Coyotes Offer Candid Look at the Future

Fans were lined up on either side of the folding chairs forming an audience for the makeshift stage; sitting with their faces to the crowd were the trio of Matt McConnell, Don Maloney, and Anthony LeBlanc.

As each fan stepped up to the microphones, they introduced themselves. Some have been season ticket holders since the moment the team’s relocation from Winnipeg was announced; others are newer to the organization, admitting that this was their first or second season taking the STH plunge. Some were older, some were younger — but not a single one held back as they interrogated the team’s front office.

The ‘out clause’ included in the Coyotes’ lease agreement with the city of Glendale was brought up time and time again.

Fans wanted to hear from the team why things have gone the way they have so far — and not just from an on-ice standpoint. They dug deep, demanding concrete plans for how the team expects to see revenue go up while the team’s performance goes down. They asked after the team’s youth, coaching morale, and why the talent isn’t there.

They also asked the questions you wouldn’t expect.

When Shane Doan retires, will the team build a statue to remember his career with the team? 

With so many hockey fans coming to the desert in winter months, can the team do anything about the October and November schedule to maybe see more games on the road until the snowbirds come down? 

If the ‘draft and develop’ model hasn’t worked in Edmonton, what makes the team believe it can work in Arizona? 

That final question got some chuckles.

“For starters,” joked Matt McConnell, the team’s play-by-play announcer and the moderator for the event, “Arizona has done a bit better developing their defense.”

The answers weren’t all so funny, though.

The team’s front office opened the doors to give fans an inside look at a number of the decisions they’ve made since ICE Arizona took over ownership of the team on August 8th, 2013. They explained why the team chose to publicly divulge the numbers of their losses for the first fiscal year, reported at $16.45 million — ICE Arizona president Anthony LeBlanc told fans that he wanted to keep them in the loop while he’s in charge.

Part of the lease agreement with the City of Glendale, he explained, included a stipulation that requires the team to report all profits and losses to the city on an annual basis. By going beyond that and publicly announcing the figures, though, he hoped to create a sense of trust between the fans and the ownership group.

Not all the news was grim on the financial front, though. The team had sat down prior to the start of last fiscal year, explained LeBlanc, and mapped out exactly what they anticipated the losses to be over each of the first few years. They mapped it out, he said, so the team could actively work towards coming in under the $50 million loss margin that would enable the team and the city to activate the ‘out clause’ in the lease agreement.

That, he said, made the $16 million figure — nearly four million less than the team had expected to lose — a promising sign.

Why, though? The fans asked. What made the number lower, and why should we expect it to continue dropping?

LeBlanc was candid as he broke it down; he specifically pointed out where the money was coming from, and told why they expect that to continue. The team’s ticket revenues, he said, had grown exponentially from where he expected them to over the first season — and even this year, despite the poor on-ice performance, numbers were still going up, albeit at a much slower rate.

He mentioned the corporate sponsorships that have made revenues grow, both over the first fiscal year and this upcoming year — the sponsorships with Gila River Indian Tribe have done wonders for the teams’ revenue numbers this season, he believes, and the marketing team’s efforts to gain new sponsorships for the in-game lounges have done quite well. As the corporate sponsorships continue to get brought in, the team’s profit margins will start to grow.

It wasn’t all business talk, though.

Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have both been under general manager Don Maloney’s watchful eye this week; he missed the game against the Chicago Blackhawks to be in Canada and watch them play. He said good things about them, then went on to praise Christian Dvorak and Brendan Perlini, as well. He even gave a nod to Ryan MacInnis, joking about how the London Knights’ pain was MacInnis’ gain as he played one of his best games yet this year.

He didn’t soften any blows when it came to players that may not have a future with the organization, being frank about his concerns with Yan-Pavel LaPlante’s offensive output since returning from a shoulder injury and Mike Lee’s dwindling talent ceiling due to multiple hip surgeries. It was confirmed that the Coyotes have been in discussions with pending free agent Viktor Tikhonov, but he didn’t try to deny that Tikhonov may have a different plan for his future than the Coyotes. Maloney suggested that Tikhonov looks to be more of a role-player, and they won’t pay him top scorer money to be a role player — but if the KHL or another NHL team are willing to pay him that, he could go elsewhere.

The free agent market wasn’t the focus of the meeting, but Maloney didn’t brush off questions about the team’s summer plans as he admitted to being more interested in role players via free agency than top players.

There wasn’t a sense of remorse from the team, but they didn’t try to falsify anything they said, either. There was plenty of chatter about what has been done wrong (rushing young prospects like Kyle Turris and falsely identifying the team’s talent level at the start of the season, for starters), but they didn’t treat the talk as a scorched-Earth lecture, either. Fans weren’t cut off at the microphone, and every one of the three men on the stage was able to point out at least one fan who took to the mic that they’ve either seen at meetings in the past or follow on Twitter. They all openly accepted the team’s weaknesses as well as their strengths; they didn’t try to pretend that the fanbase is as large without the snowbirds crowd, and they were frank about the fact that, while the throwback jersey could make an annual appearance, that may not be able to happen as early as next season.

It was a little over an hour before they finished, and it was hot as hell — but for those in attendance, it was worth the scorching sun. In an era where big industries are so known for their secret-keeping, the Arizona Coyotes brought back the feeling of trust we all covet from the teams we love.

If anything gives them merit, that’s certainly it.

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