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Monday, March 30, 2009
Thirst for Coyotes' tickets dries up

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

1. So, never a dull moment in Phoenix, is there?

Exactly. Multiple sources tell ESPN.com the Coyotes are on pace to lose 40 percent of their revenue-sharing allotment this season, after the franchise lost some 25 percent a year ago (when it was eligible for up to $15 million in funds). The Coyotes are expected to again fall short of a number of triggers connected to ticket sales and other market-growth elements that would ensure their full appropriation revenue sharing.

That said, sources also tell ESPN.com the Coyotes are confident there will be movement on the ownership front sometime between the start and finish of the playoffs (between mid-April and the beginning of June). Although the league and Coyotes ownership are considering various alternatives -- from totally new ownership to new investors to working with existing owner Jerry Moyes -- there are persistent rumors Moyes would like to remain involved with the team at the ownership level.

And finally, the NHL took a dim view of a recent campaign organized by a Phoenix-area liquor distributor and client of the Coyotes that was giving away free tickets to specific Phoenix games with the purchase of liquor, including 1.75-liter bottles of Smirnoff vodka. (We know, we know: Something to take away the pain of another lost season in the desert.)

The campaign was running its natural course when, we're told, the NHL stepped in and announced it didn't want the team involved in such promotions. But let's not be so quick to join the rush to condemn the Coyotes for promoting vodka sloshing. You simply can't have it both ways. You can't criticize a team for not having enough fans and then criticize it for stepping outside the box (or the bottle, as it were) to try to drum up ticket sales. And it's not as if teams around the NHL don't rely heavily on the support and sponsorship of beer and liquor companies.

2. The Bruins are 5-1-1 in their last seven games, including back-to-back weekend wins over Toronto and Philadelphia. Does this mean they're back?

I think the answer is an unequivocal "yes." The Bruins have ridden their recent hot streak back to a seven-point bulge over the Washington Capitals for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and they still have a game in hand on the Caps.

Although some wondered if the Bruins had hit the wall when they won just six of 15 games from Feb. 7 to March 10, it may actually have been the perfect tonic for a Boston team that has led the conference pretty much from wire to wire.

"I heard the cliché a number of times, that it's better to have this slump now than later," GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com Monday morning. "But it's true. It allowed us kind of to regroup. We've reacted well to situations within games."

Chiarelli noted that the Bruins were loose defensively against the Leafs, but tightened up in the third and scored four of the game's last five goals in a 7-5 win. On Sunday, the Bruins endured penalty troubles but still edged the Flyers.

Boston, the top-scoring team in the conference and second only to Detroit in goals per game, has also received a boost from veteran Mark Recchi, acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline.

Recchi has seven goals since his arrival and is currently on a five-game point streak. Chiarelli said the 41-year-old winger has meshed nicely with Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew, giving the Bruins three solid offensive forward units. The Bruins GM also points out that Recchi has had a calming influence in the dressing room.

3. With the Blue Jackets' first playoff appearance in sight, must be exciting times in Columbus, no?

Well, dropping back-to-back games to Central Division rival St. Louis won't do much for the angst factor in Columbus. But even with the twin setbacks, the Blue Jackets begin the week in sixth place in the Western Conference, and season-ticket holders are getting their first chance to buy postseason tickets since the team's inaugural season in 2000-01. About 93 percent of season-ticket holders have anted up for the playoffs, Larry Hoepfner, the team's senior vice president of business operations, told ESPN.com late last week. That number is expected to inflate to about 96 percent before tickets are made available to the general public on Saturday.

Give the Blue Jackets credit for not trying to squeeze too much gold from the playoff goose. All season the team has put 250 seats on sale at $10 a ticket two hours before home games, and it will follow a similar routine during the playoffs ($20 seats in the first round, $30 seats if there's a second round).

The team, like many NHL clubs, has offered tickets to college students at a discount, and those too will be available during the playoffs. Hoepfner is hopeful the demand for both sets of tickets will be so great that fans end up camping out at Nationwide Arena for the chance to share in the Blue Jackets' first-ever playoff experience.

Even season-ticket holders won't be forced to pay through the nose for playoff ducats, as upper-bowl seats (which average $36 during the regular season) will cost just $40 in the first round and $45 in the second round. Lower-bowl seats that averaged $73 during the regular season will increase to $80 for the first round.

"We tried to be very conservative in our pricing," Hoepfner said. "These fans have been extremely loyal. They're seeing games in mid- and late March that are meaningful for the first time. It's a pretty special place."

4. Where does Curtis Joseph fit in the pantheon of all-time great goaltenders?

A couple of weeks ago the hockey world feted Martin Brodeur after he set the all-time record for wins. This week Joseph, in what almost certainly will be his final NHL season, found himself one loss away from tying the all-time loss record (352) held by Gump Worsley. Joseph's defeats are offset by 453 victories, good for fourth on the all-time list. The personable netminder, who was never drafted, is surrounded by Hall of Famers among the top-10 winningest goalies, but never having won a Cup or having appeared in a Stanley Cup final will likely cost Joseph an invitation to the Hall when he's eligible.

But regardless of how it shakes out for Joseph, he will leave the game having enjoyed some great moments, including one of the greatest saves in playoff history during his Edmonton Oilers' upset of Dallas in Game 7 of the 1997 playoffs, a save that robbed Joe Nieuwendyk; Todd Marchant scored the game-winner for the Oilers in overtime. Joseph also will leave the game as one of hockey's stand-up guys.

5. Can Marian Gaborik's late-season performance save his market value when he becomes a free agent July 1?

The only way Gaborik increases his value to the level it reached a couple of years ago is if the Wild sneak into the playoffs and somehow manage to win a round or two. We don't see that happening, but Gaborik has done his part to keep Minnesota's playoff hopes alive with seven points in his last four games, including the game-winner in a crucial win Sunday over Edmonton, which vaulted the Wild back into the top eight in the Western Conference.

It will be interesting to see if Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough comes up with a one-year plan to keep Gaborik in Minnesota next year, since the Slovak's injury-plagued season is likely to leave Gaborik wanting when it comes to a big-dollar, long-term contract this summer. It doesn't look like there's a fit there long-term, but a short-term arrangement may end up working for both parties.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.