Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Dogs that ran away

My friend Sean from over at seanincognito has tipped me off to a interesting point of view about Winnipeg’s former NHL hockey team, now wandering the desert of Arizona looking for a sign of better days to come.

With a woeful record so far this year and every indication that things are going to be worse before they get much better. The Coyotes travel through the NHL wilderness looking for a little love, while they look they should keep their eyes south, for from the old hometown there's not much coming their way. With a better them than us approach, Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press recounts the days of the Dogs since they left Manitoba.

And while he provides a pretty solid case for absence not making a heart grow fonder, my guess is, as as bad as the Coyotes appear to be (and yes they do look that bad), they would be welcomed back to the Peg with open arms.

Mind you I’m pretty sure that the affection would not be returned, many of the soldiers (and managers too) in the current platoon of Dogs most likely wouldn’t be particularly keen on being based in Winnipeg.

After all, what better way to get away and forget about how bad you’re playing than to sit by the pool, play a round of golf or duck over to Vegas for a day or two. None of which you can do in Manitoba in a cold January.

In Winnipeg you might have to work on your hockey game, not your golf game. And that just isn’t right now is it?

They say on the prairies that you can watch your dog run away from home for miles, seems like that’s exactly what their doing from their vantage point at Portage and Main.

Good thing we lost Jets Can you imagine paying
to watch the Coyotes they morphed into?
Thu Oct 26 2006
Randy Turner

The Winnipeg Free Press

MAYBE it was the agony etched on Wayne Gretzky's face as he watched in horror while his Phoenix Coyotes were stomped 6-1 by the Calgary Flames the other night.

Perhaps it was taking note that the Coyotes are now 2-8-2 on the season, were a pathetic 0-9 on the power play versus Calgary, and are now dead-last in the Western Conference.

Or maybe it was just being reminded that Phoenix hasn't made the playoffs since 2002, and despite considerable optimism this year -- what with the signings of Ed Jovanovski and Jeremy Roenick -- seem destined for another season of utter futility.

Regardless, it got me to thinking: Geez, that could have been us.

You know, there still remains much bitterness and a pang of loss about the departed Jets, but maybe at least one way it was a blessing in disguise.

Really, can you imagine having shelled out upwards of $12,000 on season tickets over the last nine seasons to watch THAT?

The average season ticket in Phoenix this year is US$1,300. Top-end seats are worth $2,700. All for the pleasure of watching a team now ranked 27th on the power play and 27th in penalty-killing.

Hey, you can't say the Coyotes aren't consistent.

"I think we hit rock-bottom about a week ago," lamented Roenick after the loss in Calgary. "We're just remaining there. It's something I've never seen in my life. It's utterly embarrassing."

And to think, we could have been paying through the nose for the privilege of sharing in Roenick's pain. Think of all the forests that would have been sacrificed this last decade to document a franchise with a draft record rivalled only by the Oakland Seals.
Take the year 1998, for instance, when the Coyotes selected a goaltender named Patrick DesRochers 14th overall.

Five picks later, the Colorado Avalanche chose defenceman Robyn Regehr. Three picks after that, the Philadelphia Flyers drafted forward Simon Gagné. Both Regehr, now with the Flames, and Gagné are NHL all-stars and mainstays on Team Canada.

Later, the New Jersey Devils took Scott Gomez 27th, while the San Jose Sharks, not to be outdone, selected Jonathon Cheechoo, who led the NHL in goal-scoring last season, with the 29th pick.

Today, DesRochers is toiling for ETC Crimmitschau, a second-tier professional team in Germany (No, really).

And so it has gone for the Coyotes, whose only draft function seems to be supplying the ECHL with a healthy stock of prospects. In fact, the Coyotes' only decent first-round pick, Daniel Briere, waited until he was traded to Buffalo before exploding to NHL stardom.

So if the Jets hadn't left, that could have been you breathlessly watching that same 1998 entry draft as your home team proudly selected Pat O'Leary in the third round (73rd overall), just before the Devils took a young prospect named Brian Gionta.

Last season, Gionta scored 48 goals for the Devils. O'Leary scored one goal in nine games for the ECHL's Reading Royals.

In fairness, we should point out that the Coyotes made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons after moving to the desert. Which meant you could have paid even more money to watch them lose every time in the first round of the post-season.

You could have had a front-row seat to the franchise's demise since 2002, as the Coyotes haven't made the playoffs since, all the while cobbling together a tedious 93-118-29-16 record.
You could have seen the club dismantle, dumping former Jets stars Nikolai Khabibulin, Keith Tkachuk and Teppo Numminen, to be replaced by a revolving door of underachievers and burnouts like Brett Hull, who retired after just a handful of games in a Phoenix jersey, itself another tragedy for which the Coyotes are responsible.

Think you've missed anything, Jets fans? Well, consider that every single individual franchise record -- most goals, points, assists, penalty minutes, etc. -- is still held by a Winnipeg Jet, almost all high marks established in the early 1990s.

How bad are the Coyotes? They can even drag down the reputation of the Great One. Indeed, it's like everything that touches this franchise turns to crap.

Of course, there's no guarantee that had the Jets stayed, Winnipeg hockey fans would have been subjected to -- and had to pay dearly for -- this level of spectacular incompetence. But just consider the possibility for a moment.

It's good for the soul.

They're in a desert in more ways than one
The Phoenix Coyotes' record since leaving Winnipeg:

* 1996-97: 38-37-7, lost in conference quarter-finals to Ducks (3-4)
* 1997-98: 35-35-12, lost in conference quarter-finals to Red Wings (2-4)
* 1998-99: 39-31-12, lost in conference quarter-finals to Blues (3-4).
* 1999-00: 39-31-8-4, lost in conference quarter-finals to Avalanche (1-4).
* 2000-01: 35-27-17-3, did not qualify for post-season.
* 2001-02: 40-27-9-6, lost in conference quarter-finals to Sharks (1-4)
* 2002-03: 31-35-11-5, did not qualify for post-season.
* 2003-04: 22-36-18-6, did not qualify for post-season.
* 2005-06: 38-39-0-5, did not qualify for post-season.
* 2006-07: Currently 2-8-0.

© 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

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