If the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes can bounce back from bankruptcy, anyone can. Well, any sports franchise, that is.
After more than a year of backdoor dealings, personal vendettas and one of the most back-and-forth bankruptcy fiascoes to burden a modern major sports franchise, the Phoenix Coyotes have made the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Managerially broken and in the financial penalty box for the majority of its existence in Arizona, few gave the desert-based ice hockey team much of a chance to rebound into relevancy, especially after the way its bankruptcy proceedings transpired. Most believed the team would eventually fold or be moved to a more hockey-friendly market.
The hassles all started after the team's owner tried to enter the team into bankruptcy in an attempt to create the ideal sales position for Canadian billionaire, Jim Balsillie, who is intent on having a third team in Ontario. It became quite obvious that the two were cohorts in the deal; one wanted to rid himself of a financial boat anchor and the other wanted to set sail back east. However, league rules state that a team's ownership entity cannot file bankruptcy without board approval. So league officials stepped into the bankruptcy proceedings. That's when things became a real mess.
Prior to the filing, the team was struggling with poor attendance and even worse performance. To put it mildly, it didn't look good for the NHL's most risky large-market experiment. Add to that the NHL Board of Commissioner's general dislike for Balsillie and the Coyotes looked doomed.
After a number of court battles, the league itself won the bid of ownership out of bankruptcy court just before the start of this season. The league installed a new head coach after one-time part owner and coach, Wayne Gretzky, did not have interest in returning to the bench.
Needless to say, the puck has slid in favor of professional hockey's desert dogs. New coach Dave Tippitt has taken one of the league's smallest payrolls with little offensive prowess and created a tough-minded testament to the importance of a stout defense. Last year's young and generally inexperienced shifts were bolstered by solid mid-season veteran pick-ups and a commitment to not letting the other team establish an offensive rhythm.
Now with a dense crowd of loyal fans eager to part with their recession-weakened paychecks howling for victory, the Phoenix Coyotes are more than just another feel good sports story—they're a darn good hockey club.
Tony Gallagher, sports writer for The Province, a newspaper in British Columbia, believes Tippitt should be considered for league coaching awards, writing that Tippitt's work " ... should not only earn him coach-of-the-year honours, but may well go down as one of the best single-year coaching jobs of all time."
However, Tippitt is quick to wave off any real differences between he and the Great One, who captained the team during its formative years. He simply believes the change in focus from young and aggressive to experienced and stout behind the blue line is what's making the difference.
"This notion that I'm great and Wayne isn't a good coach is wrong," says Tippett. "They were just too young last year."
Whatever the reason for Gretzky's team not winning, it was probably a good thing he didn't return. Sometimes, all it takes to return a team to winning is a complete reset. And just like in the financial personal lives of millions of Americans, it seems bankruptcy was the ideal way to start over.