Hockey has undoubtedly grown in the Valley since the NHL made its debut in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets relocated to Phoenix. That team went on to become the Arizona Coyotes.
However, the Coyotes have just eight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances in their 23-year history. Their last playoff appearance was in 2012 when they were eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final (4-1). Unfortunately, the team hasn’t made the playoffs since.
The fans understand that same crushing feeling;
“I was 12 [years old] the last time the Coyotes were playing playoff hockey. I’m now 20 [years old],” Coyotes fan Tommy Caprise said. “This drought has taken up all my teenage years… I’m desperate to see this team [make the playoffs].”
The lengthy drought has made fans anxious for playoff action, but the Coyotes have come up short for the past seven, and now possibly eight seasons, leaving them feeling more hopeless than ever.
“It’s been draining honestly,” Coyotes fan Alex Gallagher said. “No fan in any sport wants to see a playoff drought for their team, but this one has been heartbreaking.”
The Coyotes have been getting closer to playoff contention in the past two seasons. However, for now, the drought lives on.
Caprise also noted that playoff is hockey is unlike anything he’s seen in the Valley; he can’t remember the last time the fans cheered louder than the arena’s goal horn.
The Whiteout really is an attention-grabber; one moment the sea of white is calm and placid, but when the puck hits the back of the net, it evolves into a storm of cheering fans.
“There was a pretty big buzz,” Caprise said. “Not only did we make the playoffs but we went on a run so the community was really into it.”
Since its crushing defeat to the Kings, a lot has changed in Arizona’s hockey world. The franchise has turned over owners, general managers, coaches and, most of all, players.
Coyotes President of Hockey Operations and General Manager John Chayka took over in 2016 and started with a bang in the form of the Coyotes moving on from Shane Doan, their longest-tenured captain in franchise history. In addition, people knew big changes weren’t only coming – they were here.
Rick Tocchet took over as head coach to start the 2017-2018 season. Coyotes went 30-42-10 that year, losing their first 10 games to start the season. It was clearly evident; the uphill climb wasn’t going to be easy; the rebuild was at an all-time low.
Despite the late turn-around, the fans felt worse than before; the feeling of betrayal began to set in.
“I felt hopeless as if none of the promises from the number of years before hadn’t meant anything,” said fan Tanner Reinhardt who thought the rebuild was finally over. “It was just a feeling of disbelief and hopelessness. I thought those previous seasons after missing the playoffs in 2013 were just the decline.”
Since the historic run in 2012, the only player left from that season’s roster is current captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Gallagher said his theory for the long drought is “the loss of top scorers.”
Gallagher reflected on some of the main players who were big offensive contributors back in 2012 such as Antoine Vermette, Martin Hanzal, and Mikkel Boedker, all of whom were top 10 on the team in playoff-scoring.
In the 2011-2012 season, the Coyotes top offensive contributor was Ray Whitney with 77 points. The only Coyote who has approached that total with the Coyotes since then was Clayton Keller in 2017-2018 with 65 points.
The Coyotes have struggled with offense, which is only building frustration for the fans. But the lack of a successful environment is painful, as well.
“It’s just frustrating and confusing and absolutely disgusting to watch,” frustrated Coyotes fan Gavin Strome said.
However, lack of offense isn’t the only thing Gallagher noticed.
“In the past few years our team has lost a lot of that luster,” said Gallagher who mentioned former enforcer Raffi Torres. “We aren’t as aggressive of a team.”
However, the style of play has also changed, which naturally followed Tocchet’s hiring.
“We have more skilled and better players and play a faster style,” said Caprise who talked about the acquisitions of Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel.
With all these changes, fans grew anxious to see more playoff action, but the franchise has nothing to show for it. Not yet at least. Furthermore, the Coyotes had been playing meaningful hockey as of late, which is reigniting fans’ excitement once again.
“To me, to every fan, to the Valley, this is what we’ve been waiting for,” Coyotes fan Eli Schneider said eagerly.
The Coyotes have the Valley’s attention, but they want results to show for it. Patience is key for success, but just how patient are they?
“It would definitely be a let-down to many,” Schneider said painfully as he recalled the team missing the playoffs last season by just four points. “This has been the closest we’ve been in years to making [the playoffs] and there’s no looking back for these guys.”
The franchise has experienced numerous changes since its last successful season. In addition, the fans have walked this journey with them. But just how much longer will this journey take?
“For once though, it seems like there’s hope for the future and light at the end of the tunnel,” Caprise said. “[Regardless] I think the disappointment fans felt will turn into excitement again.”
As the unprecedented Coronavirus took the world by surprise in the cancellation of all sports for the time being, the drought lives on and the heartbreak continues for Coyotes fans.