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Phoenix fans are OK with Winnipeg having an NHL team… Just not theirs

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Having gotten to tour around Jobing.com Arena in Glendale and to get on the ground and see how things go hockey-wise in Arizona, I got the same feeling you would in any other place in the NHL. The team is the same, the staff is the same, the facility is a gorgeous jewel in the middle of the desert. The Coyotes are led by a captain that embodies what it means to be a leader in the NHL, and there’s enough characters around the team to be extremely entertaining in any city anywhere in North America.

The fans are welcoming, warm and knowledgeable which helps make everything that’s going on surrounding the team off the ice all the more difficult. With the ongoing sale saga involving Matthew Hulsizer and the Goldwater Institute surrounding Hulsizer’s proposal to get public money to help him buy the Coyotes, the fans and residents of Glendale (not always a mutual association) are left in the awkward lurch of continuing to spend their own money on a team that they’re not even sure will be around next year.

Jobing.com Arena and the surrounding Westgate City Center filled with all sorts of economic goodies and condominiums offer plenty of things for the fans and residents to help spend their money but without an anchor tenant at the arena, prospects become quite bleak.

Jordan Frank is a Coyotes fan from Glendale who’s been a fan of the team since they moved from Winnipeg in 1996. Hearing from him, you can tell just how tough the situation is for fans there.

“I see both sides of the story. There’s no legal thing [Goldwater Institute] can do. They can try to stop it. It all comes down to whether or not the city can afford to shell out that much money in this economy. I don’t think so, but at the same time we spent tons of money building this stadium and if it’s empty… What’s the point?”

“At the end of the day, I’d be upset because it does more harm than good if the team moves, ” Frank says.

Amy Jo Green is another huge supporter of the team and she says that Goldwater’s motives in this aren’t quite looking out for the public good so much anymore as it is looking out for what’s best for themselves.

“Goldwater has latched onto this situation as an opportunity for significant publicity and fundraising for their own betterment.  If Goldwater only cared about the taxpayers, they would not be doing radio shows in Canada and doing idiotic publicity stunts like joining Facebook groups for the return of the Jets.”

Goldwater’s tactics of late throughout this affair have caught the attention of fans and they’re not happy with it. Phoenix morning radio host Brian “Sludge” Haddad has started a Facebook group of his own to mock the public watchdog commission and rally support for the team called the Sludgewater Institute.

The words I heard from lots of people around the Coyotes were simple and stuff that doesn’t provide Winnipeg supporters with a lot of fire: “We’re fine with a team going to Winnipeg… We just don’t want it to be this team.”

Former Jets fans should be empathetic to the situation given what happened when the Jets left Manitoba in the mid-1990s. While many fans in Manitoba are frothing at the mouth at the prospect of getting the NHL back, perhaps they should take a step back in the shoes they were standing in 15 years ago before getting too anxious.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.