Relocation from Winnipeg to Phoenix
Despite strong fan support, the Winnipeg Jets were having financial issues due to rising salaries of NHL players and team was bought by a group of local Phoenix investors, including the former owner of the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, the Coyotes are one of few relocated franchises in all professional sports to honor previous homes. The Coyotes still honor all retired numbers from the Winnipeg Jets and continue the "White-out" tradition (where all fans are to wear white shirts to playoff games), which was started by the Jets in response to the Calgary Flames' "C of Red". The Coyotes still harbor a lot of resentment for the Winnipeg relocation from angry Jets fans and Canadian Hockey Elitists.
At the time, the Coyotes played in the American West Arena, which was unfit for hockey, only managing to fit 16,000, setting precedent for the future move to Glendale (see below). Despite this, the Coyotes were a popular team due to relative on-ice success, having made the playoffs in five of the first six opening seasons, though all playoff berths resulted in first-round exits. During these years, the team was led by players such as Jeremy Roenick, Teppo Numminen, Keith Tkachuk, Rick Tocchet, and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Shane Doan, who was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets, is still a member of the Coyotes and is the captain of the team. He is the last remaining player from the days when the franchise was located in Winnipeg and is often referred to as "The Last Jet".
In 2001, the team was sold to Steve Ellman, a Phoenix-area developer, and Wayne Gretzky, NHL Superstar and possibly the best person to ever play the game of hockey. At this point, the team was losing money and the team was starting to regress into mediocrity on-the-ice. Sadly, this is a trend that would continue and eventually lead to present-day ownership and financial issues with the team.
Move to Jobing.com Arena
Due to the poor fit for ice hockey in the American West Arena, the team moved to Glendale, Arizona in 2003. The first Coyotes game at the new Jobing.com Arena (at the time just called Glendale Arena) was a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Decemeber 27, 2003. The new arena was certainly an upgrade over the American West Arena; indeed, Jobing.com Arena is considered to be one of the best ice hockey arenas in the National Hockey League. However, the location of the arena, specifically, has been a source of controversy. The AWA was located in Scottsdale, which was an easy commute for many, however, many complain that the team's move to Glendale is very inconvenient. Many "hockey experts" cite this as a reason why hockey cannot succeed in Arizona; however, while the move to Glendale certainly was not a helping factor, there are many more underlying issues with the franchise that are responsible for its woes (see below).
The Great One - The Coach
In August of 2005, perhaps the biggest piece of news in franchise history happened. Wayne Gretzky, "The Great One" and part-time owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, made himself the coach of the team. Gretzky had no prior experience as a coach and it showed. After being head coach for four years, Gretzky only once had a season record above .500 and did not once make the playoffs. There were numerous problems with Gretzky as coach. Gretzky had a tendency to juggle the lines too often, even in games. Players never really had a chance to develop chemistry because of this. Special teams were usually very poor under his coaching as well. He failed to capture the respect of the players and often Shane Doan seemed to be the only player who was truly motivated to win every night. Most of all, there was never really a system under his coaching style. Lots of the Coyotes' game revolved around a dump-and-chase strategy that only Wayne Gretzky himself would be able to successfully play in.
In all fairness, the players he had to work with were not great. The Coyotes never truly drafted and developed any players who became full-time NHL players. To compliment poor chemistry issues on the team, it did not help that Mike Barnett, General Manager of the Phoenix Coyotes at the time, seemed to change the roster every year. Many bad trades happened under Barnett's watch, most notably the Daniel Briere trade where the Coyotes lost what became a 95 point star in Daniel Briere for Josh Gratton who is currently in the minor leagues. Most free agent signings involved overpaying for old veterans or fighters who contributed little.
Despite his shortcomings as a coach, it is undeniable that he did do great things for the team. Without him, there would have been no chance that his friends, Dave Strader and Darren Pang, would join the Fox Sports Arizona crew to commentate Coyotes games. Gretzky can also be attributed for expansion to "Sunbelt" markets in the NHL when he made the Los Angeles Kings team popular after his trade there from the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky also fired his former manager and close friend Mike Barnett as General Manager of the Coyotes and hired Don Maloney, who was clearly the right man for the job.
It became inevitable that the team's dreadful seven-year playoff drought would eventually lead into chaos and turmoil for the franchise. Attendance was poor and the team was losing money. Canadian Hockey Elitists usually like to use this as an excuse for their claims that hockey cannot be successful in Arizona and that the team should be relocated back to Canada, however, the facts do not support this. The amount of money lost cannot be attributed to attendance alone. Most of it leads to poor management from the Jerry Moyes ownership group (who received majority ownership from Steve Ellman in 2005). The biggest problem is the lease the ownership group has with the City of Glendale, which is simply too unreasonable and is the major issue ownership groups attempting to keep the team in Glendale are tackling. While attendance numbers are poor, it's hard to blame fans for not coming to watch a dreadful Coyotes team take the the ice.
In 2009, it was announced that the Coyotes were bankrupt and that the NHL had taken ownership of the team. However, owner Jerry Moyes was still attempting to recoup any losses from the Coyotes that he could. Under the table, he attempted to strike off a deal with co-CEO of Research in Motion, Jim Balsillie to relocate the team to Hamilton, Ontario. However, it was determined that Moyes had no right to do so, seeing as he no longer owned the team. Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls as well as Ice Edge Holdings (who would have the Coyotes play a couple of home games in Saskatchewan) are both currently attempting to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and keep them in Glendale. Under the crisis of the ownership issues, Wayne Gretzky stepped down as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Don Maloney and Dave Tippett Era
Against all odds, the Phoenix Coyotes had a great year under new head coach Dave Tippett and General Manager Don Maloney. Many "hockey experts" picked the Coyotes to finish dead last or close to dead last in the NHL. However, the team shocked many by finishing the season with a 50-25-7 record, which is the all-time best in Coyotes franchise history. It was also good enough for fourth place in the Western Conference and an end to the seven-year playoff drought, which was also the first time the Coyotes played a playoff game in Jobing.com Arena. Though, the Coyotes were still unable to finally make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Finals by losing the Detroit Red Wings in a heart-breaking Game 7 at home, no one can deny that it is a sign that the team is on the right track. In terms of fan attendance, the year started off very poorly, due to lack of faith in the team (many experts picked the team to finish last in the NHL) as well as uncertainty about the teams future. As the team started disproving the doubters, attendance began to increase accordingly. The numbers spiked after the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where the United States Olympic Team generated hockey interest throughout the country by having a Coyote-like miracle run to Gold Medal Game where the team lost in overtime. The team sold out the last bit of regular season games and all the playoff games, where the Coyotes brought the "White-out" for the first time to Jobing.com Arena.
New head coach Dave Tippett turned the entire mentality of the franchise around. He inspired the team with a "us against the world attitude", in light of the ownership conflicts, and created his what he called a "pack mentality". He stressed defensive responsibility and the Coyotes soon became one of the best defensive teams in the NHL. The team, other than perhaps goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, had no superstars or dynamic scorers. Tippett was able to turn a "bunch of nobodies" into amazing overachievers. Don Maloney made some great moves for the roster as General Manager. He acquired Vernon Fiddler and Adrian Aucoin in free agency for very reasonable deals and both players had key roles on the team. He got a huge bargain by acquiring Radim Vrbata in a trade where he gave up two non-essential players who were eating to much salary the Coyotes could not afford to waste. At the trade deadline, he was able to acquire Derek Morris for a fourth round pick (considered the biggest steal of the the entire trade deadline), Wojtek Wolski for struggling forward Peter Mueller and prospect Kevin Porter, as well as a big surprise in Lee Stempniak who scored 14 goals and 18 points in 18 games as a Coyote, all for a fourth and seventh round pick.
The 2010-2011 season saw another successful regular season, earning the 6th seed in the Western Conference. However, the appeal of simply making the playoffs had worn off. Despite making it to playoffs, the season was frustrating. The offseason saw the losses of the Matthew Lombardi and Zybnek Michalek because both were frightened by the lack of stability in the ownership situation. They both turned out to be great losses. The Coyotes lacked any true depth at the center position, which hurt greatly. The team signed the center, Eric Belanger, but he didn't quite replace Lombardi, however the other new addition winger Ray Whitney did replace some lost offense and help the power play.
Certain players failed to live up to expectations as well. Prospects Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Brett MacLean, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson weren't consistent, but did show promise and are hopeful to have breakout season in 2011-2012. Turris was especially impressive in the playoffs. Wojtek Wolski, who was a hot acquisition at the trade deadline in the previous season, was not nearly as productive and was traded to the New York Rangers for defenseman Michal Rozsival who was decent. Wolski earned a lot of hatred from Coyotes fans after he asked for a trade, and obtained the nickname "Floatski" for his lack of effort. Fan-favorite Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto were traded to Columbus for defenseman Rotislav Klesla who helped stabilize the blue line.
While there were disappointments, there was one huge bright spot for the team. Keith Yandle had a very impressive offensive season for the team. He had 11 goals and 48 assists for a grand total of an amazing 59 points, which is incredible for a defenseman. At the All-Star break he led all defensemen in the entire NHL in points. He finished second in scoring on the team, second only to Captain Shane Doan. Yandle's production did slow down towards the end of the year, as he only finished 5th in league scoring for defensemen, but it was an impressive season regardless. At the age of 24, he is poised to become a premiere offensive-defenseman in the league for years to come. He was also named an alternate captain that season.
The Coyotes appearance in the playoffs was embarrassing. They landed another date with the Detroit Red Wings who have often defeated the Coyotes in the playoffs. It simply was a mismatch. The Red Wings overpowered the Coyotes in every aspect and swept the Coyotes in only 4 games. There are many reasons for the Coyotes failures. The loss of Lombardi and Michalek being the most prominent, seeing as they were both big parts of the team from the previous season that nearly beat the mighty Red Wings. Many players seemed like they gave up and weren't truly trying to win. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was horrendous. He let many simple shots go by him and let the team and the fans down. The only bright spots were Shane Doan and Kyle Turris, the latter of which leads many fans hopeful that he will have breakout season next year.
The on-ice failures of the team were overshadowed by the off-ice failures of the team. The team failed to acquire a new owner and the NHL still owns the team. Prospective owner Matthew Hulsizer was close to buying the team, however the Goldwater Institute, a local conservative activist group, threatened to sue the city of Glendale, which made it difficult to purchase the bonds necessary to make the deal happen. The Goldwater Institute was criticized for simply trying to gain publicity and not truly trying to serve the people. The Glendale area relies heavily on the fans the Coyotes bring to the area and many jobs will be lost if the Coyotes leave. Senator John McCain criticized the Goldwater Institute for their actions. The City of Glendale was able to negotiate a deal with the NHL to keep the team in Arizona for one more year while they try to find a new owner. Matthew Hulsizer dropped out of the running, however as of September 2, 2011, it seems that a former owner of the San Jose Sharks and Jerry Reinsdorf have entered the picture once again.
Because of the ownership situation, General Manager Don Maloney's hands were tied with what he could do during the off-season. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was a pending unrestricted free agent and his contract demands were hefty. Maloney is notorious for not engaging in ludicrous long-term deals, which is exactly what Bryzgalov received from the Philadelphia Flyers when he his contract rights were traded there. While Bryzgalov was genuinely terrible during the playoffs, he is still a premiere goalie in the league and his loss will undoubtedly felt. Maloney signed Mike Smith to replace Bryzgalov. Smith played for Tippett when he was the coach of the Dallas Stars and played fairly well, however he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning as a part of the deal that sent star Brad Richards to Dallas and had mixed results after suffering a concussion. Maloney is hopeful that Smith will play well after working with Coyotes coach Sean Burke.
The Coyotes lost Vernon Fiddler, Eric Belanger, and Ed Jovonovski to free agency over the summer. They acquired Boyd Gordon, who is expected to be an upgrade over Fiddler in the checking 4th line center role. The Coyotes are hopeful that one of their many blue-chip defensive prospects will fill in for the aging Jovonovski. Maloney also made a trade with the Calgary Flames to acquire center Daymond Langkow, a former Coyote, to help with the team's weakest link, the center position. The team gave up hard-working winger Lee Stempniak, who is very hot-and-cold throughout the season and was redundant at his position. Coyotes fans have rational expectations for the upcoming season. This season is being viewed as a time to develop key prospects into full NHL players, many of whom seem to be running out of time. The team simply needs Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov, Brett MacLean, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to play a bigger role if it hopes to have any success in the future. Many holes were left in the line-up, specifically to give these young players a chance at making the NHL club and playing meaningful minutes on the ice.
One important thing Maloney did was extend star defenseman Keith Yandle for another five years. Yandle is almost as important to the team as Shane Doan is at this point, and locking him up to a good term was important. It meant a lot to the team and the fans that Yandle is committed to staying in Phoenix and helping the team become successful despite all of the chaos he has had to endure since being drafted. Yandle has the potential to become the best defenseman in the game after dominating the league last year at the young age of 24.
Phoenix Coyotes in Video Games
The Coyotes have only had two players featured on a boxart for an NHL videogame, and only one was a North American release. Keith Tkachuk was featured in the dark classic "cyber-kachina-yote" jersey in Acclaim's NHL Breakaway 98 for the Nintendo 64. Mikkel Boedker, one of the few Danish players in the NHL, is featured on the coverart in his home country for NHL 10. However, the irony of this situation is that Boedker only spent a brief time with the Coyotes in the NHL. After realizing many prospects were rushed to the NHL in the 08-09 season, General Manager Don Maloney soon demoted Boedker and several other young players to the AHL affiliate in San Antonio the next year. Boedker had 1 goal and 2 assists on the NHL level that season.