Category archive: Phoenix Coyotes
Two Pacific Division clubs have a lot of balls up in the air these days.
The Anaheim Ducks are awaiting Scott Niedermayer's decision next week, which will have a huge impact on how they proceed this offseason. They're also waiting on Teemu Selanne. The Phoenix Coyotes, meanwhile, have about a dozen free agents to attend to and not a huge budget to work with.
The DucksThe Ducks have patiently waited for their captain to decide whether he's coming back for another season. That's certainly not a first.
"We'll probably talk on Monday, and we should have a decision by then, hopefully," Ducks GM Bob Murray told ESPN.com on Wednesday.
Murray also spoke with Selanne earlier this week, and the Ducks await a decision on his return for the 2010-11 campaign.
"He's still undecided," Murray said. "We'll talk again early next week."
While no one involved wants to say it, my guess is Selanne will base his decision largely on what Niedermayer does. Both are unrestricted free agents, and despite being linked to other teams in cyberspace rumors, it would appear it's the Ducks or retirement for both players.
"It's probably Anaheim or nothing," Niedermayer's agent, Kevin Epp of Titan Sports Management, told ESPN.com. "Anaheim is where he calls home now, and that's where his family is comfortable."
Murray has a Plan A and Plan B depending on Niedermayer's decision, but obviously Plan A is more appealing.
"He's still one of the best players in the game, and he showed that in the Olympics and he showed that at the end of the year with our hockey team," Murray said of Niedermayer, who turns 37 on Aug. 31. "But besides that, when you're bringing younger players in your organization, there are fewer greater role models in the game than Scotty."
Just like Nicklas Lidstrom and the way he fosters a certain culture and work ethic in Detroit, that's what Niedermayer brings to Anaheim. It's hard to replace a player like that.
Saku Koivu, Selanne's good friend, also is UFA. The Ducks have spoken to his agent, Don Baizley (who also represents Selanne), but there is nothing concrete at this point.
"He had a real good second half for us," Murray said of Koivu. "He's another good role model for the young guys, but we'll see what happens."
In the meantime, Murray said he continues to negotiate with Don Meehan and his Newport Sports firm regarding star top-six winger Bobby Ryan, a restricted free agent. That negotiation doesn't appear to be close to concluding at this point, although neither side would confirm that this week.
"The negotiations continue," Meehan told ESPN.com on Wednesday night, not wanting to say more. Keep an eye on that one.
The CoyotesThe Coyotes, who were the NHL's feel-good story in 2009-10, now need to work if there's going to be any sequel.
Phoenix has about half its roster eligible for free agency. The UFAs include top-four defenseman Zbynek Michalek and top-six forward Matthew Lombardi, as well as veteran blueliners Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris and Mathieu Schneider, and forwards Lee Stempniak, Taylor Pyatt, Robert Lang and Joel Perrault. The RFAs include top-six forwards Martin Hanzal and Wojtek Wolski, as well as forward Daniel Winnik and defenseman Sami Lepisto.
[Updated: Aucoin signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Coyotes late Thursday.]
Time to earn that GM award, right, Don Maloney?
"Literally, I've got seven or eight conversations going at once right now," Maloney told ESPN.com on Wednesday.
Maloney is doing this while still working without an owner, but the uncertainty is old hat for him at this point. For now, the NHL still has to green-light Maloney's financial decisions.
"I worked out a budget with [NHL deputy commissioner] Bill Daly, I want to say about 10 days ago," Maloney said.
Neither Maloney nor Daly would tell us what that figure was, but one can guess it's nowhere close to whatever the salary-cap limit will be. Money will be tight again this season, and you can forget the Coyotes being big players come July 1 because of it.
"It's a little better than last year," Maloney said of his budget. "It's enough to put a team on the ice that can win and get to the playoffs. "It's no different from the other 29 teams; now it's working within that budget to put a winner on the ice. That's the challenge. We had relative success last season, and now it's paying for that success and re-signing the players we'd like to re-sign. It's no different than most teams."
While appreciating their contributions, Maloney said Lang and Schneider will not return. There's interest in the rest of the free-agent gang, but Maloney won't be able to bring them all back.
"We're just getting a sense of where they're at and see what we have to spend and see how many we can re-sign," Maloney said. "We'd like to re-sign most, but in all candor, we won't be able to do that."
So far, he's re-signed top-six forward Scottie Upshall, who was RFA, to a one-year deal worth $2.25 million. In my mind, that's a bargain for a player who led the team in goals before he got hurt this past season. Maloney also re-signed checker Ryan Hollweg, really just a depth move since it was a two-way deal.
There's lot of work to be done with the clock ticking toward July 1, when his free agents will be able to explore other avenues.
"The way the mix and chemistry was on this team, in large part thanks to [coach] Dave Tippett, everyone wants to return," Maloney said. "But what kind of discount can we get? For example, we won't be able to pay Michalek what he can get on the open market, without a question. So what would he take to stay here? And certainly Lombardi is in the same boat.
"I've acknowledged that with them -- 'I know there's more available if you go that route [free agency]. However, you're in a great spot with a great coaching staff; what can we do.' So that's really been the dance the last 10 days or so to try and really come down to a number that makes sense."
When I was in Phoenix during the first round of the playoffs, many players told me how much they loved being in Phoenix and enjoyed each other's company in that dressing room. It was a tight-knit team. But how much is that worth in terms of leaving money on the table?
"We're not going to be able to pay market for most of these players; that's the bottom line," Maloney said. "But there's an attraction to playing here. The players enjoyed it here, I think. We'll find out how much, I guess. Everybody likes to get paid, you know."
We'll find out over the next few weeks just how similar or different the Cinderella Coyotes of 2009-10 will look next season.
"As bad as everything you hear about us, we just don't think we're that bad," Doan told me about six months ago. "We don't think we're the worst team in the league even though everybody seems to be picking us to finish last."
Fast forward to late Thursday night. Doan was about to board a plane in South Florida with the Coyotes a few hours after erasing a three-goal, third-period deficit to beat the Florida Panthers 4-3 in a shootout. The victory set the Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise record for wins in a season with 44.
Just another day at the office for the team everyone wrote off before the season.
I mentioned our August conversation, and Doan laughed.
"I definitely do remember that," Doan told ESPN.com. "Listen, I understood why people looked at all the negative things [ownership issues] and thought that. But I didn't understand, when you looked at our lineup, why people thought we were that bad."
I'm not sure "I told you so" even covers it for Doan, but a 44-22-5 record through 71 games is doing the talking for him. The Coyotes, the most surprising team in the NHL this season, have won a season-high seven straight games and suddenly find themselves only three points behind the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference lead shared by Chicago and San Jose.
I mean, seriously. Even Doan didn't see that coming.
"Well, I don't think anybody would have predicted that," Doan said with a chuckle. "I don't care who. I mean, not even our most ardent fans, not after eight years of the way we struggled along. But at the same time, we thought we were capable of being good."
Doan credited coach Dave Tippett, who didn't even start training camp with the club amid the off-ice, bankruptcy turmoil of last summer.
"Tipp coming in kind of compounded things. The more we started winning, the more we believed in him, and the more we believed in him, the more we won," Doan said. "It just keeps getting better and better."
There's no question in Doan's mind that his coach will win the Jack Adams Award.
"No," Doan said, laughing. "Is there any question in yours?"
Nope. Case closed, as far as I'm concerned.
Mind you, Phoenix's power play could use some work. The Coyotes are, amazingly, flirting with the conference lead despite having a power play that ranks last in the NHL.
"We've gone three games in a row where we've scored on it," Doan said. "So we're starting to figure it out, and that's huge for us. Tipp's always had great power plays, so I think we'll get it."
The Coyotes get away with a bad power play thanks to a great penalty-killing unit and a five-on-five goals for/against ratio that's among the best in the NHL. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is having a Vezina Trophy-caliber season, and the Coyotes play air-tight defense.
Off the ice, there are still problems. The sale from the league to the Ice Edge group hasn't closed, and it's not clear whether it will. In the stands, the Coyotes remain dead last in attendance, averaging 11,420 a game. But Saturday night's home contest against the Chicago Blackhawks is sold out. The market appears to be reacting to a winning team.
"If you look at our last home game before our trip, Vancouver on a Wednesday night, we had 16,000 fans that game," Doan said. "Same the game before that. Everyone is excited. People are enjoying this."
And so are the players.
"It's fun right now," Doan said. "We're having a good time and enjoying it and yet not looking past the next game. But we're definitely enjoying it."
My colleague and good friend Scott Burnside arrives in Phoenix on Thursday for a few days of Coyotes coverage, so I'll focus this Game of the Week preview on tonight's visiting team, the mighty New Jersey Devils.
One month and two days from now, Martin Brodeur likely will start in goal when Team Canada takes on Norway in its Olympic opener in a frenzied Vancouver.
The question is, will he be out of breath?
The 37-year-old superstar leads all NHL goalies in games played (42) and minutes played (2,459). This from a guy who four years ago in Torino, Italy, looked me straight in the face and said he figured it was his last Olympics because he wasn't sure he'd still be playing in 2010. Yeah ... OK.
Every season, Brodeur hears the talk that the Devils should spot him more nights off. Unless there's an injury, like last season, he doesn't even blink; he just goes out and plays almost every night. This time around, he could very well challenge his career high of 78 appearances from the 2006-07 season.
"He's an amazing athlete," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told ESPN.com this week.
Sean Avery didn't think so a few seasons ago when he famously questioned Brodeur's physique. Whether it's by coincidence or not, the Devils netminder has since shed some weight and toned his frame, thanks to some rigorous offseason training.
But no matter how in shape the man is, at some point, do you not worry about his workload this season, especially given that he'll be playing in the Olympics?
"The rest ratio on nongame days, that's important," Lamoriello said, noting that Brodeur gets the odd practice off when coach Jacques Lemaire sees fit. "The coaches have done a great job in monitoring it. And he also knows his body. He's felt good; he's in great shape. It's monitored daily. It's not something that's taken for granted. He gets days off when necessary. So far, everything has worked out well. And what more can you say about him? He just keeps going."
Roberto Luongo also has been on fire, especially in the past month, but I'll be shocked if Brodeur isn't the main man in Vancouver. I thought it was interesting to hear Curtis Joseph reminisce about the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City during his retirement news conference Tuesday. It's an experience that carries mixed feelings for CuJo. He was yanked after an opening loss to Sweden and never saw the net again, as Brodeur came in and helped lead Canada to a gold medal.
But eight years later, it's a move Joseph understands.
"Marty was in a zone," Joseph said. "I remember watching him in practice; he was in a zone, for sure. He was the best guy to go with at the time. If you would have [seen] him in practice, he was spectacular."
That same focus is now on display for the Devils. The Olympics are around the corner, but Brodeur doesn't let his mind wander to that. He'll zero in on the Games the day he steps off the plane in Vancouver.
"Marty's focus is right here now, and that's what's so amazing about him," Lamoriello said. "He's able to focus on what's at hand and doesn't let anything that happens that day before or what's going to come the day after get in the way. He's got that ability that he's born with.
"It's going to be a great Olympics, but right now, that's not on my mind, either. We're getting ready for Phoenix."
I mentioned in Monday's blog how the Devils' reach could be felt deeply on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. Jamie Langenbrunner was named captain, and teammate Zach Parise and former Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski were named alternate captains.
Lamoriello is proud of that and reminded me those aren't the only New Jersey connections among Olympic captains.
"Patrik Elias is captain of the Czech team and [former Devils star] Scott Niedermayer of the Canadian team," Lamoriello said. "It's all well deserved. They all do one thing the same way -- they put the logo first. That's what it's all about."
Just as his team is doing yet again this season.
"We've been very fortunate," the New Jersey GM said. "Everybody in our organization buys into the same philosophy. They buy into exactly what it takes to win. It's not about individuals. It could be anybody on any given night.
"You can't ask for more than the ways these guys have responded this year."