Coyotes' window to shine slightly off again - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Coyotes' window to shine slightly off again

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Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. Contact him at jbrown5548@aol.com

Posted: Saturday, February 2, 2013 8:11 am

The Cardinals are back to drafting in the top 10, back to enduring losing streaks that last months. They have fired the coach that guided them to the Super Bowl and have no quarterback in a league where it is the No. 1 requirement.

The Diamondbacks have traded their superstar for pennies on the dollar and stuck in a division with two of the deepest pockets in the sport with Los Angeles and San Francisco.

If anyone has any clue what the Suns are up to, my email is at the end of this column.

There it is. A split in the defense that the black sheep of the Arizona professional sports’ scene has needed to skate in and get a shot at a new fan base. But in a recurring theme, the Phoenix Coyotes are just a little off on timing.

All of the buzz from the first division title in franchise history and a Cinderella run to the Western Conference final was trampled upon a lockout that left fans at least ambivalent; at worst, downright annoyed.

Even the much-awaited return to the ice endured a 1-2 punch of (a) a slow start in a 48-game season that is far less forgiving than normal and (b) the latest twists and turns of the 3-year search for an owner.

Fact is, the Coyotes haven’t had a true, dedicated owner since moving here in 1996.

Richard Burke had his heart in the right place but bought the team to move it to Minnesota, not Arizona, and was strapped for cash when partner Steven Gluckstern bailed after one season. Jerry Moyes saved the team from moving to Portland in 2002 but moving it to Glendale in an attempt to help out his hometown has proven to be a head-shaker. Oddly enough, the last three years as a wart in the league, has seen more on-ice stability than ever.

The Coyotes have a savvy general manager in Don Maloney and a front office which — unlike the Wayne Gretzky/Mike Barnett era — thinks beyond the next shift.

Draft picks and youth are protected. When players like Zbynek Michalek and Matthew Lombardi become too rich to keep, the door is left open for them to return under more palatable contracts. And when an Ilya Bryzgalov or a Ray Whitney move to greener pastures, a replacement that fits both the system and salary structure is quickly identified and acquired.

That’s not unique in the NHL. It’s just unique here.

The Coyotes have one of the most prepared and respected coaches in the league in Dave Tippett. For the last three seasons, teams with far more talent and far more skill have left Glendale frustrated after banging their heads against the Phoenix system. He gets maximum talent from role players and accepts nothing but team play from his offensive stars.

The Coyotes have something the Suns don’t, and what the Diamondbacks thought they had: a crop of young, budding stars. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is already mentioned with the league’s elite young defenseman and has obviously added to his offensive game. Mikkel Boedker is a blooming as a top-six forward. Goalie Mark Visentin, and Brandon Gormley, a slick defenseman that fits perfectly into Tippett’s style, are both on the way.

But the weekday crowds remain sparse. The fan base and public interest remains parochial. A 2-4-1 start heading into the weekend. Injuries to Mike Smith, Marty Hanzal and Rostislav Klesla doesn’t help divert attention from the latest failed bid to purchase this orphaned franchise.

The time is now. The Suns are done for this season and fans are beyond put-off, they are downright angry. The Cardinals are caught between eras with no smooth transition in sight. After selling Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer as their future, the Diamondbacks must now reboot.

Winning is the key. It makes the drive to Westgate shorter. It makes the concerns about the future melt away. But in a front-runner town – where sports fans will follow anything that wins, even if it’s football atop a ping-pong table – this short window requires results.

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