It goes without saying that the Arizona Coyotes have become quite the hotbed of rumors and intrigue across the NHL over the past few seasons, though not for the reason most fans of the team would expect nor want.
As a once Montreal Canadiens writer myself, I can say with certainty that, for the majority of the 2021-22 season, the Habs and the Yotes struggles were well documented and alike, if not equal, for most of the season, right alongside the Seattle Kraken ending up right where they belonged. At the bottom of the Pacific. The Canadiens endured one of the quicker and more prominent blow-ups in NHL history, going from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2020-21 to dead last in the league in 2021-22.
Former head coach Dominique Ducharme ran the team into the ground early on and replacement Martin St. Louis, along with GM Kent Hughes and VP of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton, were left to pick up the scraps left behind by Ducharme and former GM Marc Bergevin. While the Coyotes ultimately finished ahead of Montreal, that isn’t saying much sadly, having been picking up the scraps of their once brief success for far too long now.
It seems like a millennium ago now that Mike Smith put an underwhelming, if gutsy Coyotes team on his back all the way to the 2011-12 Conference Finals, and I’m sure Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and crew are itching for those days to return if they ever will. Well, most of that starts with the place they call home, and to be frank, the Coyotes don’t exactly have one.
It’s not exactly breaking news at this point where Arizona will be playing next season. The home of the Arizona State University Men’s Hockey Team, Mullett Arena, all 5000 seats of it. And much like an actual Mullet (Barry Melrose aside), it feels outdated, out-touch, and above all else, insufficient for a modern-day NHL organization.
A lot of this, admittedly, starts with the higher-ups of the NHL themselves, from CEO Gary Bettman to Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who’s seemingly hard-headed nature regarding keeping the Coyotes in Arizona, has led me to a media barn-burner that’s taken away from what’s at the core of this situation in the first place.
The Coyotes, as a hockey team, one who, in spite of their performance last season, has genuine reasons for optimism among its fanbase whether it ultimately is able to secure a proper arena in the future or not. As I stated at the onset, I had a first-hand look at the Yotes season last year as they battled with the Habs to stay out of the NHL’s cellar as the 32nd and last place team.
With the 2022-23 NHL season set to get underway, it’s time we talked about the situation regarding the Arizona Coyotes new home, Mullett Arena.
Ultimately, an exciting, end of season ride under St. Louis wasn’t enough to make up for a quite frankly inexplicable and unexplainable first-half under “coach” Ducharme, who has most likely killed any future career as a pro hockey coach he may or may not have had. As for the Coyotes, veteran QMJHL bench boss and former NHL assistant coach Andre Tourigny certainly has his work cut out for him going forward, but, in my opinion, did a remarkable job performance wise last season considering the roster he had at his disposal.
To address the elephant in the room, it again isn’t exactly breaking news that the Yotes don’t have much offensively besides Schmaltz and Keller, who are both (in a rare occurrence for Arizona) locked up long-term. Jacob Chychrun was thought to have at last emerged as a top-pairing offensive defenseman in 2020-21, but a continually swirling pool of trade rumors and a looming departure to a contender have rendered him, at the moment, little but intriguing trade bait with a potentially bountiful return for the Coyotes.
Sprinkle in some solid late-season performances from guys like Nick Ritchie, Travis Boyd, and Lawson Crouse, along with the emergence of Karel Vejmelka as an intriguing NHL option, and you have a team that, while quite underpowered, is far from being completely non-competitive, though ultimately, the place these players call home plays a big part in that, and it’s clear, at least in my mind, that there’s a disparage between the vision the Coyotes management has for the team, and the vision the owners or indeed, the NHL do.
As I’ve stated in some of my past work, any way you slice it, anything you choose to slice, and anything you choose to slice said thing with, Mullett Arena is not up to the standards of not only the NHL, but the AHL, ECHL, and if you really want to go deep, even SPHL and LNAH rinks. The Tuscon Convention Centre, home of the Yotes AHL affiliate the Roadrunners, has a capacity of just under 10,000. Their ECHL affiliate, the Atlanta Gladiators, own Gas South Arena, has a capacity of just over 13,000, over double that of Mullett Arena.
So… yeah, in case you don’t understand how arena capacities work, having your AA affiliate have twice the capacity of your NHL team, isn’t a good look for said NHL team. To find another example of this in NHL history, you’d have to go all the way back to the days of when Jean Beliveau suited up for the QSHL’s Quebec Aces in the early 1950s, who for a brief time took a large part of the spotlight away from the Canadiens.
However, it isn’t the early 1950s anymore. Elvis isn’t alive. The Canadiens aren’t winning the Cup every year, and Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis are no longer dominating the Top 40.
It’s 2022-23, and, whilst the Coyotes roster wise aren’t too dissimilar to the many other rebuilding teams in the NHL, their new home creates a large amount of separation that is ultimately underserving, and a clear sign of Bettman and crews lack of interest in keeping the Coyotes in Arizona beyond a stubborn refusal to relocate. And with the team the Yotes have going into this season, I feel as though they’re deserving of an upgrade and a glimpse at a future most fans and analysts alike consider already dead in the water.
As the 2022-23 season is set to begin on Tuesday, NHL fans, coaches, owners, and players league wide are doubtless excited for another season of the best hockey anywhere in the world. With an arena with just 5000 fans filling it, however, it seems as though the Arizona Coyotes, aren’t receiving quite the same levels of excitement, from both their fans, and the heads of the NHL themselves.