Phoenix Rising? Not Likely
You could blame the weather, although it's pretty much always perfect in the desert.
You could blame the opponent, although the flashy L.A. Kings are a divisional rival of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Maybe it was the wrong day of the week.
Or, maybe, people in the Valley of the Sun responded to yesterday's big news that the NHL was now firmly in control of the Coyotes by turning out in record numbers. Or by not turning out.
That was indeed an audience of 5,855 patrons last night in Phoenix to watch the Coyotes drop one to the Kings, a remarkably pathetic number ever for this godforsaken franchise. In the past four games, the Coyotes have seen their attendance drop on a game-by-game basis, from 11,938 (Oct. 22, Detroit) to 7,968 (Oct. 24, Los Angeles) to 6,495 (Oct. 31, Anaheim) to last night's figure.
The NHL, which bought the team out of bankruptcy for $140 million, would argue this is the result of Jim Balsillie's work, that months of uncertainty in the desert destroyed the ticket base the Coyotes had that allowed them to average 11,000 paid customers last year, plus about 3,900 giveaways per night.
Balsillie's pitch to move the Yotes north obviously didn't help the team's sales efforts in Phoenix. But there may be other factors.
First, it sure looks like this team is moving somewhere at the end of the season. When the NHL governors convene in December, Gary Bettman will deliver a status report on trying to find local buyers, and this time around the questions are going to be tougher when he tries the "all is well" speech.
Second, any sex appeal this team had is gone because Wayne Gretzky is gone. Dave Tippet's a heck of a good hockey coach but he's not Gretzky and the media interest there once was in the Coyotes because of Gretzky is now gone.
The team is 9-5-0 despite last night's loss, a terrific start by all measures. But the Coyotes play in a tough division and a playoff berth seems unlikely. Yes, they were in fifth place in the Western Conference last January before plummeting, but that was before they dumped a bunch of capable veterans at the trade deadline. Shane Doan and Ilya Bryzgalov can only carry the team so far.
Finally, nobody outside of Phoenix has any interest in this team unless it is moving, and the sale of the Coyotes only created intense interest in Canada over the past six months because there was at least the glimmer of a possibility it might re-locate to Canada and stirred some patriotic fervour in some corners.
Now the Coyotes can go back to being completely ignored, both at home and away.