Something needs to be nipped in the bud RIGHT now. Neither Gary Bettman nor the NHL at large are fixing games for the Phoenix Coyotes to make the playoffs. Seriously. I would have discarded it—but after hearing it in 3 different places that are completely unrelated, I wonder how many other people are thinking it. But before this gains any traction, let’s put this stupid idea to rest right now.
The Coyotes are winning because they have great goaltending. They’re winning because they have great coaching. They’re winning because they have better depth than most teams, and they’re winning because they made some great deadline deals. The players that have been producing all season are still producing and the new acquisitions are performing as well as anyone could have hoped.
In case no one noticed, they’ve been good all season. While people were busy writing stories about poor attendance and false rumors about moves to Winnipeg, the Coyotes were busy winning games. Just because the attendance figures have turned around, doesn’t mean that the quality of play has changed at all. They were good before. They are good now. Nothing has changed. Outsiders are just forced to notice it now because they can’t go with the lazy, “If the Coyotes win and no one sees it, did it really happen,” type headline.
In fact, they were good for the majority of last season, as well. Maybe all of the talk about Jim Balsillie, Jerry Moyes, and Hamilton, Ontario has clouded people’s memories—but they were 4th in the Western Conference last season going into the All-Star break. That would be the same as the 4th place standing that they currently hold in the Western Conference. Last season, they were a young team that was learning how much harder it is to win at the end of the season. This season, they’re taking those lessons and streaking towards the playoffs.
They are NOT winning because they are getting the benefit of the doubt with the referees. They are NOT winning because Gary Bettman is putting phone calls in a la Pete Rose. Nor is Colin Campbell. Nor is there a conspiracy with any other person or organization that is designed to give the Coyotes an unfair advantage.
Stop and take a step back. This group of players has had to endure a tough situation that no NHL team has ever had to deal with. The entire offseason was filled with so much uncertainty that they didn’t even know which country would house their home games. The former coach was put in a position where he had to remove himself from the team, and situation in general, 7 days before opening night because he was a huge creditor in their bankruptcy case. They had to adjust and learn a new coach’s system a week before opening night. Despite all of that, they are among the upper-echelon of the NHL. That’s hard work, belief, and dedication. Not a conspiracy.
If that was your team, how pissed would you be when you heard someone claim that they have an unfair advantage? It’s a slap in the face for all of the hard work the Coyotes have put in. When someone says that there’s an outside reason for Phoenix’s success, it comes off as myopic and weak.
Yes, what they’ve had to deal with is unfair—but it’s certainly not unfair in a positive way. I heard 3 different people in 3 different parts of my life that live in 3 different parts of the continent say the same thing: “Well, the NHL is trying to make the Coyotes win.” No they aren’t. The truth is that they’re winning games because they’re a good team that is learning how to win tough games at the end of the year. Give credit where credit is due. Inventing some theory or plot that takes acclaim away from them is just plain pathetic.