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NHL

The Coyotes Exist To Make Every Other Awful Franchise Look Better

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 15: Jason Demers #55 of the Arizona Coyotes skates onto the ice before the start of the NHL game against the St. Louis Blues at Gila River Arena on February 15, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Coyotes are yet again—or are still and persistently—a paint factory fire. The latest chronicling of their ongoing blight being Katie Strang’s comprehensive walk through the franchise’s muck in The Athletic, citing numerous new examples of the things that have always made the Coyotes the Coyotes: unpaid or haggled-over bills, endless lawsuits over same, attendance issues, arena issues, underbrained front offices, bullying, intimidating journalists, (say it with me now) at least one case of sexual harassment, and a generally terrible business and social vibe that suggests only that they will be sold again and maybe even moved because current owner Alex Meruelo has had the team for less than two years, which approaches the normal life cycle for a Coyotes ownership group.

No North American sporting franchise has been a hotter mess for more years under a wider set of circumstances. Some teams have folded never to rise again. Some leagues, most of them cut-rate football ones, have vanished in a blizzard of unpaid debts and owners’ diminished interest. The process is more haphazard than Darwinian, but Arizona has been the hardiest failure of them all. This is their 25th year in the desert, and they haven’t found water yet; if they had, there’s a safe bet they would have refused to pay for it to be desalinated.

Now you’re probably waiting at this point for some draconian ruling that can change the fortunes of this franchise. Force a sale to a richer billionaire with a less hinky business record. Move the franchise to [name that Canadian city]. Fold the bastards.

But you won’t get that here. The Coyotes are a towering monument to rolling catastrophic failure, and that level of incompetence should be maintained as a reminder to all other fan bases that no matter how bad it is with your team, it could still be worse. THIS could be your team. THIS should be the example that ceases all other whingeing.

You’re a New York Jets fan? You were good a decade ago, with Rex Ryan at that. You like the Texans? You’ve barely just started the Easterby Years. The Marlins? Two rings. The Ottawa Senators? Not even close. The Atlanta Dream? Your co-owner just got voted out of the U.S. Senate. You are Defector staff members? Your terrible teams, the Washington Wizards, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Oakland A’s and Minnesota Vikings, are all sounder operations, though I had to think for a minute about the Kings. Everyone gets a moment of glory. Everyone but Coyotes fans. They got that fabulous kachina logo on day one; it’s all gone to filth since day two.

Oh, and don’t think this earns Coyotes fans the cliche “long-suffering.” They’re just long. Suffering is all they know, and if they’re not numb to it by now, they’re probably past saving. I’m not keen on kicking them just for a few cheap rhetorical points or the joy of punching down. They have the power to walk away at any moment; it’s not like Meruelo has the global supply of antivenom, or runs all the Circle Ks in the Valley.

But those fans, too, provide a standard for every whiny fan base because they’ve lived the worst existence possible: being dependent on a nearly daily basis upon the crystalline obstinacy of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who has single-handedly kept the Coyotes in Arizona through every manner of disastrous/ethics-unaffected management. On this subject, he makes papal infallibility seem like supplication. On this franchise, he has been as fact-resistant as Donald Trump. Hell, I’d bet Trump or one of his self-absorbed inheritors/children would make a great Coyotes owner, given his own proud history of deadbeatitude.

Bettman’s long-held “southern strategy” isn’t really to blame here, insofar as different markets have behaved differently. Miami and Carolina have been trouble spots, while Tampa Bay and Nashville have been more successful than some “traditional” hockey markets. And Atlanta? Well, lots of cities have gone 0-for-2 in their day, and in both the cases of the Flames and Thrashers, it was lack of money rather than turbo-skeevy behavior that was the cause. Bettman’s Canadiophobic franchise biases have more to with the exchange rate than multilingual street signs.

No, the Coyotes are unique, and uniquely grim. They must live, where they are, as they are, ethics and dignity and honor be damned. They have pride of place on the medal stand, and the medal is pure arsenic. Every other franchise is fighting for second, and when a team’s fans want to advance their labor of love as the most fruitless, the Coyotes not only have you hold their beer, they charge you for it and then hand you a glass half-filled with spit and cigarette butts. 

So remember, we are talking about a full quarter-century of unremitting Coyotitude here. Even if the Strang piece convinces you that the people currently running the Coyotes behave reprehensibly, there will always be someone out there willing to be worse at it, and odds are Bettman already has their numbers. The Coyotes as a franchise expect it, and the Coyotes as a concept demand it.