Ahh, the Arizona Coyotes. Hockey’s favourite punching bag. Long plagued by arena troubles, attendance troubles, financial troubles, ownership troubles and pretty much every other sort of trouble you can imagine, the National Hockey League has, nevertheless, stood by its desert outpost. While this might seem like an inexplicable course of action for the notoriously conservative league, the NHL has never really had a good look at the Phoenix Metropolitan Area as a hockey market.
Years of financial difficulties haven’t allowed the Coyotes to maximise their potential, either on or off the ice. Not to mention the fact Gila River Arena is a poorly maintained albatross that is too far away from the city core, located in the transit desert suburb of Glendale – a municipality which doesn’t even want them there in the first place.
But it looks like the team is finally on the rise. Shrewd use of cap space and draft choices under the guidance of general manager John Chayka (who took over from longtime GM Don Maloney, who laid a fair bit of the ’Yotes’ enviable foundation himself) has resulted in an embarrassment of youthful riches for the beleaguered franchise (The Hockey News ranked them second in their Future Watch 2017 publication).
However, as discussed in my review of the Vegas Golden Knights’ logo set, the best marketing tool available to a hockey team is the team crest. It adorns the front of one’s jerseys. It’s plastered all around town. It’s the team’s face in marketing campaigns. And it’s one (more) area where the Coyotes fall spectacularly flat.
The Peyote Coyote
But let’s start at the beginning, where it all began. Fresh off a relocation from Winnipeg, the then-Phoenix Coyotes began play in the 1996-97 season. Their inaugural threads could not have been more different from the traditional (albeit glorious) ensemble of the Jets, sporting colours and design features heavily influenced by Aboriginal cultures of the Southwestern United States.
The centrepiece of that magnificent first uniform was the aptly named “Peyote Coyote,” a hockey stick-wielding coyote on skates, dressed in traditional Southwestern garb. Writing that out, it sounds very cheesy.
But then you actually look at it and you realise the coyote is cocking its head and winking at you. Laid overtop the stark white and black backgrounds of the original jerseys, the team’s original crest is mesmerising.
The Crescent Moon
The shoulder patch was circular, consisting of the Moon in crescent form against the backdrop of a desert sky. Such a simple yet evocative image was the perfect complement to the complicated, creepy primary logo.
Building on the wonderful weirdness of the original logo combination, the Coyotes’ alternate kit, introduced in 1998-99, featured a close-up of the coyote’s head as the primary crest. Set against a deep green backdrop bordered by a desert landscape (including the crescent Moon motif of the home and away kits’ shoulder patch), this logo is as unsettling as it is entrancing.
That said, if that is indeed half a goalie mask covering one side of the coyote’s face, this close-up crest’s closest comparable is Jason Voorhees. The fact that it’s winking doesn’t help. Have fun sleeping tonight.
The Desert Lizard King
The coyote close-up was accompanied by a shoulder patch seemingly depicting some sort of desert lizard.
Now, this entire alternate kit probably puts too much emphasis on the desert and Southwestern themes, but the lizard is at least on-message.
Coyotes First Logos Weird and Wonderful
I’m not entirely sure why I like these logos so much. Maybe it’s because everything they do just seems to work. They are distinctive and immediately recognisable, making them easy to brand around. They pay subtle homage to Arizona’s history and culture, which never hurts. And they’ve retained their popularity, two decades later. But perhaps most importantly, the Peyote Coyote logo set (and the “Kachina” threads they adorned) are a welcome oasis in the often-barren desert of hockey creativity.
The Howling Coyote
The still-Phoenix Coyotes redesigned their uniforms – logos included – for the 2003-04 season, for their move from downtown Phoenix out to suburban Glendale. The new primary crest was a howling coyote and, like the jerseys they adorned, were devoid of much of the team’s original colour palette.
The brick red and sand-coloured coyote is fine, I suppose. It’s well-drawn and not terrible to look at. I just find it very generic. If a team is using a living being in their logo, that living being should be, in some way, engaging to the viewer. The San Jose Sharks’ logo features an aggressive-looking shark chomping a hockey stick in half. The old Florida Panthers crest showed a panther leaping off the jersey, weapons drawn.
In contrast, the Howling Coyote is not the least bit aggressive or intimidating, or even endearing. It looks like a stock image. In much the same way, the jerseys this logo has found itself centering have, for the most part, been utterly generic. The easiest marketing tools available to NHL teams are their logos and uniform. But this logo evokes no fear, no emotion, no attachment. It’s boring.
The Sun Starburst
From the Howling Coyote’s inception, it has been joined on the Coyotes’ jerseys by a secondary logo that is shaped like Arizona itself. The crest features a brick red and sand-coloured starburst design (mimicking the Arizona state flag), atop the abbreviation for the team’s location moniker (“PHX” up until 2013-14; “AZ” from 2014-15 onwards).
I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the trend of NHL teams shoving their locations down fans’ throats. If tastefully done, this idea can meld the team with the surrounding locale. The secondary crests of the Dallas Stars or the Florida Panthers are good examples of this. For a more subtle effect, the Coyotes’ Kachina jerseys incorporated Southwestern design elements. But the modern-day Coyotes have highlighted their location with complete disregard to their team’s nickname; you know, the thing people actually care about.
The Coyotes’ secondary patch is, unlike those of, for example, the Calgary Flames (who have the Alberta flag on one shoulder and the Canada flag on the other), at least coordinated with their team colours. However, for a team whose nickname evokes images of fear, sneakiness, trickery, viciousness and even the supernatural, I feel as though the Coyotes could have done a lot more with their secondary logo than pay homage to their state flag. Compounding matters is the fact that the Sun Starburst crest, up until the Coyotes’ 2015 uniform redesign, was only present on one shoulder, leaving the other shoulder completely blank. The lack of symmetry was maddening.
The Leaping Dog
For the 2008-09 season, the Coyotes brought out a new third jersey, complete with a never before seen primary crest.
To be honest, this short-lived logo was even worse than the Howling Coyote. Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of opponents quite like your team’s namesake running away. Though artistically accurate, there’s just nothing in it that remotely resembles anything worthy of representing the tough, proud, grueling sport that is hockey.
The Paw Print Roundel
The Leaping Dog was joined by a new secondary crest, a coyote paw print surrounded by a two-colour circular border. Again, this design is undoubtedly coyote-like; I’m just not sure it evokes anything interesting or worthy of support. Why not coyote scratch marks? Or a teeth-baring snarl?
Arizona Coyotes Current Logo
Unfortunately, the ill-conceived Howling Coyote logo is still front and centre on the present iteration of Coyotes jerseys. At the very least, it is no longer surrounded by a symphony of bland. However, coyotes are creatures that lend themselves well to representing sports teams: swift, stealthy killers with a ghostly howl that sends a chill down the spine of anyone who hears it. I just don’t feel Arizona’s primary logo, howling or not, reflects this potential.
Arizona Coyotes Current Secondary Logos
The Paw Print: Version 2.0
On the Coyotes’ home kits, a modified coyote paw print – a stylised version, rather than the more authentic design previously used – adorns the shoulders; both shoulders, thankfully. There is an “A” (presumably for “Arizona”) in the middle, and its sand colouring stands out nicely against the brick red backdrop of the home jersey. Not to rehash everything again, but this crest, though technically fine, is an easy, safe, even lazy way out.
The Sun Starburst: Version 2.0
Meanwhile, the shoulders (again, both shoulders) of the Coyotes’ away kits feature a modified version of the starburst shoulder patch from previous Coyotes jerseys. The font has been changed to reflected the new typeface used on the redesigned uniforms, and the starburst rays now emanate from an actual star, drawing the logo closer to its inspiration: Arizona’s state flag. Again, nothing wrong with the patch. Just disappointing, is all.
Coyotes’ Crest Cowardice Hard to Comprehend
I have no idea what the Arizona Coyotes are doing, branding-wise anyway. I have no idea why they did away with a beloved logo and jersey design in favour of a stately, conventional uniform and crest. And I have no idea why they haven’t realised the error of their ways and brought them back.
I get that the Kachina logo, in all its intricacy, might have been difficult and expensive to embroider (especially in smaller iterations, such as on hats). But the Florida Panthers found a way to simplify their logo in response to similar concerns (before bringing out a new, terrible one. But I digress.).
And I get that the Southwestern influences had never before been seen in the NHL. To that, I say, good! Try something new! The ‘Yotes are not some Original Six team with a lengthy heritage that needs preservation or a history of winning that demands respect. The Coyotes had an opportunity to chip away at this league’s conservative shell, and instead chose to – and continue to choose to – bow to conformity.
The Coyotes have been the NHL’s whipping boy for well over a decade and are the poster child for everything that’s gone wrong with the NHL’s Sun Belt expansion. Seriously Arizona, throw your fan base a bone here – and lay the groundwork for it to grow. Your team’s jersey – and more specifically the logo – is supposed to be the rallying point for the passionate, the casual and the brand-new fan, alike. Instead, all you’ve given them is a drab, uninspired product that evokes nothing but boredom and apathy.
Business as usual for the Coyotes, then.
(All logo images are thanks to Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.Net)