Updated: March 15, 2010, 5:25 PM ET

Important week for playoff hopefuls, Coyotes

Burnside By Scott Burnside

1. Make or break week in Phoenix

While the news on the ice continues to be spectacular for the Phoenix Coyotes -- they woke up Monday morning in fourth place in the Western Conference and riding a five-game winning streak -- the team's future in Phoenix is entering a crucial phase this week.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly will be in Phoenix starting Tuesday in the hopes of helping smooth the path to a new lease between the city of Glendale and Ice Edge Holdings, the group of businessmen who hope to buy the beleaguered team from the NHL.

The visit comes on the heels of reports the group's financing has fallen through and the deal to buy the team from the league, which has been controlling the franchise for the past year, is off the rails.

But CEO Anthony LeBlanc told ESPN.com financing remains set, and the main and virtually only obstacle to the deal being closed is the lease with the city of Glendale. He said legal language for a new lease that would help improve revenue streams for the owners is being discussed and he believes they will assume ownership of the team by the end of the current season.

"It isn't a question of financing," LeBlanc said. "We continue to be as optimistic as ever."

The group has incurred $1 million in expenses thus far and is committed to moving forward with plans to buy the team, LeBlanc said. There have been no changes to its financing plans and no plans to alter its original proposal to honor the remaining 26 years with the city of Glendale -- provided the two sides can agree on changes that will improve revenue streams for the owners, he added.

It's believed the presence of Bettman and Daly in Phoenix may help spur closure on the lease deal.

"We feel very confident that we will get there in very short order," LeBlanc said.

This week looms large, as rumors of other potential owners and the future of the team in Phoenix continue to dog the Coyotes even as the buzz continues to grow in the city with the team's solid performance this season.

Coyotes executive vice president Jeff Holbrook noted that for a Tuesday night game last week against Vancouver, the Coyotes drew a walk-up crowd of 1,701, the largest the team has had since the lockout. Playoff tickets are already being offered to season-ticket holders with a full-scale playoff ticket blitz planned for later this month.

The bottom line: unless the city of Glendale is prepared to rework the lease, it doesn't matter whether it's Ice Edge or Joe Dog -- no one is going to get financing to buy the Coyotes and keep them in Phoenix. Come up with a plan for a new lease and do it quickly, or the league will move quickly to find a new owner in a new city.

2. Beginning of the end?

It had all the makings of a great tale: ageless Chris Chelios gets called up from the American Hockey League by the reeling Atlanta Thrashers to bring much-needed leadership and savvy to a team desperate to make the playoffs.

Or not.

Chelios, 48, was directly involved in both Thrashers goals in a Thursday's 2-1 loss to woeful Columbus, his first game back in the NHL this season. In his second game, Chelios played 14:26 in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers. He had no shots, no penalty minutes and was an even rating for the night. On Sunday, he played 13:20 and had one shot on goal as the Thrashers rallied to tie Phoenix before losing 3-2 in a shootout.

The Thrashers have now gone six games without a win and their chances of making the playoffs are all but extinguished. One might suggest Chelios' career as an NHLer is likewise flickering toward its end.

3. Samuelsson pays off for Canucks

We have to hand it to Vancouver GM Mike Gillis, who has taken some heat for how he's gone about building his Vancouver Canucks.

Gillis looks somewhat the genius for his offseason acquisition of forward Mikael Samuelsson, whom he signed to a three-year deal worth $2.5 million annually. Samuelsson, named one of the NHL's stars of the week Monday, looked like one of those risky free agents GMs often end up overpaying to land. He'd enjoyed success with Detroit, where he won a Cup in 2008, but was that success inflated by the team around him?

Samuelsson has proved to be a solid citizen in Vancouver and was recently promoted to the team's top line with the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel. Still, Samuelsson isn't simply riding the twins' coattails. He's already established career highs in goals (30) and points (53), and playing with the Sedins for the foreseeable future looks to pad those stats even more.

4. An illustration of the Olympic debate

One of the treats of covering the Olympics was getting a chance to chat with Ruslan Salei, the captain of the Belarus team. Eloquent and passionate about the game and the importance of the tournament to his home country, Salei nonetheless illustrates one of the reasons some, if not most NHL owners, hate the NHL's involvement in the Olympics.

The Colorado Avalanche are paying the veteran defenseman $3.275 million this season. He played one game, on Oct. 8, and sustained a back injury that required surgery and did not play again until the final NHL game before the Olympics. Salei then logged big minutes for Belarus, which lost in a shootout to Switzerland in a qualification game. Post-Olympics, Salei played three full games, then reinjured himself after playing just 4:01 in the Avs' fourth game. When he might return to the lineup is unknown.

Now, would Salei, officially designated as having a "torso" injury, have been injured even if he hadn't taken part in the Olympics? Perhaps. But it's a fair suggestion had Salei not rushed back into action for the Games, he may have been more durable for the Avs, who are headed to the playoffs after a surprising season.

If Salei cannot return to action for the postseason, what will his loss mean to a Colorado team that has little in the way of playoff experience? Time will tell, but those are the kinds of questions that, when posed to owners, lead to a reluctance to commit to the Olympics going forward.

5. Anderson has Hart

Speaking of the Avs, it's funny how Colorado netminder Craig Anderson's name never pops up in conversation about the Hart Trophy, yet is there a player who has been more important to his team's success?

The journeyman netminder, who finally landed a full-time starting gig with Colorado this season, leads the league in shots against by a considerable margin. He has started 60 of the Avs' 68 games and has them firmly entrenched in a playoff spot after many picked them to finish at or near the bottom of the West standings. His .924 save percentage is fifth in the league and his 35 wins put him sixth among all netminders. On Sunday, as though to emphasize his importance to the team, Anderson made 48 saves in a 5-3 win in Dallas.

Food for thought come voting time.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?