Lost in the recent Phoenix Coyotes franchise turmoil was the team’s competitive nature on the ice.
Having missed the Stanley Cup playoffs a year ago, the Coyotes took a few dramatic changes in recent months. To be fair, an energetic bolt was needed to boost a dormant and inactive franchise.
That seem to all change when Calgary financier George Gosbee stepped forward and acquired the Coyotes from the NHL. This was the equivalent of that energy drink at 2:30 in the afternoon, and served to heightened spirits.
Even before Gosbee and his IceArizona contingent bought the team from the NHL, several efforts foreshadowed a positive direction.
With the signing of general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett in June to multi-year contracts, those transitions immediately signaled the team wanted to move ahead with energy and force.
Then came free agency, and the Coyotes moved to lock up center Mike Ribeiro for the next four years and resigned unrestricted free agents, defensemen Michael Stone and Chris Summers along with winger Lauri Korpikoski. For depth, Maloney inked forward Brandon Yip, who played at Nashville last season, but still needs to sign Mikkel Boedker, an unrestricted free agent.
Perhaps the biggest player signing centered around goalie Mike Smith, who indicated he would not return to the Coyotes if the franchise scenario remained unresolved.
Overall, here appears a heightened level of anticipation. Still fresh in several minds is the achievement of two years ago. That’s when the Coyotes lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals.
That memory still burns within the Coyotes’ soul and could be an important catalyst between the uncertainly of the past and hope for the future.
“I’m really excited about this team and the way management approached the offseason,” said captain Shane Doan at a recent press conference in which the sale of the team to Gosbee was announced. “I love our blue line and energy-wise, this will be a much better team.”
With the dark cloud of franchise insecurity behind, the Coyotes’ upcoming training camp should be relaxed and confident. The coaching acumen from Tippett, the leadership of Doan and the economic input from Gosbee should foreshadow an improved disposition.
To generate whether the offseason was “a success,” a few things need to happen.
First, Smith must return to his stellar play of two years. Here, he led the Coyotes into the Western Conference finals and established credibility as one of the top netminders in the NHL.
Smith missed action last season on four different occasions and ended with a mark of 15-12-5 and five shutouts. That was good for a 2.58 goals against average.
If the Coyotes make any progress this coming season, this needs to be translated into increased goal production.
Signing players with a track of success is one thing but the reality of success in the desert remains another issue.
When the Coyotes signed Ribeiro, Tippett indicated at the time that he is the kind of player which improves the level of play around him. Scheduled to be paired with Doan at the start of training camp, Ribeiro needs to impress immediately to gain confidence in the players around him and show his credentials are not fleeting.
On paper and through the mouths of participants, this is an improved hockey club. Now, it’s up to the players and coaching staff to harness this new-found energy and move forward in a positive manner.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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