No Dog in the Hockey Fight

In case you missed it, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway. There’s actually been some quality hockey and thrilling finishes, not that you’re supposed to know or appreciate that in the Valley of the Sun.

For the fifth consecutive season, the National Hockey League has opted not to interrupt any off-ice plans Arizona Coyotes personnel might have in late-April, May, and June. It is really frustrating to think of how close it felt in 2012, when the Coyotes came up just two wins short of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, compared to how far away it feels at present.

That feels like 100 years ago. It was relevant, the way they scratched and clawed down the stretch in the regular season to secure the 3 seed, and ultimately home ice throughout the Western Conference Playoffs. The table was set, but the local hockey team wasn’t able to hold serve against the 8th-seeded Kings, who went on to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup.

These days, they flirt with the top of the draft lottery, but tend to come up just short. The playoffs are such unfamiliar territory in these parts that actual rooting interests become tertiary to figuring out who I do not want to win. How about those teams that knocked the Yotes out, can we still be bitter at them, considering the amount of time that’s since passed?

I mean, look, the book on Coyotes playoff success doesn’t contain a lot of pages, and there are probably more pictures than words in it. If you ever want to reach for a “what if?’ with this organization, you could argue the Kings ruined their one shot at the Cup. Would they have beaten New Jersey? I don’t know; it was five years ago and I just had to look up who Los Angeles knocked off the Devils for their first-ever Stanley Cup. We can be bitter. We can ‘hate-watch’ them in the tournament…if only they had qualified for it.

Detroit fan arrested

When your team is long Game 7 by a bunch, you might find the activity on the concourse more interesting.

With the Kings on the couch, I’ll go back to the previous seasons and the post-season disappointment that came with them–first round knockout from the hands of the juggernaut Detroit Red Wings in 2010 and 2011. The first time around, the Coyotes had home ice, which did not help them in a brutal 6-1 Game 7 loss. A year later, Detroit pulled the band-aid off a lot quicker with a sweep. Even though they’re in the East, and not quite as pesky a rival to their former Western Conference foes these days, it isn’t difficult to root against the Red Wings.

They made the playoffs for 25 straight seasons…but not this time around. No soup for them, and no hate-watching the Michigan Soviets. You might feel bad that it’s how The Joe closes its doors, but then you think about Detroit’s four Stanley Cups since the Jets sought warmer and dryer pastures in 1996, and that feeling passes.

This all probably comes across as spiteful and petty, but we will move on from these sour grapes shortly. There’s Chicago and their fan base that discovered an NHL team exists around 2008. There was some fuel to the series that saw the Desert Dogs advance for the first time ever, and the Blackhawks made them fight and play the full 60 minutes in every contest of that series, but what else are you going to be upset with them about?

If anything, this fan base should be happy that achievement occurred over a rather capable adversary. They were two years removed from their 2010 dance with Lord Stanley, and would claim The Cup the next season. If you’ve had it with those fans that are packing the arena in Glendale–and thank you to them for boosting attendance, quite frankly–maybe it can be your prerogative to wish those fans no joy. There’s nothing wrong with that, really.

If it’s the opposing fan bases that dictate how you feel about one team or another failing or succeeding, think about our neighbors to the north. Yes, they buy tickets and this community has to appreciate that for what it is until we have more natives than transplants. However, the vitriol about Arizona (among other Sun Belt franchises) being unworthy of hosting an NHL team is heard from north of the border, more so than anywhere else.

So, root against the people that want us to lose our hockey team, if that’s your flavor…or don’t. I’d prefer to watch for more positive things, like wishing former Coyotes Martin Hanzal (Minnesota Wild) and Antoine Vermette (Anaheim Ducks) well. I might be a little pissy about the Oilers landing top-tier lottery picks, most notably Connor McDavid, year in and year out, but the kid has come as advertised. He’s going to have Sharks fans punching walls by the end of Edmonton’s opening round series with San Jose.

Then, there’s Auston Matthews, another too-good-to-be-true phenom of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and one we Phoenicians should be proud to call our own. Last year’s top draft pick from Scottsdale is a tangible result of the NHL’s efforts to grow the sport in areas where the sport is not supposed to exist. It was his fascination with the Zamboni at American West Arena as a young child that prompted his pivot from baseball to hockey.

There are a lot of things to point to here, where you can say, “hockey doesn’t work in Arizona, because…”, but we wouldn’t be seeing expansion in Las Vegas if the league weren’t committed to growth of the sport. That said, Phoenix should be a market where the NHL has ratings, if the sport is indeed growing. I don’t want to force anything down anyone’s throat, but the casual fans should give these teams a chance.

It would probably be easier to generate interest if the Coyotes could qualify for playoff hockey and be competitive when they got there, but we don’t get to be that audience. Being a fan has its downsides, and knowing the playoffs are happening, though you have no dog in the fight, it just sucks.