The Sun and the Coyotes Rising in Phoenix
Finishing in the bottom third of the league is never a good thing. However for the Phoenix Coyotes, things were not as bad as they appeared to be.
Sure the team missed the playoffs again but so many good things happened this past year that this outweighed the bad.
One key development was finally addressing the big hole the team had in nets with the acquisition of Ilya Bryzgalov. Yes the team got quite lucky in the fact they were able to claim him off waivers, but no matter how, the team filled a major void in their lineup and made them semi-competitive on most nights this season.
Another key was coach Wayne Gretzky and his coaching development. The Great One made huge strides this past season behind the bench and really got his players to buy into the system and stick with the game plan. He seemed much more controlled with less barking and yelling at everything yet still was his passionate self. Gretzky perhaps was the greatest hockey mind on the ice as no player thought the game better than he. If can translate tha knowledge as a coach, he will become one of the best.
A third key development was integrating home grown talent on to the roster and seeing them flourish. Peter Mueller ended up as one of the leading scorers among rookies and looks to be a top line player for a long time. Martin Hanzal did not look too out of place and is that big bodied centre many teams covet up the middle. Kyle Turris made his debut as well and looks likely to be a regular next year. This was an organization that seemingly never had any players they drafted in the lineup. Finally, they’re starting to change that and its all for the better.
Finally, the management team is much more settled with Don Maloney in charge. His strong preference for drafting and developing can only be beneficial to an organization who has chosen to neglect this path for its entire existence.
Maloney will get a chance to continue that trend with really his first draft in charge of the Coyotes. The team has 7 picks in the top 100 including 4 in the top 50. Three second rounders acquired through various moves should help the Coyotes acquire more quality young players in what is deemed to be a very deep draft. With the 8th overall pick, the Yotes have options. There is no pressure to find a certain player like last draft where the team really needed an offensive player to build around and Turris became their choice.
They Yotes cannot lose choosing any one of Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers or Colton Teubert to shore up their defence. As big a difference as Gretzky, Messier and Coffey made to turn the Oilers into a dynasty, Gretzky and company knew it was rocks on defence like Huddy, Lowe, Fogolin who were also key contributors along the way. If the Yotes get a chance to pick a rock on D like a Schenn, it just adds another important piece to the puzzle as much as them adding a Turris or a Mueller. This doesnt mean they don’t need to draft a forward. Some of them like a Cody Hodgson, Josh Bailey, Zach Boychuk or Colin Wilson may be too good to pass up. It only adds to the “Big 4″ they have accumulated thus far in Turris, Mueller, Wheeler and Hanzal.
Adding depth to the organization and doing so via the draft is a new concept the team has embraced and should keep them in good stead for years to come.
What about the parent roster? Until the kids are ready, its likely the team will stay less talented for a bit, save roster spots for their youngsters and avoid any big free agent splashes.
2008-09 CAP HIT – $33 million for 13 players.
Phoenix has a few hefty contracts but still will likely avoid reaching the cap max. Spending big, getting expensive veterans who are past their prime, acquiring rentals for youth are a thing of the past in the desert. In a year, they will have the likes of Morris, Boynton and Reinprecht off the books as well freeing up more valuable cap space.
UFA – Radim Vrbata, Mike York, Niko Kapanen, David Aebischer, Matt Murley, Craig Weller, Mathias Tjarnqvist
RFA – Brendan Bell, Joel Perrault, Matt Jones, Dan Carcillo, Marcel Hossa, Bill Thomas
The team is keen on re-signing Vrbata who emerged as one of their top scorers. He could be asking far too much however for a player who has had just one good season and previously never showed the consistency needed to earn a big payoff. RFAs like Thomas, Hossa and Carcillo will most certainly be brought back. Carcillo especially has emerged as a key contributor and agitator and has greatly helped the Coyotes become much tougher to play against.
Goal – Ilya Bryzgalov, Mikael Tellqvist
It was quite the heist to land Bryzgalov off waivers. The team quickly signed him long term greatly solidifying their goaltending for years to come. In his first test as a true number 1, he has not looked out of place. He is probably the best goaltender they’ve had since Khabibulin and should be a nice bridge until prospect Al Montoya is ready to take over.
Defence – Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, Keith Ballard, Nic Boynton, Zbynek Michalek
One of the big strengths of the Coyotes is their defence. There is plenty of skill and skating ability led by Jovanovski who re-emerged as a solid point producer. Morris is probably their steadiest blueliner right now on the defensive end but the player with the greatest promise is Ballard. He is the Coyote’s go to player at both ends as you often find him playing the last minute, logging a ton of ice time and involved in all situations. Boynton has fallen on hard times the last few years after starting his career with great promise, but he is a gritty veteran who can still play at this level. Most people speak of Milan Michalek of the Sharks but Zbynek his older brother has quietly become a very reliable NHL blueliner and should have a long career in the league. Not many teams can put out a quality top 5 on defence as well as Phoenix can. If they can find some more prospects on D to integrate that will greatly improve their depth even further.
Forward – Shane Doan, Steve Reinprecht, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Mike Zigomanis, Daniel WInnik
While there are some young prospects knocking on the door, this is still Doan’s team. The Coyote’s captain leads by example and by the scoresheet. While big, long term deals sometimes cripple players as they crumble under the pressure to perform, Doan embraced the challenge and flourished. He had one of his best offensive seasons and is an excellent role model for the young kids. Surrounding him with a stronger supporting case will be a necessity for the team to take advantage of his still strong play. Mueller, Turris and Hanzal should be around next season together full time. Hopefully they can bring back Vrbata as they need the scoring depth. Skill should be too much of a problem but if they can find some more finish, the goals will come. Some of the younger core like Winnik, Carcillo have provided the grit and toughness the team has lacked. Doan delivers that on a nightly basis but having greater support around him in that regard, making the team tough to play has given the Yotes a better identity and solidified their resolve. They should only get better.
Goal: Al Montoya
A quiet but solid move by Maloney to dip into the farm system of his previous team and bring in the goalie of the future. Montoya was not going to get much of a chance behind Lundqvist in NY. Here he just might win the backup role but more than anything, he gives the team hope for the future in nets. Something they have not had in years.
Defence: Chris Summers, Nick Ross, Keith Yandle, Logan Stephenson, Sean Sullivan
Still an area that needs more strengthening but they are adding quality depth to the organization on the backend. Yandle is the most ready of their prospects and could break in regularly as the team’s 6th or 7th blueliner next season. He can skate and move the puck really well and could boost an already solid PP.
Forward: Kyle Turris, Blake Wheeler, Kevin Porter, Envir Lisin, Brett MacLean, Alex Kaigarodov
Speed, skill and offensive ability is plentiful in the Coyote’s ranks. Turris is the stud among the group and should make the team this fall. His skill level and imagination is unlimited and might only improve under the tutulege of the Great One. Lisin should be a regular next year as well with his tremendous speed being his biggest asset. Porter and Wheeler are going to take a bit more time to make it but are highly regarded in the Coyotes organization. They can afford to go slow if their current lineup already boasts Turris, Mueller and Hanzal. MacLean is the less known linemate of John Tavares in the OHL has been among the leading scorers in the league. They hope he turns into a big point producer as well at the NHL level.
Right now hockey just might not register to very many in Phoenix. But it is safe to say that wont last too long as there really is something to look forward to for a change in the desert. They have a great coach, a solid GM and a host of exciting players that could bring fans back to the arena and boost interest. This organization has had plenty of down times throughout its existence so things can only get better. It simply has to for hockey to survive in this market.