Welcome back to my column. One day late but better late than never. This week, I’ll lead with the Arizona Coyotes on the verge of homelessness after this season. I’ll also share my thoughts on one NHL coaches’ quest for new work as well as a few player milestones.
1. Coyotes’ Lease to End After This Season
BREAKING: The City of Glendale is terminating the Coyotes‘ lease for the city-owned Gila River Arena, leaving the NHL franchise without a home after the upcoming 2021-22 season.https://t.co/8DWk8jFFo2
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 19, 2021
The Coyotes will have to find a new place to play after this season. The city of Glendale, AZ announced that they will terminate the Coyotes lease at Gila River Arena after this season. The two parties have been operating on a year-to-year basis for many years. The Coyotes have played at the arena for the last 18 years.
This feels like it’s been a long time coming for the Coyotes. Their fans have been complaining for years that their arena is too far away from their fanbase. Glendale is a suburb of Phoenix. Phoenix is one of the quickest growing populations in the United States. Playing 20-30 minutes (22 according to Google maps) outside the city’s center isn’t a good solution for a team that struggles to draw fans.
This could be a blessing in disguise for Arizona. If they’re lucky, maybe they can force their way into a lease at the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix, where the Phoenix Suns play. The Coyotes don’t have the leverage right now and their fans want them in the city. Or, maybe this is the end for the Coyotes? They’ve long been rumored to move to Houston, TX. Their ownership group has denied that, but they might not have much of a choice with no place to play next season.
2. Columbus Assistant Fired for Declining COVID-19 Vaccine
The Columbus Blue Jackets have ousted assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre for opting not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The NHL sent out a memo last month announcing that all staffers whose jobs require them to be within 12 feet of a player are to be fully vaccinated. This includes players. Lefebvre is the first player or coach I’ve heard of to be terminated for refusing a vaccination.
This is a big first step for the NHL in both attempting to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the NHL community but also in establishing a COVID-19 policy. While I expect this decision to require all personnel to be vaccinated is largely motivated by money, seeing as the NHL lost billions last year due to COVID-19, it’s still encouraging to see the league make a stand. Sports leagues command a ton of attention and like it or not, fans may be more encouraged to follow their lead rather than their elected officials.
There is no better example than when Rudy Gobert of the NBA’s Utah Jazz was the first notable athlete in the United States to test positive for COVID-19 last March. The NBA shut down immediately and it seemed like the entire country followed their lead. The NHL might not have the following the NBA has, but they certainly dominate the headlines in Canada and a variety of other countries, including the U.S. This is a good decision from the NHL and their efforts will make the locker room a safer place as the Delta Variant continues to spread.
3. Chara Returns to Long Island
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Zdeno Chara will suit up for at least one more season after he signed a one-year contract to return to the team that drafted him, the New York Islanders. Chara spent the first four seasons of his 23-year career on Long Island. He scored six goals and added another 23 assists in those four seasons. He made a little joke about returning to the Isles on Instagram.
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It took Chara quite some time to become a household name in the NHL. Chara broke through after he joined the Senators. By the end of his tenure in Ottawa, he was one of the better defensemen in the NHL. When he left the Bruins in 2020, he was a Hall-of-Famer.
As I wrote about last week, the Islanders are on the shortlist of teams that have a real shot to win the Stanley Cup this upcoming season. It would be something to see Chara win Lord Stanley’s cup for a second time with the team that drafted him all the way back in 1996.
4. Zajac Retires and Joins Devils’ Front Office
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Travis Zajac has called it quits on a great 15-year career with the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. Zajac played almost his entire career with the New Jersey Devils before he was traded at the deadline this past season. While he didn’t play his last game with the Devils, he did play 1,024 out of 1,037 games with the team that drafted him in the first round of the 2004 draft.
Zajac was a great contributor for the Devils throughout his career. While he was never named to an All-Star Team or selected to play in an All-Star Game, and just missed the Devils’ era of dominance, he was one of the best players to suit up for the team in this era.
Zajac finished his career with 203 goals and 349 assists for 552 total regular season points. He played in 71 playoff games and reached one Stanley Cup Final. He will finish his career third in Devils’ history in goals, fifth in assists, and fifth in points.
I love when players stay in the organization after they retire. Zajac will stay with New Jersey and will work on the player development side as a consultant. The Devils could use all the help they can get while trying to get back on track. They have a few pieces in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, but more talent never hurts.
5. Edmonton Will Retire Kevin Lowe’s Number 4
Kevin Lowe will see his number rise to the rafters to hang forever alongside his former teammates Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Jari Kurri on November 5, 2021. No one will ever wear the number 4 again in Edmonton.
The last year has been great for Lowe. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a part of the 2020 class and now his number will be retired.
Lowe was a defensive defenseman and did not receive as many accolades as his teammates. However, he was instrumental in the dynasty that was the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. He helped the team win five Stanley Cup championships. He also teamed up with his old pal Messier to win another cup with the Rangers in 1994.
Lowe finished his career with a line of 84-347-431 in 1,254 games over 19 seasons. Lowe won the King Clancy Trophy in 1990 and was selected to participate in seven All-Star Games.
Lowe’s number 4 will be the eighth number retired by the Edmonton Oilers. Lowe is certainly deserving of this honor. He certainly won’t be the last player to receive this treatment in Edmonton. I’m sure the numbers 97 and 29 will be hanging near number 4 eventually. ■