Saturday night, the Phoenix Coyotes played host to the New York Rangers at the Jobing.com Arena. Less than three quarters to capacity, those in attendance watched Brad Richards knock in the game winner for the Rangers with .1 seconds on the clock.
For a team that has now lost four of the last five contests, at least an overtime point would have been much appreciated.
Phoenix’s 16 wins and 35 points is good for 3rd place in the Pacific Division. As it sits right now, the Pacific might be the most winnable, with San Jose and Dallas leading with only 37 points.
With that in mind, the Coyotes are still having a tough time drawing a crowd. Good for dead last in average attendance, the desert has been a lonely, lonely place to watch hockey.
It doesn’t come as a surprise. The franchise, after being moved from Winnipeg in 1996, unsuccessfully filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
They just haven’t been profitable. And the possibility of relocation continues to linger in the minds of those who support the team.
Phoenix’s franchise has not won a playoff series since 1987, dating back to the Coyotes time in Winnipeg as the Jets.
Outside of Canada, I can’t imagine any city willingly enduring a hockey postseason drought of that magnitude, especially in the desert.
Fans across the NHL haven’t adopted the Coyotes as their loveable loser either.
It might be the whole American team in a Canadian sport thing. It is understandable. I cannot imagine Americans embracing the MLB’s Montreal Expos (formerly).
When I look at a team like the one in Phoenix, I often ask myself if I feel guilty, or bad for them. Typically the guilt resonates with my perception of the fan base, but I’ve been looking at it all wrong.
I should look at the business of sports, like the business of retail merchandise. In doing so, I have to give a nod to Steve Jobs.
Many have attributed Apple’s success to the company’s understanding of why they are in business, not what they are in business for.
Professional sports have evolved into cash cows. For good or bad, TV contracts and big market cities have sculpted today’s sporting landscape. From the NBA’s Miami Heat, to College Football conference re-alignment and even the NHL expansion beginning back in 1967, each sport follows the money in pursuit of the best location.
But at the core of each sport, there are teams of professional athletes that do know why they play for a paycheck. They love the sport, and they love competing at the highest level. Some would still play even if they had to pick up a part-time job to keep food on the table.
I buy the why.
Maybe it’s just the case in Phoenix where its residents are just as interested in hockey as lumberjacks are in the iPhone.
Whatever the case may be, hockey is hockey, and the Phoenix Coyotes will continue to play even with a half-full arena.
I don’t look to the fans anymore to justify whether I’m interested in their team’s product. I’m looking for the quality of product they put on the ice.
The ‘Yotes take the ice again on Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers. April’s still a long way away, but as it stands, they’re in the hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup.