Editor's note: To prepare for the playoffs, Craig Custance checked in with a number of NHL coaches, players and scouts to get their take on the pivotal elements of every playoff team.
Last spring, Winnipeg was looming. The Phoenix Coyotes opened the playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings and had to deal with more obstacles than just the Red Wings. There was a report that the team was moving. There were calls from friends and family to see if it was true. For every media question about the playoffs came another about the future of the franchise.
It sucked the life out of the Coyotes, who were swept.
"It did," said GM Don Maloney during a recent phone conversation. "Last year, it was front and center."
Last week, the Glendale, Ariz., mayor asked the NHL for a break on the $25 million the city owed the league, and the relocation rumors hit again. The timing looked awful with the Coyotes in the midst of a fight for their playoff lives, but there was no deflation this time around, only resolve. Phoenix won its final five games of the regular season and seized the Pacific Division crown, setting up a first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"We're immune to it or we're just numb to it," Maloney said. "We just have to continue doing what we're doing and the NHL continues to work hard [to find an owner]. There's some encouraging trends behind the scenes."