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Lighting the Lamp: Howling At The Moon

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured every home game day.

Old-style Phoenix Coyotes Keith Tkachuk (signed on back number 7) jersey circa 1998
Old-style Phoenix Coyotes Keith Tkachuk (signed on back number 7) jersey circa 1998
Rick Ackerman

Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman

Well, that's two refund games in a row for the Blues now. "What's a refund game?" you ask. A refund game is a home game in which the Blues barely manage to show up and play with no passion or pride, somehow forgetting how to pass, shoot, clear their own zone and overall just plain suck at simple hockey basics. A refund game is one in which an opponent with far fewer points and worse record makes the Blues look like a bad high school hockey team waiting for the holiday break. A refund game is one in which you wish management would refund your money, truly regretting that you spent around $200 for tickets (and almost $100 for two crummy hotdogs, two lousy beers, a new Blues hat and a Parayko #55 t-shirt) since it was a total waste of your time and you could have watched some decent hockey at home on Center Ice and spent the money on Christmas gifts.

Out scored and out played by the lowly Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice, the Blues are apparently doing their best to get Coach Hitchcock fired before Christmas so he will have plenty of time to spend with family and friends for the holidays. If the Blues can manage to play down to the visiting Arizona Coyotes tonight for yet another refund game, Hitch's Christmas present from the boys just might become a reality. Historically, the Blues like to fire good coaches to remedy a poorly performing team. Just ask Scotty Bowman, Red Berenson, Brian Sutter or Joel Quenneville. Unfortunately, you can't ask Al Arbour or Jimmy Roberts.

(Trivia question: what do Berenson, Sutter and Quenneville all have in common with Ken Hitchcock? Answer: they have all won the Jack Adams Award while coaching the Blues and have all been sacked by the Blues, except Hitchcock, who could easily be fired by the time this article is actually printed and distributed.)

The visiting desert dogs from Arizona have seen a substantial improvement in on-ice play this season, hovering around the .500 mark and on the bubble for qualification for the upcoming playoffs. Last season the Coyotes finished dead last in the Western Conference with 56 points, 26 games under .500, outscored by 102 goals. Only Buffalo had fewer points (54) in the entire league. Led by rookie wingers Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, rejuvenated center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona was in third place in the Pacific Division as of last Sunday.

Problems abound at home in Phoenix, or more accurately, in the city of Glendale. On June 10 of this year, the Glendale City Council voted to end their lease agreement with the Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Previously, the Phoenix Coyotes had played at the downtown America West Arena (now Talking Stick Resort Arena) since 2003, seven years after the team moved to the Valley of the Sun from Winnipeg. In July a new resolution was reached. Under the new two-year agreement, Glendale would pay the Coyotes $6.5 million annually to manage the arena, a price reduction of $8.5 million per year. In exchange, the Coyotes would keep roughly $6 million in formerly shared ticket, parking and naming-rights revenue.

The relationship between hockey club and city has been contentious and strained, especially since Glendale has not received the amount of concert and parking revenue expected from the 2013 agreement made with the team. In the two years since that deal, the city has lost over $16 million in projected revenue. Coyotes President Anthony Leblanc now says that he's uncertain whether the Coyotes even have a long term future at the Gila River Arena. Team officials are exploring the possibilities of a new arena somewhere in the metro Phoenix area after the new agreement reaches term in two years, adamantly declaring they do not desire to relocate to Las Vegas or Seattle.

And that is mostly because of the Phoenix metro area's vast potential for professional sports. The Valley of the Sun has now reached around 5.5 million in population, making it the 12th largest metropolitan area in the nation. It is also one of the fastest growing areas, gaining around 1.5 million inhabitants since 2000. The Coyotes are valued by Forbes at $220 million, ranked 29th in the league, substantially more than the team was bought for ($170 million) in 2013. Unfortunately, though, they are operating with a debt to value ratio (including arena debts) of 63%. In comparison, the Blues are worth $270 million (ranked 24th), purchased in 2012 for $180 million. And the Blues debt to value ratio is only 24%.

(Note: A high debt to value ratio generally means that a company has been overly aggressive in financing its growth with debt. Aggressive leveraging practices are usually associated with high levels of risk, which may result in volatile earnings as a result of the additional interest expense.)

The Coyotes and Gila River Arena are also hampered by no actual increase in attendance despite the improved play of the team. Arizona still averages 13, 300 fans per game, only 77% of capacity, almost the exact same as last year. Unless attendance increases dramatically and soon, the hockey team could well be on the way to bankruptcy and a new location much sooner than anticipated.

In the meantime, the Blues are now 7-6-3 since Halloween, outscored 43 to 39 in that 16-game span. When will the boys of October (8-2-1; 30-23) return?