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Battle of the Sexes

Battles of the Sexes: The Phoenix Situation





Illegal Curve is very pleased to introduce and welcome Katrina from Psycho Lady Hockey as a new guest columnist. Every week, Katrina will lock horns with Rusty and discuss the pressing hockey issues of the day in our new Battle of the Sexes column. Enjoy!

Rusty- Seeing as how I get to go first, let me start off by outing myself as the only Canadian who thinks the Coyotes should stay put. Now, before anyone gets butt-hurt, let me explain that I don’t want them to stay because I hold a torch for Commissioner Bettman, or because I hate Winnipeg. I think they should stay because of the most wishy-washy, politically correct, feel good new age reason you can think of; to grow the game.

Conceding that the Coyotes are losing money and aren’t very good, I still say having a professional team in the area helps encourage growth of minor hockey (and adult hockey) programs. The Phoenix area is home to a successful AAA outfit called PF Changs. This group is producing ever greater numbers of prospects for both junior and college hockey, and before long some of these kids will find their way to the NHL. I realize that successful minor hockey league teams can exist absent an NHL franchise, but having the Coyotes nearby provides both an opportunity for these kids to watch high level games and the chance to interact with professional players. If the Coyotes leave, this group is on there own.

I need to start out by saying that I’m not your typical pro-Hamilton Canadian that backs Balsillie based on the statistics that TSN and the Toronto Star assure me are true. I am the crazy Coyotes fan that happens to be living in Toronto, and so, I have a lot invested in the team that may or may not move in next door. You can imagine that my wallet would much prefer a thirty minute commute down the QEW to a five hour flight to the desert. That being said, my inconvenience does not hold much weight in this debate.

As Rusty said, the growth of the game is something that should be important to all hockey fans. However, keeping the Coyotes in the desert for the sake of a couple minor hockey leagues seems slightly unreasonable. We all know that Phoenix isn’t the only sunbelt team that is having financial difficulties. It seems to me that removing the money pit in Glendale, and relocating it to fertile soil in southern Ontario would do the game a service. The revenue that Hamilton would bring into the league would help to offset some of the losses in places like Atlanta and Florida. Plus, how much growth can the game do in a place where the few fans that do exist disappear as soon as the team hits a skid. We all know that a losing hockey team is not something that discourages fans in the Toronto area. Sometimes you just need to pull out that rotten tooth.

Rusty– As much as I love the socialist style argument of using one team’s profit to offset the losses of another, I think you may be understating the value of a team in the desert. While I agree that the fans are a little too fair-weather for my taste, having a team in the area does indeed help minor hockey. If kids see a game (or players, etc.) and want to play, thats a boon for the league and for the game in general.

Taking another tack, moving a team sets a bad precedent. Much like Sean Avery, having precedent on your side is awesome (if you’re the Rangers) but a real pain in the ass if its going against you. Having a team, any team, move its home base is a huge deal for the league. Travel and logistical concerns aside, its bad news for any league’s stability to constantly having teams switch towns. Having some experience working for a league, its a concern for everyone from the owners to the staff to the referees and has a pronounced effect on the long-term stability of the team and the league.

I realize have moved several times before and will likely continue to do so, but sooner or later a line in the sand has to be drawn. If the Coyotes are allowed to move, then we may be faced with a situation where the league’s weaker sisters are moved from town to town as successive waves of owners have epiphanies as to where said team should be located. I am aware that the Coyotes may never prosper, but they do have an excellent young core that could develop into a winner. And winning begets fans. I certainly don’t begrudge Hamilton or Mr. Balsillie a team, but give Phoenix a chance.

Katrina– There is no question that the circumstances surrounding the Coyotes potential move to Hamilton are less than admirable, but the fact still remains that Phoenix has been given a bigger chance than the league’s previous failing organizations. Teams like the Scouts lasted for all of two years before the plug was pulled. I realize that you can’t really compare a team in the seventies to a team in present day, but the Coyotes have been dying in the desert since 1996!

The organization has done everything in its power to increase ticket sales. They built a new fabulous sports complex in Glendale in 2003, but instead of enthusiasm, fans felt inconvenienced by having to drive twenty minutes outside of the city. They implemented a $9 ticket price point, and they have even had free booze nights (I know most of you probably can’t imagine NOT paying through the nose to drink at the rink)! Even having the Great One behind the bench hasn’t generated enough of a draw, and if Gretzky can’t do it, then who can? As someone with prior experience in sales for Maple Leaf Sports, I can honestly say the Coyotes have tried everything. If I were in their position, I would be beside myself with what new sales approach to take next.

No matter where you go in this league or any league, there will always be a group of hardcore, dedicated hockey fans, and it’s definitely not fair to say that they don’t exist. Unfortunately, in Phoenix, their numbers aren’t strong enough. The fair-weather fans want to see a winning team, and Phoenix hasn’t seen playoff action in seven years. Even though everyone would love to see a Cinderella story, I personally don’t believe that the Coyotes will make gigantic strides this season. As much as I’d love to see my team win, I don’t see them making the postseason just yet. And even if by some miracle they do make the playoffs, the team lacks experience, so they definitely won’t get any ice time in the Western semi-finals.

All I can say is that from a business standpoint, Phoenix has been given more than a chance. Losing tens of millions of dollars a season is too high a price to pay to spare the feelings of a tiny booster club and a couple peewee hockey leagues – bottom line (literally).

Rusty- Excuse me, can I ask you a harmless question?…

Seeing as how you are a Coyotes fan, do not have any confidence in the core group of players in Phoenix? Having drafted well and made some astute deals, the team seems to making the correct on-ice moves to build a winner. Since you seem to agree that on-ice success breeds ticket sales, why are you in a rush to move the team? (Sorry, that was two harmless questions). This current group of kids, if left together, might well blossom into a Pacific Division force. Heaven knows San Jose can’t win a playoff series, so why shouldn’t the Coyotes be upsetting them in the first-round come 2011? (3 questions…)

You also mention that core group of fans, who I think represent the key to the teams’ growth. Promotions, booze and Wayne aside, current fans are undoubtedly the best ambassadors a team can have. I would bet that many of the current fan base were introduced to the sport by a friend or relative, and were hooked by hockey’s obvious charms. Perhaps the team should capitalize on all the free press its getting these days and encourage those interested to come take a look, or better yet, ask the current base to bring a friend. Sort of like what the food bank does, but with people.

I concede your point about the team being given a fair shake in Arizona, but moving it now spells defeat now and forever. What if Churchill had abandoned Britain in the dark days? What if Ross had given up on Rachel? What if Tim had stopped waiting for Dawn (Translation: Jim and Pam). It seems the old adage of “good things come to those who wait” applies here. So again, let me ask a harmless question. Whats the hurry to move the team?

Katrina- I have realistic expectations of the core group of players in Phoenix. I agree, the team has started to move in the right direction since the trade deadline, but it is my opinion that it won’t be enough. I think at best the team can hope to finish 11th or 10th in the West, but that’s obviously not enough to give them a shot at the cup. Unlike Phoenix, San Jose has had more recent playoff experience, and experience is often the clincher in deciding postseason series. After all, the Coyotes have never won a playoff series either. I foresee Phoenix being a Columbus-esque dud in the post, should they make it that far. As someone who accurately called a Detroit/Pittsburgh rematch long before the playoffs began, I wouldn’t mess with my Phoenix predictions!

You’ve asked twice what the rush is for moving Phoenix. I think thirteen years of financial woe is the antithesis of “rush.” I do believe the Coyotes fans will come around if the team starts winning, but putting the onus solely on the players to turn the organization around is totally unfair. At least here in the Golden Horseshoe we embrace losing hockey clubs, and bestow upon even the lowliest of fourth liner the title of king. What’s the rush to move the Coyotes? What’s another $60M down the toilet? I think the better question to ask is, “What’s the hold up?”

There you have it readers, the best arguments of both sexes. Are you convinced? Outraged? Ready to move to Glendale and make the Coyotes your team? Lets hear it in the comments.

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