain and suffering that the Cleveland Browns can only dream of inflicting.
This season is looking to be their worst yet, with the team losing eleven straight games to start the season despite making several highly praised acquisitions in the offseason. As of February 5th, the Coyotes sit in the NHL’s basement with a 12-31-9 record and are on pace for one of the worst seasons ever for a non-expansion team.
The list of things wrong with this year’s squad is too extensive to include in its entirety, but most of their struggles can be traced back at least partially to terrible management. As has become habitual for the Coyotes, the front office and coaching staff are terribly inept.
The list of things wrong with this year’s squad is too extensive to include in its entirety.
Though his predecessor, Dave Tippett, ran a vastly outdated system and constantly led the Coyotes to bottom 10 finishes, Rick Tocchet has proven himself to be exponentially worse. The team looks not only terrible but very uninspiring and boring to watch. Goals have been hard to come by, and the defense is essentially nonexistent, with injuries to starting goaltender Antti Raanta and several defensemen.
Backup netminder Scott Wedgewood has struggled mightily and the blue line remains ineffective despite the return of Niklas Hjalmarsson and the acquisition of Jason Demers from the Florida Panthers. An attempt to bolster the scoring was also made recently, with the Coyotes trading away promising young winger Anthony DuClair to Chicago for bottom-sixer Richard Pánik, who registered only 16 points with the Blackhawks prior to being traded. So far, Chicago looks to have won the trade by a country mile, with DuClair seeing time on the Blackhawks’ first line alongside Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Pánik has been more or less invisible in Arizona and has not helped turn the offense around.
Chayka is the genius who decided to trade all-star goaltender Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames.
To be fair to Tocchet, he isn’t exactly working with an abundance of talent here. General manager John Chayka has made several questionable roster moves since being hired in 2016 as a 26-year-old analytics savant.
Chayka is the genius who decided to trade all-star goaltender Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames for some candy and a pat on the head and got rid of the team’s top scorer in Radim Vrbata, as well as two decent top-six forwards in Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boedker. His background in primitive analytics has also turned out to be completely useless, as the team is no more analytically inclined than they were prior to his arrival.
Despite converting to a speed-based approach and acquiring players like Jason Demers and Derek Stepan, the Coyotes are at the bottom of the league in Corsi ratings and plus/minus.
The fans have responded to this on-ice fiasco by not showing up to games.
Predictably, the fans have responded to this on-ice fiasco by not showing up to games, a problem that the franchise knows all too well, as the Coyotes have finished at least third worst in attendance for the last 12 years running. There are many potential causes for these attendance woes, but the most widely accepted theory is that people just don’t want to see a bad hockey team in a state that is most famous for being a literal desert. Hockey is not a part of Phoenix culture, and the Coyotes have done nothing to promote the sport to the city’s youth.
Additionally, the population boom in Phoenix is rather recent, and the many Phoenicians who care about Hockey already have teams of their own. This all has made it very difficult to cultivate a fan base, and the effects have been catastrophic. The Coyotes have had three owners in the last five years, including a period where they were owned by the league itself because nobody wanted anything to do with them.
The team has made minimal efforts to market themselves to the population.
In spite of all the futility and failure associated with the Coyotes, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has done everything in his power to keep the franchise in Phoenix, frittering away millions of dollars in a vain attempt to make the team relevant. Unfortunately for Bettman, the Coyotes management is about as skilled at marketing as they are with personnel decisions. The team has made minimal efforts to market themselves to the population, failing to establish a successful youth hockey system, failing to generate any semblance of on-ice success, and consequently failing to generate any sort of meaningful following.
Even more disturbing is the fact that the organization has not made any progress, and is arguably slipping even further into the doldrums of inadequacy as time passes. The Coyotes are now worse than they have ever been before, and if something does not change soon, the NHL will have to make a very tough choice regarding their future. Gary Bettman will have to decide whether to try and keep the moribund franchise afloat for reasons of expansion or move them to a city that is worthy of a professional hockey club.
Your move, Gary.