On his way out of town, Ray Whitney commented on how the lack of ownership hurt the team with regard to the schedule. The Coyotes led the league in back to back games where the first game was on the road, second game at home. While it is nice to come home, it is not when the opponent is already there. Rested and ready for when you arrive at Cutter aviation after midnight. Without an owner to be at the meetings and provide protection for your team, there are too many chances for the schedule makers to take the easy way out and stick it to you. And Ray felt that happened too many times to Phoenix during his two years here.
The other area the team can use some protection is in the public relations department. Shane Doan won the Messier Award for leadership as he should have. No one has dealt with the distractions like the Phoenix Coyotes have seen the past three seasons in court proceedings and failed ownership attempts. Add to it a hostile Canadian Media and lack of attention by the Phoenix media for the product on ice, you have to wonder how anyone outside of Phoenix knows of a hockey team exists in the desert. The public relations team led by Rich Nairn have done the Lord’s work, but all the highlight packages and offers of players for interviews fall on silent ears. That was the case until the Cardinals reverted to Cardinal form and the Suns took a major step backwards, then shipped player favorite to LA. Nice work. Now Phoenix can be a Coyote town. The path to Jobing.com will become a familiar one for the hockey faithful.
Don Maloney is a puppet master in the player trades he has pulled off and his scouring of the waiver wire. He finds the ones that can help the team the most while maintaining a budget that would make Scrooge Mcduck proud. Just the last couple of years, think of who he has brought in. Mike Smith, Boyd Gordon, Ray Whitney, and Raffi Torres as free agents. Traded for Klesla and Langkow. Locked Keith Yandle up to a long term deal. Should he be a candidate for GM of the year? Of course.
Then you have Dave Tippett. At the start of the 2011-2012 season, no one had the Coyotes winning the Pacific Division. Only a handful of faithful fans had them making the playoffs. Most of the national and Canadian media had the Coyotes either dead last or within earshot of the worst in hockey. Why, how could this team perform three years in a row in a conference loaded with greatness such as San Jose and Anaheim? Colorado had reloaded, Calgary was making a run, and who can ignore Vancouver or Chicago? St. Louis and Detroit are just too much for the lowly Phoenix Coyotes. With the performance he gets from the players and how they bought in to what he was selling, he should have been nominated for the coach of the year.
And that brings me to the biggest slight of the season. Mike Smith. He should have been nominated for the Vezina. The NHL Network aired an interview by Kathryn Tappen with Henrik Lundquist. On the scroll at the bottom of the screen, the Network ran the stats of the top goalies. There was Mike Smith in almost every category. Save percentage of 0.93 and 8 shutouts tied him for third in the league. 38 wins, 1 behind Henrik Lundquist. The only area he was lacking was goals against. Take away the shelling he took opening night against San Jose and some late game goals given up, he would have been at the top of the pack. Late game goals, the bane of the team in December and Janaury and the Chicago playoff series proved Smitty would bend but not break.And that led me to think what would have been to have Greg Jamison there at the meetings. “Sure Halak is doing great, but have you seen what we get to witness nightly in Phoenix? Listen to how the fans give Smitty and standing ovation just after giving Boyd Gordon his for shot blocking.” “We are building something here in Phoenix. Come be a part of it.”
Without an owner to push him, no one knew of the remarkable job Smitty did until it was playoff time. Nature abhors a vacuum, and for three years we have had a vacuum at the most important position in an organization. The owner will make your team (Mike Ilitch of the Red Wings) or break (Atlanta Spirit gang of the Atlanta Thrashers) your team. The owner can be there to press the flesh for marketing purposes and schmooze your top client. The owner is your face in the league meetings and having your best interest at the core of their being.
What the Coyotes needed the past three season was someone out on the plaza, meeting and greeting fans. Remembering you from an open house and inviting you to watch the game from his suite. Learning important dates in your life and celebrate them with you in his suite. When the media finally discovered there is hockey in the desert in their first playoff run, there should have been your owner outside on the plaza doing interviews at 5 am. Every home game day. An owner present would have prevented Zbynek Michalek from leaving the first time. An owner would have sent the plane for top free agents to start the courtship to come to Phoenix. And an owner would have Shane Doan locked up to a four year contract to play and a lifetime professional services to represent the Coyotes. An honor would not let the vacuum engulf Phoenix.
If Jerry Moyes had just sold the team to a group like Ice Edge versus trying his back door dealing with Jim Bassille, we would never have learned of the 3-letter Goldwater. We would have built upon the growing season ticket holder base and continued to expand the Coyote empire. An owner who knows how to run a team is what is needed. And Greg Jamison is that owner. He is needed now more than ever. And bring your Dyson.