The Phoenix Coyotes are currently locked into the tightest playoff race you could imagine—not only in the Western Conference, but in their own division.
Going into yesterday's action, the Dallas Stars were ahead in the Pacific Division with 36 points. After that, the Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks all sat tied for second with 34 points. Los Angeles was just one behind those three with 33.
Now Dallas and Anaheim are tied atop the division with 36 points, while four teams sit tied with 34 points within the conference. The Sharks are in ninth place, while Phoenix sits in sixth. Even the Minnesota Wild, who sit in 13th place, have 30 points, which is one good week from them and one bad week from someone else away from moving into the top eight.
What all of that means is that rolling into Christmas and the NHL’s roster freeze, you may not find too many sellers within the Western Conference because almost everyone has a shot mathematically. Even Edmonton and Calgary are close with 27 points.
In terms of buyers though, it’s hard to tell if the Phoenix Coyotes will be. Not that they wouldn't love stocking up for a second-straight playoff run, but right now they’re the ones being bought.
On Tuesday, the city of Glendale will vote on a new lease for the Coyotes. That decision is the next step in the process for Matthew Hulsizer to buy the team. His biggest step has already been taken in getting unanimous support from the NHL’s Board of Governors—something no one before him had lasted long enough to get.
Hulsizer not only comes to Phoenix intending to keep them in Arizona for the long haul, but he also understands the situation today. In talking about the team, he’s talked about looking out over the next 25 years and making this a successful venture.
He’s also acknowledged the fact that over the next few years, his purchase probably won’t look like the most fiscally responsible.
But, what he gives the Coyotes is an owner with a strong financial background, who understands the business side of things. Hulsizer also knows that to be successful, you can’t simply throw your money around. You have to understand where it’s going and make smart investments.
Later on down the road, Hulsizer may work enough magic with the Coyotes that they could be big players on big-money contracts. But today the Coyotes probably won’t be going out and swapping for a high-priced superstar, despite their abundant cap space. When it comes to player acquisitions this season, Coyotes management will probably follow a strategy very close to last year's moves, depending on when the sale goes through: Affordable investments that provide more than just a one-dimensional player for what you're spending.
Last year, when they acquired the late-season reductions on the contracts of Derek Morris, Wojtek Wolski, Matheiu Schneider and Lee Stempniak, the Coyotes got cheap and effective options that provided experienced defensive play, puck-moving ability, scoring-depth and (in Wolski's case) a low-risk, high-reward younger player.
That's probably what Hulsizer and company will be targeting again this year.
Then, like this past offseason, if those pickups work out, they can stick around.
But the Coyotes and their new (prospective) owner also have to consider where they’re going in the offseason. Do they spend a lot of money (and prospects…and picks) on rental players and go for it this year in what is a loaded Western Conference or do they sit on the checkbook and re-sign key guys like Ilya Bryzgalov, Ed Jovanovski and Radim Vrbata?
Whatever they decide to do, the big thing is that they’ll finally have an owner to back them, whose financial wizardry and experience may finally lead the team to their first prosperous season ever in the city of Phoenix.
And no matter what, that’s the biggest acquisition for the Phoenix Coyotes. Probably ever.
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