By now most hockey fans have read the news developing down in Glendale, Arizona. The city is no longer interested in hosting the hometown Coyotes in their city funded arena. This isn’t much of surprise since the two parties have been battling for almost a decade. The situation down in Arizona is a stark difference to what’s happening here in Las Vegas.
Both the Coyotes and the NHL are one hundred percent committed to staying here, and even if our specific arena plans beyond the 2021-2022 season are not yet confirmed, I want to be very clear to you that our future is here in Arizona.- Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez
A True Expansion Team
When the Arizona Coyotes were originally formed the franchise was someone else’s leftovers. An already established club with players that made the move from dreary old Winnipeg to bright and sunny Phoenix. There was excitement in Arizona but not in the same way fans felt here in Vegas. Coyote fans were forced to cheer on a team that had finished 5th the prior year, all while the Cardinals and Suns were kicking off their seasons. It was difficult for the new addition to break through and gain the same momentum the Golden Knights did in 2017.
Also Vegas didn’t have to compete with an NFL or NBA team allowing Golden Knights fans to solely focus their attention fall on a newly formed unit called The Misfits. Both parties came together to form the greatest season in expansion history. Not sure the Cup run fairy tale would’ve happened if Las Vegas had inherited a defunct franchise’s roster.
Hidden Star Power
When the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft roster was announced it was the Vegas Golden Knights front and center. The 31st franchise didn’t have to share headlines with other incoming teams like the generation of expansion teams that came before them. Since the attention was fully on Sin City, fans only needed to focus on the player’s owner Bill Foley and GM George McPhee drafted. James Neal, David Perron and of course Marc-Andre Fleury were established names in the league but it was the unknown players that fans drew to as well. William Karlsson quickly became a star in Las Vegas after wasting away in Columbus. Same went for other Misfits. Alex Tuch, Jonathan Marchessault and even Deryk Engelland became marquees on Las Vegas Boulevard.
The roster changed slightly before the Coyotes kicked off their inaugural season featuring young captain Keith Tkachuk, future Hall of Famer Shane Doan and goaltender (the Bulin Wall) Nikolai Khabibulin. Unfortunately for Coyotes fans, stars like Teemu Selanne were sold off before the move.
Winning Of Course
The Coyotes have been operating for 24 seasons and have yet to make an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. The desert dogs once reached the Western Conference Final in 2012 but flamed out to eventual Cup winner LA Kings. In four seasons Vegas has matched and exceeded Arizona’s accomplishments. The Golden Knights have proven that hockey can “work in the desert” by winning hockey games. Plain and simple, the Coyotes haven’t done that consistently enough over their history.
In contrast, the Coyotes own the worst franchise win percentage (.479) in the NHL and the Golden Knights for now, have the best (.636) in league history. Of course the numbers favor the much youngest organization but Arizona has had plenty of seasons to climb out of the gutter. A successful club breeds confidence and a dedicated fanbase. Vegas developed that in only four years.
Becoming A Destination
Victories lead to playoff appearances, trophies and the pick of the free agent litter. The Coyotes started off strong making the playoffs in five of their first six seasons but have qualified for postseason only four times since then. The Golden Knights accomplishments and winning attitude allowed the front office to convince Alex Pietrangelo, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Alec Martinez to long term agreements either through free agency or trade extensions. Arizona has been unable to sign that many quality players in over 20 years of existence. The Phoenix area might be a desirable location to play hockey but if the team isn’t successful, high end talent will look to play elsewhere, like in Las Vegas. That’s been the case for the Coyotes.
Say No To Public Funding
Lastly, and this is a big reason why Arizona and Vegas don’t share the same problems. The Coyotes organization have been desperately campaigning for public financing to build a state of the art arena. That can come across as greedy and too risky for certain taxpayers. We see it in our own backyard as some Vegas residents despise that the city funded Allegiant Stadium. Golden Knights fans won’t have to worry about any nasty public negotiations as T-Mobile Arena was built with private money.
The future in Arizona is up in the air, but it won’t matter. The Coyotes will never own a market like the Golden Knights do, even if they were as committed to winning. After four straight successful seasons and one amazing run to the Cup Finals, Vegas fans and players have quickly bonded. That connection from the inaugural season will never get lost, even down the road after a few losing seasons. If they stay put or move, the Coyotes proved hockey may not work in all desert cities, but it sure works in Las Vegas.