By Matt McConnell
Three words have defined the Phoenix Coyotes’ season: Business as usual.
On Monday night, their strategic plan was all too familiar, eliminating the Nashville Predators and advancing to the Western Conference Finals. The win allows the franchise to move on to hockey’s final four for the first time ever. Yet as I listened to the post-game comments, the focus of the group was as impressive as the sum of its accomplishments.
Happiness? No doubt.
Satisfaction? No way.
Their business approach has been razor sharp over the past three seasons. It’s had to be, considering the off-ice questions that have swirled around the franchise. As such, the “business as usual” phrase has, in many ways, become the team’s rallying cry, whether it relates to activities surrounding ownership, or their on-ice achievements as they continue to evolve into the darlings of the National Hockey League’s post-season.
They have become the little train that can. And they keep doing it.
Ownership in flux? No problem. Lose your starting goaltender to high salary demands? No problem. Banged up top-six forwards in and out of the lineup? No problem. Overcoming the loss of a key defenseman for Game 5 against Nashville? No problem. This is business as usual for the Coyotes. It’s the norm around Glendale. They are wired for it.
They wear it beautifully.
The business as usual phrase is nothing new to this group. If you go back to the summer of 2009, Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney introduced us to it as he prepared for the NHL Entry Draft.
“We’re business as usual right now,” he told the Canadian Press. “We’re preparing for the draft and those kinds of things.” He added, “Whatever our marching orders are, we’ll march.”
Maloney was referring to budgets and the fact that they league had taken control of the day-to-day operations of the franchise. But those words had a trickle-down effect on the coaching staff and the players inside the locker room. After Game 5 on Monday night, Tippett was his usual focused self, giving praise to his lineup, yet maintaining a business approach with an eye toward the next round and challenge.
“Our players have done an unbelievable job at focusing on the task at hand and what they can control and that is to play well,” he said.
The approach has permeated the walls of the Coyotes locker room, trumpeted by captain Shane Doan, whose veteran leadership has created a calm within the ranks, and a confidence the organization has never seen.
Winning two rounds gets them 50 percent of the way to their ultimate goal. But nobody ever remembers the team that makes it half way. Therefore, there’s no reason for celebration.
“We’ve been pretty business-like the whole time, and we’re excited for this one,” he said. “It means a lot to our group to keep going, but it’s only half way.”
Business-like is an understatement with this group. When they won the Pacific Division championship in Minnesota back in April, a brief celebration erupted inside the locker room after the game. But by the time they landed in Phoenix later that night, the focus was off the division title and squarely on the Chicago Blackhawks, their first-round opponent.
When the team lost a crucial Game 5 against Chicago, there was no post-game panic, no soul searching. Instead, calm came over the group as they boarded their cross-country flight to the Windy City, where they promptly shut out and closed out the Blackhawks in a resounding bounce back performance that earned a Phoenix first and a second-round date against the Predators.
When they lost Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinal in Nashville on two defensive blunders, they responded with a 1-0 shutout in Game 4, setting the stage for closure in Game 5.
Prior to Monday’s game, the NHL announced it had reached an understanding with a group headed by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison to pursue a purchase agreement of the Coyotes. Surely, such an announcement would create a distraction around the team prior to a critical playoff meeting, right?
Not a chance. Not when you follow the tried and true business as usual protocol. Those marching orders Maloney referred to three summers ago have worked just fine. And it seems as if everyone has enjoyed the path so far.
Which now leads to Los Angeles.
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