The NHL gave the Coyotes a playoff berth in 2009-10 simply to sell the franchise
For the first time since the 2001-02 season, the Phoenix Coyotes have reached the NHL playoffs.
That gives the beleaguered Coyotes faithful reason to celebrate, and it makes fans around the NHL excited to see the return of the "White Out" in the Jobing.com Arena.
This jubilation, however, should give more than a few NHL fans reason to pause. How did the Coyotes actually become a playoff team this year?
In the summer of 2009, the ownership of the Coyotes went bankrupt. The franchise was taken over by the league itself, with the NHL acting in the team's best interest.
One of the main reasons the NHL had to step into the ownership role was the inability to find the Coyotes a buyer. Why wasn't anyone interested in taking over the team? The most obvious answer was that the team is far from a winning franchise.
Since 2001-02 when the Coyotes were 40-27-9 and made the playoffs, the team's record has been 196-232-62. Their last winning season came in 2007-08, yet that year the team was just a single game over .500 (38-37-7) and failed to advance past the regular season.
The team lacked any personality and was clearly missing not just star-power, but fan interest as well. This lack of atmosphere made the Phoenix Coyotes a tough sell for any would-be investors.
What the NHL began to fear during the 2009-10 preseason was that no buyer could be found at all. The league had yanked the team out of the fan-friendly atmosphere of Winnipeg for the supposed greener pastures of the Arizona desert, yet that appeared to be a foolhardy maneuver. The NHL did not want to be seen as a failure and actually have to consider contracting itself by folding the franchise, especially just as the NHL seemed to be gaining some momentum as a whole. They needed to get the Coyotes off of their hands and into an ownership group's at all costs.
While not being a completely rudderless ship, the Coyotes were not seen as anything but also-rans as the 2009-10 season began. Yet, this plucky group, led by captain Shane Doan and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, somehow turned the tables on the NHL pundits. As the Coyotes' unlikely run gained momentum, at the March 3 trade deadline the team acquired Lee Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski, now the team's first and third leading goal scorers. Less than three weeks after these deals were made, the Coyotes secured their first playoff berth in seven seasons.
All of this without any ownership to speak of.
Could it be that the NHL engaged in a bit of subterfuge to make the Coyotes a success this year? Could the NHL have engineered its 2009-10 season in the Coyotes' favor?
Of course, this seems far-fetched. How could the NHL force the Coyotes into being successful? They couldn't tell all of the Coyotes' opponents to lay down, could they?
Yet as unbelievable as a "fix" situation appears, so too is the Coyotes' 2009-10 "storybook" season. Especially when one considers that it is the NHL that is signing the Coyote players' paychecks.
And as of February 2011, the NHL is still seeking an owner for the Coyotes.