Well, it looks like the Phoenix Coyotes - check that, the Arizona Coyotes - are staying in Glendale. This, for a Canadian-raised ex-hockey player who lives in the state, is fantastic news.
Matthew Hulsizer and the city of Glendale have reached an agreement where the city vomits copious sums of money to Hulsizer, and he agrees to pull the metaphorical gun from their collective temple. Everybody wins!
The good news for the Coyotes owner? This can work here. It just hasn't been given a fair shake.
When I first moved to town 16 months ago, I wrote a column attempting to vindicate the (lack of) fans, saying that nobody goes to the games because the team has always sucked. I may have also mentioned I thought they were going to suck again (dead wrong), and said something along the lines of "How much do you have to hate yourself to sit through 41 games of cheering for B-level stars taking A-level beatings?"
But I've changed my tone a bit. I do think hockey can thrive in the desert, if watered properly. I've gotten to know a surprising number of local hockey fans, so I thought I'd share some of the "buzz on the street" about this team, and tell you why I think figures in the attendance column will start trending up once Hulsizer takes over.
Why it can work
One reason the scene is going to get better is that I was partially right when I wrote that column last year - the on-ice product had been crap (thanks, Gretter!), and it's just ... not, anymore.
Dave Tippett is a tremendous coach, and Don Maloney has done a great job supplying him with hungry talent, as opposed to grabbing washed up names like the New York Rangers used to do, or, say, Brett Hull.
Plus, there's a harsh reality that can work in their favor - this is a bandwagon city. Whoever's winning games gets the love, and this team looks like it can be consistently competitive. The Arizona Cardinals rarely packed their building before going to the Super Bowl. People will claim it's a Phoenix Suns town, but that's only because they're always pretty damn good. The second the Coyotes made playoffs, you could barely find a ticket - you may want to snark that it was all Detroit fans, but I was there - it certainly wasn't. Being good matters here.
The people I've met say it's finally an exciting team to watch (and I concur, especially with the "finally" part), not just for their high paced play, but also because the future is bright, given that they have a few potential stars blossoming in their farm system.
Now that they have a solid owner (and I mean really solid, this guy is an ex-hockey player with dough who's committed to the long haul and got a great deal from the city), things won't be so wishy-washy.
You have no idea the effect the ownership turmoil has had on these fans. Every time you talked Coyotes with anyone in this city, it was all dark clouds and moving vans, as opposed to the powerplay or last night's game.
This new ownership situation feels like a renewing of the vows for them. It's tough to commit to anything or anyone if you think they're leaving town soon, and the fans have been embroiled in this "are we going to have a team or not?" fiasco for far too long (thanks, Moyes!).
Another reason it can work: a shuttle system.
The arena is in Glendale (that remains the biggest problem), which for those of you don't know, is north of the five major parts of "Phoenix", including Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa. I'm sort of in the middle of it all, and it's a full 45 minute drive for me, more through rush hour. Thus, when we go to games, we want to make a night of it, and have some dinner and drinks at the game. But you can't do that, thanks the long highway drive home.
Well, they started a shuttle system (that they should probably expand, hint Hulsizer hint) that takes people to and from games, so if I want to go to a game with a couple of buddies, we can actually order one of their grossly overpriced beers and make a night of it. Nice.
All in all, I've talked to an incredible number of people who support this team but have just been turned off over the years by all the negativity that's surrounded the franchise. They love the game, but haven't loved it enough to learn about crap like memorandums of understanding or bankruptcy proceedings. Those days are finally over.
There are enough people here who have interest in attending that can be won back - from the locals, to the snowbirds (mostly-Canadian cold-climate avoiders, a growing population that includes my parents), to those who've permanently relocated from other frigid parts of the country - that they can easily increase the bum-to-seat ratio.
With this new owner, a better on-ice product, trust in the team's permanence and more available shuttles, it can only get better.
If the team stays competitive, and Hulsizer agrees to spend a few more bucks, look out - most players would kill to play here. It can become a destination team.
It used to be that ticket prices rose and fell like the tides, promotions were random, and advertising was sparse. I think Hulsizer will provide the permanence, consistency and general effort from ownership that this fan base has yet to be treated to, and it will respond.
And if it turns out I'm wrong, then look out Winnipeg - when the lease runs out in 23 years, this club is allllll yours.