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Trending Topics: The Phoenix Coyotes and the making of a villain

Ryan Lambert
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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

There are a lot of teams in the NHL that are easy to hate, for a lot of reasons.

The Bruins are a dirty team. The Canucks dive everywhere. The Leafs are force-fed to everyone in the League, and same for the Penguins. The Rangers are ruining hockey by blocking a million shots. The Ducks have Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. The Canadiens and Red Wings have tied for "World's Most Insufferable Fans." The Capitals have a heavy bandwagon following. The Islanders are owned by the hockey equivalent of Joffrey Baratheon. The Kings' Twitter guys said mean stuff about your favorite team. The Jets pretend they weren't the Thrashers less than a year ago.

And so forth.

On the other hand, there are also a few teams no one has any hard-and-fast opinions about one way or another. One such is — or at least used to be — the Phoenix Coyotes.

They toiled away crafting a few very successful seasons without anyone either nationally or indeed locally taking much notice. Asked for an opinion on the state of the Coyotes prior to the beginning of the playoffs, most hockey fans would likely shrug and say, "They've got Shane Doan I guess."

That all started to change midway through the first round of these playoffs, when Raffi Torres took off like a Soyuz rocket to touch the face of Marian Hossa, and got hit with a 25-game suspension. But to some extent, that was also viewed as just one of those things. Raffi Torres could have been on any team in the history of hockey, regardless of how likeable it was, and tried to take someone's head off. That's Raffi Torres, regardless of how effective he is when he's not trying to hurt people.

Things settled down and, apart from the occasional Mike Smith dive (of which all goaltenders are occasionally guilty), there wasn't much to give credence to the idea that the Torres hit was anything besides an isolated incident by a rogue agent. Apart from a two-game Torres suspension in December and three-gamer to "honest player" Shane Doan in late March, they faced just three $2,500 fines in the regular season.

Even Rostislav Klesla trying to run Matt Halischuk through the boards in the Nashville series, and getting a game's ban from Brendan Shanahan, wasn't enough to make people start to think they were anything approaching a dirty team. Another isolated incident and all that. They were wholly unlike the Penguins, who cheaps-hotted everyone in sight throughout the Philadelphia series, lost in convincing fashion, and were generally considered to be jerks by the hockey world.

As Nashville wilted under a hail of criticism for its two best offensive players, the Coyotes quietly advanced in just five games.

Then they played Los Angeles. And they started losing.

The Kings' dominant performances in Games 1 and 2 of these Western Conference Finals, both leading to laughably easy wins, seem to have made the Coyotes come apart at what were apparently very fragile seams holding together the honor they might have had. As it became increasingly obvious that they would return to the fortress into which Darryl Sutter has turned the Staples Center with a grand total of two goals scored and eight conceded, the frustration began to mount.

First, Shane Doan hit Trevor Lewis from behind late in the second period on one of those "turned-at-the-last-second" plays, and wrongly got the gate (and I'm typically loath to give Doan the benefit of the doubt because he's an objectively dirty player), then things went crazy. On the ensuing power play, Smith, who later took an hilariously obvious dive in the game, tried to play Paul Bunyon to Dustin Brown's right knee's forest.

Then Martin Hanzal tried to hurt Brown with a terribly ugly intentional board in the game's dying seconds, and late in the third, Derek Morris went purposely knee-to-knee on Rob Scuderi — and somehow escaped supplementary discipline despite all the above things happening well beforehand.

And just like that, any goodwill anyone had for the franchise was erased in three remarkably dirty incidents that occurred because the Coyotes were getting drilled by a vastly superior team on their home ice, in front of a bunch of fans who seem to have happily replaced the Coyotes' usual audience of empty maroon seats. Those who may have felt a little bad that the team might be packed up and moved to Yellowknife by the time the new season begins suddenly had more pressing concerns.

I'm sure most people outside the greater Los Angeles and Phoenix areas couldn't really have cared less who advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals out of the West, but now that one team has played generally exciting and convincing hockey en route to a pair of wins, and the other has spent those two games trying to severely injure their opponents and generally making themselves a whole lot less likable.

One suspects there won't be much in the way of disinterest when the Coyotes — or whatever they're called — come to town next season. But that's only because they transformed from a hard-luck team to mustache-twirling villains in the space of two periods.

Not that anyone really noticed any of the above

Let's just put it this way: If the Coyotes had done any of this stuff to the New York Rangers, the media would be pelting Dave Tippet and Co. with rotten fruit at every press conference. But while one of the four teams remaining in the postseason was actively trying to hurt the best players on the other team, the East-Coast-Biased was manufacturing outrage over a number of monumentally dumb issues in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Issues such  "Do the Devils really intend to shoot at Rangers' heads?", "John Tortorella should be talking to us in a manner we deem appropriate and respectful," and "Someone should do something about all this shot blocking," have dominated the headlines this week for writers having a lack of anything more interesting to say about a series that was purposely being played in a wholly uninteresting way.

Not one of these things is a real problem facing hockey today, and thus, the complaints are the worst kind of distraction from what should be one of the most exciting times in the hockey season. Why not just write about the games instead?

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty hasn't Tweeted since April 18, which I imagine, not coincidentally, is also the day before he last played in a professional hockey game.

If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.

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