So what are Nashville Predators fans supposed to think now?
The one thing they were told was the difference, the one thing that was the impetus for so much positive change — a stable and committed ownership — ultimately did little to make the Predators any better in the playoffs or get them any closer to being a Stanley Cup team.
Seriously. If ever ownership were to make an obvious difference in wins and losses, it would have been in a seven-game series against the Phoenix Coyotes.
In so many ways, Nashville and Phoenix are mirror images of each other. They play in nontraditional markets. They rely on defense-first, well-structured systems that feature talented, athletic goalies. There are no offensive superstars. Even many of the in-game gimmicks that make contests at Bridgestone Arena entertaining to the uninitiated hockey fan were adapted or outright copied from the Coyotes.
In terms of ownership, though, it is no contest.
General manager David Poile made more significant moves this season than ever. He signed goalie Pekka Rinne to a long-term contract, the richest in franchise history. He made some of the boldest, best deals at the trade deadline and even pursued the one that never got made — the one for Columbus forward Rick Nash.
Each time he did something like that, he talked about the support and commitment of ownership that allowed for such maneuvering, and noted that it was critical to success.
The effects were not limited to the locker room either. This was the first time that CEO Jeff Cogen and chief operating officer Sean Henry — both hired in a monumental front-office upgrade prior to 2010-11 — had an entire offseason to work. The impact of their work was unquestionable in the number of sellouts, the additional sponsorships and promotional partnerships that made game nights an event 41 times during the period from October through April.
Revenue streams flowed. Turnstiles turned. And Nashville played to 97.5 percent capacity during the regular season.
Contrast that with the Coyotes, who have been owned by the league since they fell into bankruptcy three years ago.
With no real connection to the franchise and with the constant threat of relocation looming, their fans stayed away. Phoenix easily was last in the NHL this season in terms of average attendance (12,420) and percentage of capacity (72.5).
Wannabe NHL owner/franchise mover Jim Balsillie has sniffed around both franchises. When he did, Predators fans rallied to show the depth of local support. When Phoenix had the opportunity to close a deal with someone else and cut out Balsillie last year, a public watchdog group raised enough of a stink about possible incentives that it blew up that deal.
The Coyotes’ highest-paid player in 2011-12 was defenseman Keith Yandle, who earned $5.25 million in salary this season. Defenseman Michal Rozsival was the only other one who made as much as $5 million.
The Predators, of course, paid Shea Weber the $7.5 million he was awarded through arbitration, and agreed to pay Rinne $7 million a year for seven seasons, beginning with the next one.
Rather than load up at the trade deadline, Phoenix made one move. It acquired center Antoine Vermette from Columbus.
Head-to-head, though, the Coyotes made quick work of the Predators and ended their Western Conference semifinal series in five games.
On the very day the series wrapped, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the league expected to complete a deal to sell the Coyotes. It was one that would keep the franchise in the Phoenix area and put it on much firmer financial footing.
Most people would think of that as more good news for a franchise already in the midst of its best playoff run ever.
Probably not Predators fans, though.