After threats and fears, the Coyotes are morphing into a contender

Dec 19, 2019, 5:39 PM | Updated: 5:45 pm
Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller (9) celebrates his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks wi...
Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller (9) celebrates his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks with teammates Conor Garland (83) and Brad Richardson (15) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019 in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Coyotes are no longer madness and mayhem. They are fire on ice.

They might become one of the great rags-to-riches stories in NHL history.

Their new owner, Alex Meruelo, is a billionaire itching to win and eager to spend. They will benefit from a growth market that will continue to expand, filling up all the apartment complexes under construction in the Valley.

What if the Coyotes are the Valley’s true Sleeping Giant, a moniker often attached to Arizona State’s football team?

What if our passions are stirred by consistent exposure to the power and the glory of the NHL postseason, something we’ve seen once in 22 years?

I’ll never forget the delirious feeling attached to May 22, 2012, when it was Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals and 106 degrees at noon; when the cold blast greeting you at the gates for an elimination game was one of the greatest perks imaginable.

What if that becomes the new normal around here? Or better yet, what if the Coyotes actually win the Stanley Cup in 2020?

For now, it’s enough that our much-maligned, long-suffering hockey team is breaking through the glass ceiling, flying comfortably at an altitude we’ve rarely seen before. It’s a wild experience for those who’ve seen the worst our NHL franchise has to offer.

Our hockey team once starred in city council hearings and bankruptcy filings, subject to insults from condescending purists. They were caught in a gambling scandal. Belched up 15 years without a playoff run. They were rumored for relocation to Portland, Seattle, Houston and various Canadian outposts. An entire generation of Coyotes fans were raised on rock bottom.

They once played in a great location but a flawed building in downtown Phoenix. They were gifted a great building in Glendale, only to be cursed by a flawed location. They won an election in Scottsdale and somehow ended up in a Glendale cotton field.

Their fans have been bloodied and unbowed. They are a fascinating case study in stoicism. They like to hear, see and say no evil, practically ignoring one of the greatest controversies in recent NHL history, when former head coach Dave Tippett rebuked Shane Doan’s begging pleas to play in Game 7 of a playoff series against Detroit.

The Coyotes lost the ensuing game badly, eviscerated by the absence of their leader. But it was almost like Coyotes fans didn’t want any whiff of controversy or divisiveness on the inside. Not after all the outside distractions and critics.

After all, they have felt lonely and isolated in their own building, strangers in their own city. They are still the only NHL community to boo Wayne Gretzky and cheer Gary Bettman.

Now, the Coyotes are in a much better place. They were a first-place team in the Pacific Division before they acquired Taylor Hall, a recent NHL MVP. Rick Tocchet is one of the great pound-for-pound forces of his generation and espouses the perfect coaching philosophy: “Punch First.” General manager John Chayka is the founder of his own analytics company, a savant in his industry, the youngest general manager in history and surely the first to own 12 Wendy’s franchises.

So, everyone: Exhale.

After all of the madness and threats and fears, the Coyotes are morphing into the perfect team, from top to bottom. They have talent, money, and real stability. They were a playoff team before their recent blockbuster trade, when they were the only team in history to beat the previous two Stanley Cup champions on the road in successive nights.

In the past, they courted historic failure. In their second year as a NHL franchise in Winnipeg, they won just nine games and allowed 400 goals. They even found a way to mess up the sunset of Doan, the most popular player in team history.

Today, they are a team to watch. A team on the rise. A team creeping toward the mainstream in Arizona’s saturated sports market. A team that could actually pull off Arizona’s second major professional championship, and why not?

They are a team that stands in a place they’ve never been before:

All in.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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After threats and fears, the Coyotes are morphing into a contender