I know what you're thinking: How could a Flames fan possibly have anything bad to say about the Phoenix Coyotes? The very same Coyotes that were in the evil clutches of JIm Balsille and on the brink of relocation just eight months ago, when the NHL, led by Gary Bettman and his crusade to make hockey work in non-traditional markets, fought to keep them in Glendale? The same Coyotes that, after Dave Tippett took the reigns just a week before training camp, clawed their way up the standings to a 107 point season and only their second playoff berth since moving to the desert? Um...yeah, those Coyotes.
I'm still bitter about the Jokinen trade and dammit, I miss Matthew Lombardi! So here goes.
We gather here today to lay to rest the 2009-10 Phoenix Coyotes who were eliminated from the post season in seven games by Detroit Red Wings, along with the persistent rumours of their pending return to a Canadian market any time in the near future. May they both rest in peace (for now.)
Where to begin, Phoenix? For so long, you were the league's lovable losers, always playing the role of a kind host or a generous guest and providing the Flames with an easy victory whenever they were mired in a mid-season slump. We were always on good terms. That was until you came into possession of the apple of Darryl's eye--the elusive first line centre, the patented Big Body Presence, the one that would make Jarome Iginla complete--a mister Olli Jokinen. You see, Darryl had talked about acquiring Olli for quite some time, convinced of his prowess by four 30+ goal seasons with the Florida Panthers, already his third team in four seasons since entering the league. His foray into the Western Conference via a trade to Phoenix made his acquisition all the more possible, and it finally became a reality in March of 2009. The trade cost the Flames dearly, as you know, but surely it would all be worth it for a few extra rounds of playoff hockey, right? Not the case; but I'll spare you the details, you already know the story.
As the summer wore on and rumours and controversy swirled around you, you held your own, maintained that you wanted to remain in the desert, that you would make it work. In the midst of bankruptcy proceedings and after dumping Jokinen's hefty salary, we were somewhat surprised at your willingness to take on the overpayed Jim Vandermeer--until it became apparent that you were running some sort of ex-Flame rehabilitation facility. And we thought Darryl Sutter had a penchant for reclamation projects. Not only were you taking in the Flames' cast offs on the cheap (you even offered Anders Eriksson a home for part of the season. Anders Eriksson!), but you opened your doors to the Lee Stempniaks of the world, and made them all look good with your Jack Adams nominee Dave Tippett and your picked-up-off-waivers Vezina finalist Ilya Bryzgalov en route to a 100+ point season and a round of playoff hockey.
Matthew Lombardi finished third on your team in scoring and part of the reason you amassed so many points was due to your success in the shootout, for part of which you have Adrian Aucoin to thank; although I'm not sure how he perfected his craft with all the time he spent in the penalty box and getting beaten on harmless looking plays while with the Flames. You'll understand how that sort of success could inspire resentment in this fan, whose team was left languishing on the wrong side of the Western Conference standings at the end of the season, with nothing definite but Ales Kotalik to show for the outright larceny that was the Jokinen trade.
Your story is nice, I really am happy that you managed to win the hearts of enough ex-pat Canadians who hadn't seen ice since their last winter spent up North before purchasing their dirt-cheap condos in sunny Arizona to sustain your team while it awaits a permanent owner without intentions of relocating the franchise or playing games in Saskatoon. I wish you the best, and please don't take it too hard when I say that I hope the player you draft with our first round pick turns out to be an unprecedented bust.
Until next season, Phoenix--so long.