2009-10 Team Preview: Phoenix Coyotes
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE COYOTES
By Pierre LeBrun
Where to start? Chaos, that's where.
As of Monday morning, the franchise still didn't know who owned it. The coach was changed barely a week before the regular season, with Dave Tippett replacing Wayne Gretzky, who resigned Thursday amid the uncertainty.
Oh, and try to sell tickets all summer long for a team that the locals think has already moved to Canada. Yikes. It's ugly in the desert.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the Coyotes this season:
1. Motivating the players?
Teams will use the strangest things to gain motivation. In this case, the Coyotes are hoping to use the summer-long, off-ice soap opera as a rallying cry.
"Aside from the daily stories in the Canadian media, the job here wasn't that different from the past," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told ESPN.com. "There was a budget that I agreed to in June with the NHL and a representative of [owner] Mr. [Jerry] Moyes, and basically you try to operate within that budget and try and put the best team on the ice you possibly can. But without a doubt, there's been so much in the news for all the wrong reasons, over time it's gotten to the point where you're almost tired of it. We're all very excited to play hockey."
2. Us? Last?
Because of the franchise uncertainty, most pundits have pegged the Coyotes to place last in the West. The players are taking offense.
"When all this started to happen [ownership problems], we kind of fell apart for three weeks," captain Shane Doan told ESPN.com. "But then we got it back together again. As bad as everything you hear about us, we just don't think we're that bad. We don't think we're the worst team in the league even though everybody seems to be picking us to finish last."
3. Player changes
Despite the ownership drama, the Coyotes had a relatively busy offseason. Gone are Steve Reinprecht, Enver Lisin, Nigel Dawes, Joakim Lindstrom, Dmitri Kalinin, Todd Fedoruk, David Hale, Ken Klee, Steve Goertzen, Brandon Prust, Brian McGrattan and Garth Murray; the new faces are Stefan Meyer, Jim Vandermeer, Sami Lepisto, Vernon Fiddler, Jason LaBarbera, Adrian Aucoin, Lauri Korpikoski, Radim Vrbata and Taylor Pyatt. There were also busy at the trade deadline last season, adding Matthew Lombardi and Scottie Upshall, among others.
"I like the makeup of this team," said Maloney. "We've got speed; I think we've addressed some issues with some of the players we signed. ... I know where the prognosticators are putting us based on the unrest this summer, but that's fine with me. I think we're going to be a lot better than what people think at this stage."
4. Better blue line
Doan likes what he sees on the back end.
"Adding Aucoin and Vandermeer on the blue line is big for us, and Keith Yandle is a kid that's poised to become one of the premier offensive defensemen in the league," said Doan. "I'm not sure if it'll happen this year, but one day, he'll be one of the top three or four offensive defensemen in the league."
5. What if a tree fell in the forest ...
Thanks to the franchise uncertainty, the Coyotes know they'll be playing in front of near-empty crowds on some nights. Maybe every night. So you just have to prepare yourself for that.
"The beginning of the season, the enthusiasm has to be that we think we can catch teams who are taking us for granted. That's our goal," said Doan. "And at the beginning [with empty seats], it's going to be the same for the visiting team coming in here. We have to be able to just deal with it. We've gotten used to the fact this has been talked about so much. So we just need to go out there and play."
6. The kids can wait
The Coyotes sent down highly touted youngsters Kyle Turris and Viktor Tikhonov on Monday, a year after both youngsters made the team. It's about wanting them to develop at their own pace and not rush them.
"The mistake we made a year ago is that two days into camp we had penciled in, or really penned into ink, the roster spots for Turris, Tikhonov, [Mikkel] Boedker and [Kevin] Porter without them ever playing a game in the NHL," said Maloney. "Now we've added more depth. We have more experience that we don't have to look at the 19- and 20-year-olds as important players. Hopefully we continue to grow with them, and as they get stronger, we'll all be better off for it."
7. Goalie talk
Ilya Bryzgalov's 2.98 goals-against average last season was the worst in his NHL career. That has to improve if the Coyotes have any chance. LaBarbera was brought in to provide veteran support as the backup.
"Truthfully, when I look at it, it's going to come back down to goaltending," said Maloney. "As a team, can we get Bryzgalov and LaBarbera to be near the top of our conference? If we get that, we'll be a very tough team."
Maloney hopes Bryzgalov's spring performance at the world championships will pay dividends this season.
"He had a very good world championship. He won the gold medal -- he played terrific against Canada, as much as it pains for me to say that, so we hope that winning the gold will help him," said Maloney. "I mean, sure, it'd be nice to have Ken Dryden in net, but we know Bryzgalov can be as good as anybody when he's on. But we need him on a lot more often than not."
8. Mueller time
He's only 21, so we'll cut him some slack, but forward Peter Mueller had your so-called sophomore slump last season when he put up only 36 points (13-23) after registering 54 points (22-32) in his rookie NHL season the previous year. It's bounce-back time.
9. A scheduling note
The Coyotes play 11 of their final 15 regular-season games on the road.
10. Olympic exposure
A half-dozen Coyotes are on the Olympic bubble: Doan (Canada), Martin Hanzal (Czech Republic), Petr Prucha (Czech Republic), Radim Vrbata (Czech Republic), Zbynek Michalek (Czech Republic) and Bryzgalov (Russia).
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
• Record: 36-39-7
• Division: Fourth in the Pacific
• Conference: 13th in the West
• Playoffs: Did not qualify
• We love the passion from GM Don Maloney and Shane Doan, but there's just too much distraction here to make it work this season. Last in the Pacific Division and 14th in the West.
PACIFIC DIVISION PREVIEW
Experience: Entering 7th NHL season, his first with Phoenix
Stanley Cup titles: 0
• Wayne Gretzky was a better coach than people gave him credit for, but his replacement certainly comes with an uncontested pedigree.
Dave Tippett, officially introduced Thursday as Phoenix's new coach on the same day Gretzky resigned, had a series of successful seasons in Dallas until missing the playoffs last season cost him his job. Most people around the league believed it was an unwarranted firing, although one can't blame a new GM (Joe Nieuwendyk) for wanting his own coach.
The Coyotes also added some quality insurance last week with the hiring of experienced veteran bench boss Dave King as an assistant coach.
STARTING FIVE ... AS WE SEE IT
F -- Shane Doan
• The Coyotes' captain led the team with 73 points (31-42) last season and is hopeful for a berth on the Canadian Olympic team in 2010.
F -- Matthew Lombardi
• Speedy 27-year-old gets a chance to be a No. 1 center in the NHL.
F -- Radim Vrbata
• The Czech winger is back in the NHL after spending most of last season in his native country.
D -- Ed Jovanovski
• Logged 22:09 minutes per game last season, second on the team, while appearing in all 82 games.
D -- Adrian Aucoin
• At 36, he's the old man on the team, but brings with him a big point shot.
Best Bet: Shane Doan, F: While Doan may be a lock for 70 points, his poor plus/minus keeps him out of the upper echelon of fantasy forwards. The other issue in the desert, besides the future of the franchise, is coach Wayne Gretzky's apparent aversion to young players. Peter Mueller, Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Turris and others have been babied during failed seasons, so Doan struggles to find someone to work with. Unless Gretzky takes off the training wheels, Doan will be stuck as a No. 6 forward at best.
Risky Move: Adrian Aucoin, D: While Aucoin has put two injury-plagued years with the Blackhawks behind him with two healthy seasons in Calgary, the move to the desert won't do much to improve his fantasy value. Expect a dismal plus/minus and approximately 35 points out of Aucoin. That means he is destined for the fantasy bench unless the Coyotes really surprise this year.• Player projections | 2009-10 Fantasy Draft Kit
INSIDE THE PROJECTIONS
Puck Prospectus uses its VUKOTA projection system to evaluate every NHL team in pivotal categories, while Will Carroll and E.J. Hradek weigh in on injuries and intangibles, respectively. Get an in-depth look at a new category every weekday leading up to the unveiling of The Mag's full rankings.
Where will the Phoenix Coyotes finish this season in Pacific Division?
Make your 2009-10 picks here.