The Phoenix Coyotes have been on a roller coaster ride all year long. On May 5th of last year, the Coyotes (under then owner Jerry Moyes) filed for Bankruptcy. Since that time, the Coyotes have undergone multiple effects of this financial uncertainty. The team was involved in an anti-trust lawsuit involving a battle over ownership between Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie and the NHL and a possible move up north to Hamilton Ontario, Canada. That was only one loop in the ride. This led to the Great One Wayne Gretzky stepping down as head coach, the eventual awarding of ownership of the franchise to the NHL (who still operates the club today), financial restrictions on signing free agents, a new head coach in Dave Tippett, and the signing of Taylor Pyatt, a player with a very heavy heart who lost his fiancée in a tragic car accident just a few months earlier. All this happened before the Coyotes even played a single game this season.
Under the leadership of veteran players like Captain Shane Doan and Ed Jovanovski, the team worked hard through training camp to keep their focus on what hockey players do best…playing hockey, and boy did they bring it. Phoenix enjoyed a 28 point rise in the Western Conference standings over last season and went from being tied for last place in the pacific division last year to a 2nd place finish, finishing up being 4th overall in the west compared to their 13th place showing last year. The Coyotes boasted an impressive home record of 29-10-5, and improved dramatically on the road picking up at least one point in 26 of their road games this time around. The Desert Dogs also excelled in goal during the regular season with Russian goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov setting a franchise record and personal best 42 wins, good enough for third in the league. Bryzgalov also tied the franchise record with his 8th shutout of the season with a month still left in the regular season. His play was good enough to earn him his first Vezina Trophy nomination as one of the league’s top goaltenders. Even backup goalie Jason LaBarbera got in on the action, appearing in 17 games, finishing 7th in the league in GAA, and 6th in the league in save percentage.
Despite the Coyotes much improved play, it was not enough to boost attendance and the fate of the franchise is still very much in limbo with the NHL telling Ice Edge Holdings Lcc. this past week that they will not be the new owners of the franchise. There are always rumours of the team returning to Winnipeg, but for now that is all they are: rumours. Unlike the beginning of the year when players tried to remain focused on just playing hockey, it is a whole different season now and they could not think of anything else if they tried.
The Coyotes will try to stave off elimination this afternoon against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena (2 pm EST, 12 pm MT TSN,NBC) as Detroit looks to close out the series in six games at home. Every elimination game from here on in could mean the end of the Phoenix Coyotes season and franchise. Shane Doan, who suffered an upper body injury earlier in the series, is questionable for today’s game. With it being possibly the last game of the season and maybe even the franchise, do not be overly surprised if you see him on the ice. No matter what happens today, the players, coaches, and management will try to adjust to the circumstances at hand. After all, it’s what they have been doing for the past several months; they are used to it by now. If the Coyotes lose in overtime, it will be a sudden death to the season, but if it means the death of the franchise, then that would have surely been a long and painful one. Today’s game could end up being just another loop, or the end of the ride. We will find out this afternoon.