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Arizona Coyotes

Updated Dec 20, 2013 - 2:23 pm

2013-14 playoff berth for Coyotes ‘incredibly important' to franchise turnaround

That Jobing.com Arena isn't empty all but one day this December is evidence of the progress the Phoenix Coyotes' franchise has made over the last six months.

The organization has an owner, an arena lease and freshly-inked contracts in the hands of its coach and general manager.

But plans to turn the Coyotes -- who not long ago were orphaned, ownerless and in the throes of bankruptcy -- are only in their infancy and much has to be done before new ownership and the market itself mutually buy in to one another.

In the spirit of progress report, however, Arizona Sports 620's Doug and Wolf asked Coyotes' CEO Anthony LeBlanc if he was happy with the way the franchise's volte-face was materializing so far.

"I don't know if ‘happy' is the right word," he replied. "I think we're moving in the right direction."

While the Coyotes' fanbase is rejuvenated by its beloved hockey team's new lease on life in the Valley, its spruced up roster and tied-down coach and general manager, its expansion has been slow, perhaps due to the current success and relevance of other Valley sports teams, like the Arizona Cardinals, Arizona State Sun Devils and Phoenix Suns.

"Things are looking good for certain games," he began, "and then other games we don't have as many people in the building as I think we should, especially with the exciting brand of hockey that we're playing. "Our next home game on December 27 against San Jose is going to be a sellout. So, the fact that we're finally starting to sell out against some of these rivals in California -- that's a good sign. People are finally starting to get into the spirit of the rivalry with our divisional rivals. We just need to get more people in the building for those non-rival games."

Though not decidedly "happy" with the turnaround, LeBlanc did have plenty more positives to point out about the organization's recent progress, in addition to the fans' adoption of rivalries.

"From a paid attendance perspective, we're up somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% year over year; sponsorships we can't even compare to the previous years -- things are going so well for us," he said.

Despite the rise in paid attendance, the Coyotes remain mired below all NHL teams in total home attendance, drawing just 12,662 per game in 15 games so far this season -- down from nearly 14,000 last year.

"We can always be doing better," LeBlanc admits. "But, having that said, we have to be patient. We came into this with a three-year turnaround plan and we're only in the third month of it. "At this point of the turnaround, we're on track."

The playoffs, then, become an important piece to the franchise's turnaround plans - "incredibly important," according to LeBlanc.

"Will we survive if we don't (make the playoffs)? Yes, of course we will. But I do think for us to really ensure that we achieve that three-year turnaround plan, it's significantly important that we make the playoffs.

Currently four points out of the playoff picture with just under 50 games to go and on a long road trip, the organization feels very confident in their chances.

"We feel we have a playoff team. We truly do."

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