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Shane Doan is the veteran leader of a relatively unknown Phoenix Coyotes team that is hoping to make some noise in the play-offs.
Shane Doan is the veteran leader of a relatively unknown Phoenix Coyotes team that is hoping to make some noise in the play-offs.

NHL's Coyotes more than a Phoenix mirage

Once again the Phoenix Coyotes and their no-name team have risen from the desert to reach the play-offs.

Another post-season, another death watch for the Phoenix Coyotes. For the third consecutive year, the underdog Coyotes made the play-offs out of the competitive Western Conference. Dave Tippett, the coach, deserves plenty of credit, with a big pat on the back for breakout goalie Mike Smith, who went from a cast-off in Tampa Bay to a hero in Phoenix.

The anonymous winger Radim Vrbata finished on the edge of the top 10 in scoring with 35 goals, while Shane Doan, the captain and power forward, soldiered on as the team's perpetual provider of veteran leadership.

The Coyotes are a blue-collar bunch, one bereft of stars. They have hardly any recognisable players past Doan, and that produces a challenge when a team struggles to stay afloat in the Arizona desert.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a fine young defencemen but no household name. Smith might be nominated for the Vezina Trophy, but he almost played his way out of the league last season.

Martin Hanzal is a physical force down the middle who can hit, skate and score, but he is unlikely to be the focus of any ad campaign.

Ray Whitney is nearly 40 and makes sure the power play remains productive, but if a hockey fan bumped into him on the street, he might be mistaken for a schoolteacher.

You can continue through the player list and marvel at how such a faceless bunch can maximise their production in such a minimalist environment. The efficient Coyotes are anonymous, almost forgotten, a satellite NHL team in an outer orbit of the hockey universe.

Their ability to win, however, keeps them relevant.

They might relocate, but they are not going out like the Atlanta Thrashers, who failed on and off the ice before moving to Winnipeg.

Phoenix's on-ice success continues to be juxtaposed against the hazy backdrop of the team's long-term future in the desert.

In the past two post-seasons, the Coyotes bowed out in the first round against the potent Detroit Red Wings while rumours swirled that the NHL-owned team were, like the Atlanta Flames, on their way out of town to Quebec City, or Hamilton, Ontario; or Seattle, or Portland, or Las Vegas.

The Coyotes were going somewhere, everywhere, anywhere but back to Phoenix. But then they would appear like a desert mirage, a chimera of a hockey team that the NHL desperately wanted to keep in Arizona.

And if you believe the latest reports, the league just might get its way. Greg Jamison, previously a part-owner of the San Jose Sharks, has apparently emerged as a front-runner to purchase the team and keep them in Phoenix.

Finally, an oasis? Or just another hallucination? Maybe it will become clear by the time next year's post-season rolls around.

 

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