Not even the Great One can heal the sick and wounded.
The Phoenix Coyotes, partly owned and mostly run by Wayne Gretzky, have lost more than 325 man-games to injuries and have slipped near the bottom of the Western Conference. There's never a good time for a bad season, but their struggles couldn't be more inopportune: Their new arena is rising out of the desert in nearby Glendale, and they must sell naming rights, suites and season tickets to ensure their economic future when they move there in December.
However, the Coyotes, who haven't won a playoff series since 1987 -- when they were the Winnipeg Jets -- might not make the postseason tournament. They enter the weekend more than 10 points out of eighth place.
"You don't like to use injuries as an excuse, because everyone has them, but we've had an extraordinary number by anyone's standards," General Manager Mike Barnett said. "The disappointing aspect is, we haven't yet had an opportunity to have on the ice at any one time the team we had at the start of training camp."
Their woes have ranged from the usual broken bones and groin strains to Landon Wilson's devastating eye injury and the sprained knee Ossi Vaananen suffered in a taxi accident during all-star weekend. Goalie Sean Burke sat out 41 games because of a high ankle sprain, then played four games before spraining a knee Jan. 3. He is expected back Wednesday against New Jersey.
"The difficulty in the NHL today is, that with 30 teams, nobody has a lot of depth," said Cliff Fletcher, the Coyotes' senior executive vice president of hockey operations. "When you're missing key guys, you struggle."
The onslaught caused a domino effect. Barnett traded center Michal Handzus to the Philadelphia Flyers in June, believing that Krys Kolanos would play a major role, but Kolanos suffered a concussion Oct. 9 and hasn't played since.
"Instead of two 6-foot-4 centers, we had none," Barnett said. "The difficulty with injuries like those is, you don't know how long they're going to take. This, obviously, has lasted much longer than we anticipated. . . .
"I tend to look at who's stepping up despite the injuries, who's going to rise above the number of injuries we've had. But it's tough in a lot of ways. We're paying one set of players to watch and paying another set of players to play. Your payroll limits your ability to go out and buy other players. And teams that want to trade want your young, healthy players, and we're not going to do that."
It doesn't help that Tony Amonte, their big free agent signing last summer, has fizzled. He has scored 11 goals and 27 points in his rapid decline.
"I think he's at a point out there where you can see he's very tight," Barnett said. "No one wants to help more than Tony himself. We're in it for the long haul with him. Scorers being what they are, when [shots] go in the net, they go in bunches.
"We've tried him with several different centers, but there's been no continuity. Just when his line starts to jell, someone goes down."
Barnett said he hasn't given up and hopes that as players return, they'll stimulate competition for jobs. If nothing else, he's getting good reads on players' character.
"We're a young team and they've come together nicely as a group," he said. "The nucleus is here. It just would have been nice to see what our lineup would have looked like with everyone there."
The Ottawa Senators' bankruptcy protection was extended Monday through April 17, and they were promised additional interim funding.
Owner Rod Bryden's plan to sell shares of the club to a limited partnership was approved by creditors, among them the NHL and several banks. The Senators owe about $160 million. Bryden is also expected to buy Corel Centre in a separate deal.
The Senators have plenty of company in their misery. The St. Louis Blues, following Kings President Tim Leiweke's lead in opening the club's books to the Times, opened their books to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the figures were grim.
President Mark Sauer said the Blues lost $43.1 million last season and might lose as much this season. The city-owned Savvis Center, which is leased by Blues' owners Bill and Nancy Laurie, breaks even.
"If we can't significantly improve the economics of the whole operation, I don't think we can retain quality ownership on a long-term basis here," Sauer told the Post-Dispatch. "And the Lauries' ownership is of the highest quality."
Mario Lemieux, owner and captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, said last week that shaky finances would lead him to cut costs this summer, and he asked for more corporate and fan support. The Florida Panthers have estimated their losses at $17.5 million, and the Coyotes face losses of $20 million or more.
"We're losing a lot of money, and we have since Steve Ellman and Wayne [Gretzky] took over," Fletcher said.
Moving in the Right Direction
Give retired Colorado defenseman Ray Bourque an assist. During a recent visit to Denver, he gave a pep talk to Patrick Roy, who reeled off three shutouts in six games and ignited his teammates. The Avalanche is 7-0-2, despite missing Joe Sakic (broken foot) and defenseman Derek Morris (broken facial bone). Milan Hejduk and Peter Forsberg had consecutive hat tricks over the weekend, signs the offense has shaken off its long slumber. . . .
The Detroit Red Wings remain puzzling. They hit an 0-4-2 slide earlier this month, and Sergei Fedorov carped about his lack of playing time after a 5-3 loss to Colorado last Saturday. Fedorov had 17 goals in his first 30 games, but three in his next 2.5. Detroit center Steve Yzerman, recovering from knee surgery, practiced Sunday after knee pain had kept him off the ice for 10 days and hopes to return later this month. In the end, the Red Wings' fate will rest on Curtis Joseph's play, and he has been less than dazzling. . . .
The Calgary Flames are last in the Western Conference, but they lead the NHL in Hobey Baker Award winners. They have three winners of the award given annually to the top player in U.S. college hockey. Chris Drury won it in 1998 at Boston University, Mike Mottau in 2000 at Boston College and Jordan Leopold last year at Minnesota.