It’s a confusing time. You have a lot of questions:
Wait, we have a hockey team? They play where? Who is Mikkel Boedker? Shane Doan has teammates?
Fair questions all. Let me try to help.
First of all, don’t beat yourself up. The Phoenix Coyotes have barely been here 15 years. They play ice hockey in the desert – people in Alaska don’t have a PGA Tour stop, some things just make perfect sense. And the way the local media in this town has treated the Desert Dogs like, well, dogs is a pretty good analogy – this is one of the few major professional sports franchises that have been hidden from its potential fan base like a game of three-card monty.
Then there is the ownership. Or lack thereof. They came here in 1996 with two owners, immediately lost one the first season – and it’s been downhill from there. The number of owners currently stands at zero, where it has been stuck for three years, and even as you get to know, care and root for Phoenix’s new Flavor of the Month the team is THIS CLOSE to leaving.
Wait, what? Leaving? But they are fun. They are suddenly on the news. They are winning. And they are beating a team from Chicago! Tell me more about these Coyotes!
They are a pretty good team, actually. They play a disciplined, aggressive style of hockey under Dave Tippett, who might be the hottest coaching name in the National Hockey League right now.
Every year, the Coyotes are picked by pundits to fall on their snoots and finish 14th in the Western Conference. But it doesn’t happen. They’ve won 40 games or more three years in a row. They’ve made the playoff three straight years, and this year won the Pacific Division championship for the first time in franchise history.
So who are the superstars? Did they get rid of the goalie with the long name?
Right. Ilya Bryzgalov is gone. He is now in Philadelphia, fascinating the press with his views on the universe and the role bears play in it.
The Coyotes don’t really have superstars. They have now have a goalie name Mike Smith who not only stops the puck, but has teammates who don’t despise him.
This is a very important thing in hockey since players are asked to put their face in front of pucks in order to keep them from getting to the goalie.
If you think your goalie is a pompous egomaniac who sees his teammates as a necessary evil, that’s bad.
This year’s Coyotes team is a collection of 20 hard-working, lunch-pail, everyday Joes who are a pain in the neck to play against.
Smith, Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Doan are the stars, but there is also a youthful core of players like Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boed…
Yes! Boedker! I’ve heard that name. Tell me more about him!
Comes from Denmark, a country that produces as many hockey players as Nebraska produces cliff divers. Pushed into the league way too fast by Wayne Gretzky and Mike Barnett and it has taken three years for his confidence to be repaired. His two overtime goals were about as pretty as the cast of "Pawn Stars," but he’s the first NHL player to record back-to-back golden goals in overtime in eight years. Oh, and it’s BOD-KER.
So how far can the Coyotes go? Should I be excited? They are staying, right?
Well, if Vancouver, Detroit and Chicago all get punked in the first round, this becomes a wide-open race in the Western Conference. That would leave four teams with very little star power, very little playoff pedigree and very little following outside of their home area. It would also leave three Sun Belt teams vying for the Stanley Cup with Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver all sitting home watching. Upsetting Canadians has been a Coyotes tradition since 1995 when the NHL decided Arizona was a better place to live than Manitoba.
So are they staying?
Good question. Selling out playoff games three days before they are played – as was the case with Saturday’s game – surely helps.
Greg Jamison, who formerly ran the San Jose Sharks and knows how to market a cold weather sport in a warm weather climate, is very close to completing a deal.
If that happens, Arizona will have 5-10 years to prove that they care enough about hockey to keep it, and that solid ownership and a winning product was all that was missing.
Where do they play?
Ever been to a Cardinals game?
Sure. We go all the time.
Thought so. Look north.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.