Is the bloom off the desert rose?
Tonight's NHL exhibition game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m., MTS Centre) likely won't be a sellout.
Ticket sales hovered around the 12,000 mark yesterday, shy of the 15,000-plus that attended last year's exhibition between Phoenix and Edmonton.
That was the first time the Coyotes had returned since leaving Winnipeg as the Jets a decade earlier.
It hasn't helped that neither team has promised to play its stars, creating the possibility that the product on the ice won't be much different than a typical Manitoba Moose AHL game.
Still, a crowd in excess of 12,000 figures to bolster the bank account of the Coyotes, who take home much of the gate.
"The Coyotes probably do as well here, if not better, than with an exhibition game in Phoenix," Scott Brown of Moose parent company, True North Sports, said yesterday.
Truth is, the take from last year's game was enough to cover the costs of the team's entire training camp.
So local puck fans can take heart -- or not -- in the fact they're still helping to support the former Jets.
THE LINEUPS: Though the final roster decisions won't be made until this morning, both the Phoenix Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs are giving every indication that tonight's pre-season game at the MTS Centre will be more than a glorified American Hockey League tilt.
The Maple Leafs are expected to dress Steinbach product Ian White and Alex Steen, who was born in Winnipeg.
Those on the traveling roster who are expected to play are Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, forward Nik Antropov and prized free agent signing Jason Blake.
Maple Leafs goalie of the future Justin Pogge, who led Canada to a gold medal at the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver, got the start yesterday against the Edmonton Oilers. Andrew Raycroft who is battling newcomer Vesa Toskala for the No.1 goaltender's job, should be between the pipes for the Maple Leafs tonight.
As for the Coyotes, three of the goalies vying for the starting job -- David Aebischer, Mikael Tellqvist and former Manitoba Moose puckstopper Alex Auld -- are on the traveling roster.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan, the Winnipeg Jets first round pick (seventh overall) in 1995, and defenceman Ed Jovanovski raved about how much they enjoyed playing in the MTS Centre last season, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them in uniform tonight.
Deloraine product Ryan Caldwell, who split last season between the Syracuse Crunch and Bridgeport Sound Tigers, could also be in uniform for the Coyotes after signing with them as a free agent this summer.
The two teams meet again tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre.