Not all is peaches and cream in Coyote Country today. Yes, the team has not made the playoffs in five years and expectations are very low with their outlook for any significant success during the upcoming season. However, this particular story will loom over the Phoenix Coyotes as they make their second preseason trip in as many years up to Winnipeg since they departed their original home eleven years ago.
Dating back to when the team was the Winnipeg Jets, one constant that was a part of this franchise before and after it relocated to Phoenix in 1996 was Curt Keilback. He had been a broadcasting fixture for as long as fans can remember. But on May 4th, the Coyotes shockingly fired Keilback as their television play-by-play announcer following one of the worst seasons in franchise history. The news shocked many in the hockey world and it certainly caught the attention of Winnipeg.
Prior to the Coyotes facing off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at MTS Centre, Keilback let it be known a little louder that he is still angry over his dismissal. Perhaps hockey observers didn't know he was this bitter until now.
Apparently, Phoenix Coyotes president and chief operating officer Doug Moss didn't give Keilback a good enough explanation for their decision. The team named Dave Strader as Keilback's replacement on July 2nd to team up with returning color analyst Darren Pang.
"I've often heard that when you get mad about something, after a while you cool down," Keilback told Winnipeg Sun hockey writer Paul Friesen. "I get madder. It didn't make any sense. As long as I'd been there, I deserved better than that."
Cannot blame Keilback for how he stills feels.
At the same time, the Coyotes know they're in a rebuilding mode as they're focusing on youth to help get them back to respectability and compete for a Stanley Cup championship in the future. While the team and the city of Phoenix continues to be under the microscope for whether or not this will finally end up as a stable and successful NHL market, recently hired general manager Don Maloney hopes duplicate the same success with the Coyotes as he did in helping the build the New York Rangers in the last two years back into a championship contender.
If he is able to do that, many of the questions should be answered as to where this franchise will stand in Phoenix. Winnipeg fans may argue that they supported the Jets unconditionally, but in order to shake the "fairweather" label, Phoenix sports fans will need to visibly show their support by more showing up at Jobing.com Arena. That will come with tangible results on the ice and a better leadership role from the front office.
Even though Friesen reports in his article that the preseason game in Winnipeg is not a sellout as it was the case last year, Canadian Press hockey writer Pierre LeBrun mentioned on Rogers Sportsnet last night that the Manitoban capital city remains on the NHL's radar for a membership renewal to the league. But LeBrun feels that Las Vegas is the frontrunner for a possible expansion team should the league decide to travel down that road.