The Organizational Struggles of the Arizona Coyotes

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Big market sports, like the National Hockey League, are at the end of the day, a Business. The primary goals of NHL owners and team executives, along with the players, is to win and to make money. History has shown that these two goals are not mutually exclusive, but build upon each other. Teams that win often, tend to make money, and the teams that make less money trend towards the bottom of the league standings. Teams such as the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Boston Bruins are all extremely successful teams as of late, with high attendance rates, superstar players, in a big market city, and lots of money earned. On the other hand, in the league’s basement lies the Arizona Coyotes. For the past decade, and their whole existence, The Arizona Coyotes have had severe issues on the organizational level since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996.  This is shown by their lack of playoff success, only winning having one year with a playoff series win, and by the average of 15 million dollars lost every year. 

 

The problems within the Coyotes organization all starts with their location – Arizona. The league thought that it would be a good idea to relocate an World Hockey Association team, the Winnipeg Jets, from a Canadian city that had a passionate hockey fanbase, to Phoenix in order to capitalize off of a recent population boom. There lies the first issue: nobody wants to see hockey in Arizona. Hockey was a very odd sport to play in Arizona, as it is in one of the hottest places in America, and at the time of the relocation, there were a mere three hockey rinks in the whole state of Arizona. This is obviously an extremely poor relocation choice. We can see this through their attendance rates. Since 2005, the Coyotes have an average of about 13,000 people per game, a statistic that has not improved in any way as of late. This number stays at around 79% of their stadium full every year, which lands themselves towards the bottom of the league almost every year. If it were not for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman fighting to keep the team in Glendale, Arizona, they would probably be in another city such as Quebec or Atlanta now. They do not bring fans into stadiums every night, and that is a big issue.

 

An even more staggering contributor to the Arizona Coyote’s failure is their poor asset management. This is very concerning because unlike their location, this can and should be fixed immediately, but it has not been addressed for the past 4 years. For 9 years before 2016, former NHL player, general manager, and current president of the Calgary Flames Don Maloney was in charge. After his time with the team was over, the Coyotes needed a new general manager. The general manager in hockey is one of the most crucial pieces of an NHL organization. A bad general manager can ruin a team and a good one can make a team a serious contender. They chose to hire . . . John Chakya. John Chakya in 2016 was a 26 year old man who had never had one bit of experience managing a team. The only thing he had done was create his own NHL statistic company, Stathletes. He was the youngest GM (general manager) hired in NHL history, and this was a horrible move. Especially when it comes to a team who had a painfully mediocre season, hiring a seasoned general manager is an extremely smart and valuable move to make. This is a huge risk that looked like it would turn out well, but has not after 4 years with the team.

 

This risk starts to not pay off with two key players, Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall. Both of these players were acquired by the Arizona Coyotes through trades in the past two years. The first one was in a trade the Coyotes made for Phil Kessel. Phil Kessel is a fantastic player who just recently came off of winning back to back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has a salary of around 7 million dollars, and is at the latter half of his career. The Coyotes traded young talent Alex Galchenyuk and another mediocre player for Kessel and a late draft pick. This sounds like a great move, right? Wrong. Kessel may be an incredible player and scorer, but a bad team with one or two good players cannot make a team good. The trade gave the Penguins a cheap and valuable asset in Galchenyuk and dumped a 7 million contract on the Coyotes. Trading for an old but talented player is normally a move that teams who are just one step away from a deep playoff run make to get that extra boost they need. The Coyotes were in no position to do this, and therefore this trade looks more ugly in hindsight. This trade, however, is nothing compared to the monstrosity that is the Taylor Hall trade. 

 

Taylor Hall is one of the best players in the NHL, who before the 2019-2020 season played for the  New Jersey Devils. He recently won the Hart Trophy (League MVP) and has been putting up career numbers as of late, one that exceeds his already big price tag. The Coyotes decided to trade away two draft picks, including a very valuable first round pick, along with three prospects for Taylor Hall and another mediocre player. The Devils would pay 3 Million Dollars of his 6 Million dollar contract for the year, not bad. This trade looked very good, except when taken in context. The Coyotes were in another mid to bottom placement in the NHL standings, barely fighting for a playoff spot. They then made this trade, which would in theory boost them enough to make the playoffs. What is not smart about this decision is that if they make the playoffs, they would surely be towards the bottom of the rankings and would have to play a NHL superpower dominating the standings. The team ended up making the playoffs for the first time in 8 years, and as expected, got absolutely destroyed by one of the best teams in the league, the Colorado Avalanche. After this season, Taylor Hall became a free agent and signed with the Buffalo Sabres because Arizona could not pay him. This means that the team traded away a lot for a player just to pay him, lose in the first round of the playoffs which they would have not even made if it weren’t for the NHL’s 24 team playoff system, just to send him away at the end of the season. This is awful. 

 

The absolute worst aspect of the current Arizona Coyotes, however, is the recent controversies with pre-draft physical exams, and Mitchell Miller. The first controversy occurred this past summer, before the draft. The Coyotes went against the guidelines of the NHL and put draft prospects through physical tests, which is not allowed before the NHL combine. The punishment was not a cash fine, but two draft picks. The Coyotes gave up their second and third round picks in the draft this year, a huge loss. The result of this is that the Coytes did not have a pick until the fourth round as of draft day, previously losing their first round pick in the Taylor Hall trade. Even worse, this stained their reputation greatly. It was a high risk, low reward move, and the team payed the price. 

 

An even worse move is how Arizona handled their limited picks on draft day. They decided to pick Mitchell Miller, from the University of North Dakota with their first pick in the fourth round. Mitchell Miller, while being a very talented player, capable of going in the first round, was avoided by all teams due to incidents that came out about his bullying of a black disabled kid, Isaih Meyer-Crothers . Bullying is putting the incidents lightly. Mitchell physically abused this kid for two years straight during high school, and used horrible racial slurs such as the N-word toward him constantly. Miler did this with another friend, as reported by the mother of Isaiah, yet did not apologize once. Before the draft, every team was notified of these events, and received an apology letter from Miller. Most took him off their draft board, despite his talent, but not the Coyotes. The NHL is a league that very much aligns themselves with messages of diversity and inclusion, and Miller does not embody any of these ideas. Despite this, the Coyotes picked him. After this, Isaiah’s mother sent a letter to the Coyotes organization detailing the extent to which Miller’s actions affected Isaih. She said that he was physically abused and mentally abused to such a horrific degree that he is still recovering from it years later. She also says that there had to be a juvenile court case about the incident, and even after this, Miller continued to bully him. Worst of all, while Miller sent apology letters to all teams, he did not send one apology letter to Isaih or his family for the torment he put them through during those two awful years. The Coyotes, after receiving this letter, renounced the draft pick of Mitchel Miller, and shortly after, NDU (North Dakota University) removed him from their university. What were the Coyotes thinking here? Mitchell Miller has no place in the NHL community, as he did not, and still has not shown one bit of remorse for his actions. Despite this, they kept him on their team until the mother of Isaih had to express her disappointment with the team’s decisions to draft him. Again, they lost another draft pick from this incident, but even worse, they hurt their image as a team, and showed to the hockey community that they are not disgusted by Miller’s actions enough to not draft him. 

 

The Coyotes have many glaring issues, and fixing these issues may be the key to future success. Looking into the near future, however, there does not seem to be much success for the Arizona Coyotes, and it seems they will continue a long existence devoid of any success. This shows the importance of managing in hockey. A team can have many great players and the Coyotes have quite a few, yet in order to win, all pieces of the puzzle, from players to ownership, to coaching, to management, must work in conjunction and perfect harmony to reach their overall goals.