It has been an off-season to forget for the Arizona Coyotes. Frankly outside of the Stanley Cup qualifying round, 2020 has truly been a horror show for the Yotes – how fitting.
The Arizona Coyotes came into the 2019-2020 season with promise. The past season was hampered by injury after injury in a seemingly endless cycle and yet the team was scratching and clawing to the very end just missing out on the playoffs. Sure there were skeptics and rightfully so, but the Coyotes showed a great deal of resolve and expectations were higher for those who followed with a close eye. Puck drop on the new season and the pack was flying out of the gate notably due to terrific goaltending of Darcy Kuemper and a star in the making Connor Garland breaking out. This was a team that prior to the turn of the year was top in the Pacific Division and playing some of the best hockey in the west – who would have thought. Then, in a seemingly blink of an eye the injuries started coming again and a 180° turn that rivals performances of the Buffalo Sabres, the season came crashing down.
Had it not been for COVID, the Coyotes likely fall out of the playoffs and have no chance at making it for the first time since 2012 a stark contrast to the fight the team had the year prior.
The season goes on pause and the rest is history. The Yotes make it on the qualifying round and impress in the opener by beating Nashville with collective scoring, depth players like Grabner and Richardson making big plays throughout (both who have departed) and superb goaltending from Kuemper. A playoff series victory the Coyotes so desperately needed not just for the organization but their fans who are arguably some of the most loyal in the NHL non-traditional markets – considering all this franchise has been through and put them through. Anyone with a right frame of mind knew the road would end with the Avalanche (maybe not in the matter it did) but the end was fitting. A team bowing out similar to the way they bowed out before the pause. It seemed as if a cloud cast by departed GM John Chayka was merely the beginning of a terrible monsoon that unleashed itself with blow after blow.
We moved backwards (again fitting considering the state of the Yotes) a bit here to reflect on changes that 2020 brought in:
- Taylor Hall is aquired from the Devils for multiple draft picks in what is now looked at as a complete disaster.
- NHL goes on pause due to COVID leaving season in doubt.
- Well regarded and highly respected CEO Ahron Cohen departs unceremoniously in May.
- GM John Chayka departs in a rather unconventional display of angst from ownership just days before the qualifying round
- Coyotes are blown out in 5 games against the Avalanche
- Coyotes lose multiple draft picks due to the Chayka prospect scandal further cementing the disaster of the Taylor Hall trade.
Finally the embarrassment that takes the top spot in all of this: The story published by AZ Central today regarding the Coyotes 1st pick (4th round) in this years NHL entry draft Mitchell Miller.
Miller who is now a freshman in college was involved in not just bullying and harrassment while in high school but racial targeting and demented cruetly towards a developmentally disabled person. Among multiple reported abuses notably racial, he willingly caused a potential life altering health scare for the victim Isaiah Meyer-Crothers by tricking him into licking a candy push pop that had been wiped in a bathroom urinal. Meyer-Crothers had to undergo testing for HIV and other potential infectious diseases because of this.
I understand, kids do stupid things when they are young, for the vast majority of us many things we go on to regret. Pranks and jokes aside, what Miller has done to Meyer-Crothers was neither pranking or joking. It was motivated, targeted, deceitful dangerous and criminal. A 14 year old may take a prank too far, a joke too far or join in the zoo of immaturity but doing the urinal act or bashing someone’s head against a brick wall are not mistakes. Acts that both Miller and another unanmed boy plead guilty to avoid further displays of evidence of abuse in court and were sentenced to 25 hours of community service.
What is further maddening is that Miller went out of his way to address and apologize to NHL teams and executives but never to the victim himself. That act alone shows no remorse or true guilt for what one did and only using an opportunity to save face and get drafted – it worked.
The new Arizona Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez is the first latino executive in the NHL with owner Alex Meruelo being the first Hispanic owner. You would hope that level of diversity and Gutierrez being on the NHL’s Executive Inclusion Council would foster a different approach here but that does not seem to be the case when hearing from the experiences of Meyer-Crothers.
What is truly concerning is with issues brought to prominance by the Hockey Diversity Alliance (notably to national audience by Matt Dumba) we still have a prospect who fits into the category of player ala Steve Downie and a cookie cutter response from an organization that should have been proactively engaged to root out the issue – one could point and say is why a highly talented player fell far down in the draft.
A statement from Gutierrez reveals the internal thought process and puts a full spotlight and target on both the Coyotes and Miller in how they make this a right and justified pick.
“Our fundamental mission is to ensure a safe environment — whether in schools, in our community, in hockey rinks, or in the workplace — to be free of bullying and racism. When we first learned of Mitchell’s story, it would have been easy for us to dismiss him — many teams did. Instead, we felt it was our responsibility to be a part of the solution in a real way — not just saying and doing the right things ourselves but ensuring that others are too,” the statement said.
“Given our priorities on diversity and inclusion, we believe that we are in the best position to guide Mitchell into becoming a leader for this cause and preventing bullying and racism now and in the future. As an organization, we have made our expectations very clear to him. We are willing to work with Mitchell and put in the time, effort, and energy and provide him with the necessary resources and platform to confront bullying and racism. This isn’t a story about excuses or justifications. It’s a story about reflection, growth, and community impact. A true leader finds ways for every person to contribute to the solution. We all need to be a part of the solution.”
After a week were the Coyotes should be celebrating the opening of the Coyotes Community Ice Center (dedicated to the girls and women’s Kachina hockey teams) instead were focusing on another black eye for the organization that cannot seem to escape them.
Article referenced: https://amp.azcentral.com/amp/3735555001