April 21, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- What you just witnessed in Phoenix over the past week was essentially a full-on, back-alley mugging. And I'm not even talking about what the Detroit Red Wings did to the Coyotes on the ice.
On April 13, the day the Stanley Cup Playoffs started — also coincidentally, the day TSN Radio was launched — Nick Kypreos took to the airwaves on FAN590 and said he was told by sources that the NHL was waiting for the Phoenix Coyotes to be eliminated from the playoffs before announcing that the team was moving to Winnipeg.
On the most exciting day of the hockey season, Phoenix fans got hit with the ultimate, deflating, elevator-dropping-a-floor, airplane-in-turbulence stomach drop. Kypreos softened his statement on Twitter a little later, but the damage had been done.
When Kypreos gets information — if it's credible — it's his job to share it. But the timing sucked the air out of Coyotes fans.
Enjoy your series, folks! Get right back at those Detroit Red Wings! Never mind the U-Hauls!
Yes, the fans did their best. Yes, they were present, loud, and a smidge angry while rooting for their team Wednesday night. But as the Zamboni took what were potentially its last laps around Jobing.com Arena after the game, stunned fans quietly paced out to their cars, fully uncertain if they still had an NHL season to look forward to or not.
Was that the end of hockey here?
Whether you'd prefer the team to be in Phoenix or Winnipeg, it's never cool to see dejected hockey fans realize their NHL involvement may officially become limited to the Internet and TV.
For lack of a better term, it just felt ... weird.
Now, the fans in Arizona have been on the wrong side of this relocation beat-down for quite some time, something to which even they seem to have grown accustomed. Still, they were just about to launch the rematch of their series from the previous season in which they battled seven games against the Detroit Red Wings before being eliminated. It had been a fantastic show -- they'd gained experience, the fans had a taste, and it really was time to go right back at 'em.
This year, they got smoked (despite a quality effort), but the fans never seemed to have a chance to hope.
Tough to commit to a battle when you believe the war has already been lost.
The NHL, for its part, has vehemently denied the Kypreos claim, stating that it is still pursuing every avenue to keep the team in Phoenix, while noting that yes, a deadline looms. The ominous "Plan B" is barely even a euphemism for the real possibility of a move.
Worse still is that Wednesday night, as fans once again donned the white-out apparel only to see the Red Wings put black in their hearts, local supporters didn't even get the chance to have a proper goodbye, if in fact that was the final game of the team from Arizona. Everything was as it's come to be expected around here — sketchy, up in the air, unsettled.
And, that's what the fans have received for their dollars recently — more than ever during this playoff run despite it being only their third kick at playoffs since 2000, which should have had folks right ramped up.
As Rebecca Black would put it, FUN FUN FUN FUN.
Casual hockey fans make up the fluctuating attendance numbers in most cities which we use to assign labels like "good fan base" and "bad fan base." But as certain folks out there who run team-centric blogs know, some people are a little more passionate than others.
Well those people exist here too, and the casuals were chased away by the fear that getting invested here means getting your heart broken. And "team leaving" heartbreak — as Winnipeg Jets fans unfortunately know well — is far worse than the "missing playoffs" heartbreak fans of, say, the Toronto Maple Leafs have experienced many, many (many) years.
I'm not saying that if the ownership situation were rectified that the building here would be jammed — let me state, unequivocally, it wouldn't be — but it would be better. It would give the team a fighting chance, and at the very least, allow the people willing to put their money into the NHL's product to believe the Coyotes were their team.
Having an NHL team with one foot in the city and the other on the road to its next home is not fun.
And that was never more evident than in this year's playoffs.