That was the word used by Mark Spector to describe the Arizona Coyotes’ style of play in their 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at Rogers Place.
Spector, we assume, is Sportsnet’s Oilers beat writer, although it’s hard to recollect any of his notable articles or features over the years.
In his article, Spector quoted Edmonton defenseman Oscar Klefbom, who described what it’s like to play against Arizona.
“It is a bit boring,” said Klefbom, “but teams are going to do that to us.”
Being “Boring” Works
Teams will indeed do “that” to the Oilers if it means winning the game. “That,” meaning clogging up the middle of the ice in order to prevent Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl from scoring at will.
If you’ve watched any hockey in the last three seasons, you’ve likely seen what McDavid and Draisaitl can do to opposing defenses when they’re on. Chances are, you’ve probably seen it first-hand against your own team at least once.
Either one is capable of taking over a game, and shutting the duo down is the key to win against Edmonton for any NHL team. If either McDavid or Draisaitl has a three or four-point night, you’re probably not winning the hockey game. That’s just how it is.
The Coyotes, like most teams, have absolutely no business playing firewagon hockey against a team like the Oilers. Edmonton’s roster is not very deep, but their one-two punch is better than any other team’s top two players, save for perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning.
Should the Coyotes have let the Oilers have odd-man rush after odd-man rush on Darcy Kuemper, all in the name of entertainment, even if it meant they lost the game by five goals? What exactly does Spector, who likened Arizona’s play to “vice grips on skates” and “a bank vault from which excitement can never be withdrawn,” want opposing teams to do when they come into town to play the Oilers?
Klefbom continued, “They just pack it in, and they are standing like a wall on the blue-line. It works against us sometimes, but … it’s so boring to play against. Yeah, not fun.”
For the Coyotes, “boring” has been a successful strategy against the Oilers, and it has worked a lot more frequently than just “sometimes.” They’re 30-6-7 against Edmonton in the 2010s, and they’re 10-5-4 against the Oil since McDavid was drafted following the 2014-15 season.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Maybe Spector has never heard that adage. If he had, he’d have realized that the Coyotes have dominated the Oilers for the past decade. In his article, Specter denigrated the Coyotes for working hard, but it’s been pretty obvious in the last 10 years of hockey between these teams that hard work beats talent more often than not. Why should the Coyotes change how they play against their division rival if they don’t need to?
An Unhinged Rant
“Why would a Canadian NHL rightsholder like Sportsnet publish such a disparaging, negative, one-sided, biased piece about the Coyotes?” you might ask.
That’s a reasonable question. The Coyotes are off to their best start in years, and they’re winning thanks, in large part, to their defense and goaltending. However, the team has shown some offense as well – despite scoring just once in the first two games of the season combined, they’re scoring 2.86 goals per night, which puts them ahead of the supremely entertaining Oilers in that category. Entering Tuesday night’s action, the ‘Yotes are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games, and there’s nothing but positivity surrounding the franchise in Arizona.
It’s become abundantly clear that not everyone is happy with the resurgence of the Coyotes, though. Aside from attacking the Coyotes’ successful style of play, Spector went on to toss out the same tired, old insults at the Coyotes that they’ve heard for the last 10 years. One would expect to hear these insults from anonymous Twitter burner accounts, not from writers for respected major Canadian sports outlets, but that’s a conversation we’ll save for another time.
You already know the topics – attendance, lack of on-ice success, and ownership issues. Spector, like many who harbor intense ill-will toward the Coyotes franchise, has seemingly ignored facts here. In his desire to look down upon the team from the desert, Spector failed to mention Arizona’s new owner, billionaire Alex Mereulo, nor Arizona’s increased attendance numbers in 2019-20.
Through six home games, Arizona’s attendance sits at 15,460 per game, putting them ahead of four markets (including a Canadian market in the Ottawa Senators). They currently have their highest average home attendance figure since the 2005-06 season, which, of course, was before the Jerry Moyes-induced 2009 bankruptcy which sent the franchise into a tailspin that they’ve just now started to recover from.
Put simply, the insults Spector hurled in his piece simply do not apply any longer. Arizona has an owner with significant capital. The Coyotes have seen their attendance increase to levels the franchise hasn’t seen in nearly 15 years. General manager John Chayka has been enabled to spend up to the salary-cap ceiling, and his team is having success as a result.
Nothing Wrong with Defense and Goaltending
At any rate, we really shouldn’t blame Spector for lashing out at the Coyotes. Edmontonians haven’t really seen their team produce quality defense or goaltending for any long stretch in the past 30 years. Foreign concepts can be scary, and we can’t fault Spector for being spooked by a style of play other than the one he’s grown familiar to – the one which has yielded a league-worst .479 points percentage in 30 years since Edmonton’s last Stanley Cup in 1989-90.
The Coyotes’ defensive style of play could be considered boring by some, especially with the emphasis being placed on speed and skill in today’s NHL when compared to the NHL of just five years ago, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a winning brand of hockey that will never go out of style.
A strong defense and solid goaltending can bail a team out when the offense dries up, and, as we typically see every spring, a hot goaltender can carry a team into the Stanley Cup playoffs (and beyond).
Defensive hockey is going nowhere. Sorry, Canada. You’ll just have to get used to it.
Maybe give it a try sometime, too. 1993 was a long time ago.