SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes co-owner Anthony LeBlanc, general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett held a town hall meeting on Thursday night in a continuing effort to connect with their fan base, answer personnel questions as best they could and announce upcoming changes.
While the fan base was happy to hear that ownership is working on better dining options, adding a second Tim Hortons and vastly increasing the merchandise available at the team shop, the more important news was the state of the union.
With most of the numbers in as the fiscal year draws to a close, the union is doing pretty well. Jobing.com is not booking enough non-hockey events, and parking projections fell short, but 10 months after IceArizona took over, the league is happy with the results.
"I think they’ve stabilized," commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday by phone. "The building isn’t getting as many events as they want but the hockey team is firing on all cylinders with paid attendance, tickets sales, marketing, sponsorship and TV. At the same time, I think it’s been recognized that they’re not going to turn it around, 180 degrees overnight."
With free parking still available in some areas of Westgate and the Cardinals continuing to open their lots for parking during Coyotes games, LeBlanc admits he is in a quandary over how to solve the parking problem. But he’s convinced more events will be booked at Jobing.com Arena, and he’s certain that with a full summer to ramp up marketing efforts, the Coyotes will be able to accomplish far more in the other areas than they were last summer when they took over the team in August, mere weeks before the start of training camp.
Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke is entering the final year of his contract. If things go according to plan, people will start associating him more with the other half of his title: assistant to the general manager.
Burke likes coaching, but like a lot of other managers, he aspires to something more.
"Five years down the road, I don’t see myself coaching. To tell you the truth, I probably don’t see it two years down the road," Burke said. "Right now, this is the role I’ve had. It’s been successful and I’ve enjoyed it — I’ve enjoyed working with the people in this organization and (GM) Don (Maloney) gave me a great opportunity.
"But at the end of day, I think everybody in any facet of this sport wants to be challenged and do things they set out to do. I’d like to have the opportunity to make my own decisions at some point and see if I can’t put a team together that can win a Stanley Cup. I don’t know if it will ever happen but it’s definitely what I set out to do."
The Coyotes are currently searching for an assistant general manager after Brad Treliving accepted the Calgary GM post at the end of April. But Burke and Coyotes senior director of hockey operations Chris O’Hearn are not expected to land that job.
Maloney said Thursday that he has one person in mind that he has interviewed that is far and away the leading candidate. Should that not pan out, he has four or five other names he’ll consider. Maloney said earlier this week that he is looking for a hockey mind that he’d ideally have in place by the NHL Draft, which is June 27-28 in Philadelphia.
"The biggest thing is to be in a position to be considered for those kinds of jobs," said Burke, who was named to the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence management team last summer. "I’m still looked at as a goalie coach, but I’ve been working in management and I have those experiences already. I’ve been to the Draft and all the scouting meetings and then there’s my role with Team Canada.
"There’s a leap of faith that someone has to take at some point. I look at myself as a Coyote and have real ties here, lots of friends and family here, but I do have a desire for this challenge and I feel I have a lot to offer in helping build a winning team one day."
BETTMAN CONFIRMS NO OUTDOOR GAME
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed on Tuesday what Coyotes fans already feared was the case: There will be no outdoor game in the Valley of the Sun this season.
"We know there is real interest, but we’re not ready to embrace that just yet," Bettman said.
There have been reports that San Jose will host an outdoor game this season with only two or three NHL Stadium Series games expected in addition to the Winter Classic in Washington D.C.
Bettman also said the league isn’t ready to announce plans for future All-Star Games. The Valley was supposed to host the NHL All-Star Game in 2005, but lost it due to lockout that cancelled the entire season. LeBlanc noted Thursday that Bettman has promised him an All-Star Game in the not-too-distant future.
Without those events, Bettman was asked light-heartedly if the Valley might one day host the NHL Draft in June, in scorching hot Phoenix.
"Maybe if the air conditioning is working well," he quipped.
BUDGET COMING SOON
Ownership will meet with general manager Don Maloney, coach Dave Tippett and other members of the management staff on Friday to discuss the direction they want to go with personnel.
LeBlanc said he expects to have a budget for Maloney early next week, which will guide the team in the free agency and trade markets.
"As we all watch playoff hockey and we get into the Finals, we’re all sitting there going, ‘dammit I wish that was us!’" LeBlanc said. "We had a budget that we thought was competitive but I wouldn’t be surprised to see us go up a little bit."
All of the Coyotes’ unrestricted free agents (or more accurately, their agents) have had preliminary talks with Maloney, including forward Radim Vrbata, but those talks are expected to resume and get more substantive after the budget is finalized in Friday’s meeting.
"That meeting will be a sort of self-evaluation of what we’re doing and how do we get where Chicago and L.A. were in that 8-minute stretch (in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final) where they played without a whistle," Maloney said. "When you see how good these teams are, you realize you’ve got work to do."
— Maloney doesn’t believe the Coyotes will be able to move up in the 2014 NHL Draft from their No. 12 spot in the first round, but he is intrigued by the possibility of trading down to acquire more picks. Maloney believes the players between No. 6 and No. 18 are very similar in ability so the Coyotes might be able to acquire an additional "asset."
— Coyotes prospect Viktor Tikhonov has another year left on his contract in the KHL (Maloney said it’s for $3.1 million) so he will not be joining the Coyotes this season. Maloney hopes he will be able to sometime after that. Tikhonov was the team’s first-round pick (28th overall) in 2008.
— Maloney named several players from Portland (AHL) who will have a shot to make the club this season including forwards Lucas Lessio, Tobias Rider and Tyler Gaudet. Gaudet’s defensive ability, hard-edged play and penalty-killing prowess have coach Dave Tippett intrigued about a potential role as a third-line center.
— LeBlanc said the team is working to add a color commentator for radio broadcasts.