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THN.com Blog: Phoenix fans deserve a chance

Fans of the Coyotes haven't had a lot of reason to cheer since the team appeared in the desert. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Fans of the Coyotes haven't had a lot of reason to cheer since the team appeared in the desert. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As much as I’d like to see another NHL team or three in Canada, there’s a part of me that feels there’s unfinished business in Phoenix.

Certainly, the business to this point – based on the tapestry of news that has been reported in recent months – has been brutal.

The problem is, the citizens of Central Arizona have had precious little to support. We’d say the Coyotes’ performance on the ice and in team-building has been pathetic, but that would be an insult to the word pathetic. In 12 years in the desert, consider the desolation. The Coyotes have:

• never won a playoff round
• never won a division title
• missed the playoffs each of the past six seasons
• had zero major individual award winners or runners-up
• never placed a freshman on an all-rookie team
• had zero 100-point scorers
• had just one player, Keith Tkachuk in 1998, earn a post-season all-star berth and that was a second-team nod

All the franchise records of note, both team and individual, were established in Winnipeg. Most points, most wins, most goals – Jets, Jets, Jets. Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne and Thomas Steen own the key scoring marks. They combined for zero games played in Phoenix.

Shane Doan, a marvellous all-around player, has had to carry the scoring torch by default in recent years. His team-best points totals the past five seasons? Sixty-eight, 66, 55, 78 and 73.

Similarly, the franchise’s draft record in Phoenix has been spotty at best and they’ve consistently missed with their top selections:

1996: Dan Focht, 11th overall, 18 GP in Phoenix
1997: no first round pick
1998: Patrick DesRochers, 14th overall, 9 GP in Phoenix
1999: Scott Kelman, 15th overall, 0 GP in Phoenix
2000: Krys Kolanos, 19th overall, 109 GP in Phoenix
2001: Fredrik Sjostrom, 11th overall, 261 GP in Phoenix
2002: Jakub Koreis, 19th overall, 0 GP in Phoenix
2003: no first round pick
2004: Blake Wheeler, 5th overall, 0 GP in Phoenix

Sjostrom and Wheeler are now legitimate NHLers playing elsewhere. The remainder? As Mel Bridgman once said, “off the record, we have no comment.”

The past four years appear decent – Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker – but those players are still developing and it could be a case of too little, too late.

The point is, this team would have been hard-pressed to grow and flourish in hockey hothouses, let alone arid Arizona. In fact, the only NHL market that would abide this kind of lameness and still faithfully support the team is Toronto…and possibly New York.

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Montreal, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit. You name it, when the team has struggled for prolonged periods over the years, the fans disappeared.

Conversely, success stories in sunbelt sites such as Raleigh-Durham, Dallas and Anaheim have proven you don’t necessarily need ice and snow to attract an avalanche of support.

Phoenix is a large market; certainly in the upper half among the NHL cities. When the Coyotes did have the only meagre success they’ve enjoyed since moving to Arizona – one-and-done playoff appearances in 1997 through 2000, then again in 2002 – they were playing in America West Arena (now the US Airways Center), a subpar facility by NHL standards that accommodated just more than 16,000. It doesn’t provide an accurate gauge.

We don’t know whether any type of sustained winning would have turned this bleak situation around, but we do know this: without it, Phoenix has never really had a fair chance.

THN SHOOTOUT
Host Ryan Dixon sits down with THN.com blogger Rory Boylen and senior writer Adam Proteau to discuss... What came out of Tuesday's hearing in Phoenix… Where the Coyotes will play in 2009-10… And why Gary Bettman can’t get rid of Jim Balsillie.

PRODUCER: Ted Cooper | The THN.com Shootout will appear Monday to Friday throughout the playoffs.

Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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