BT's 2009/10 NHL Season Previews: Phoenix Coyotes
The Pacific has a little bit of everything: the team that can't win in the playoffs, but everywhere else they're fine (San Jose), the overlooked team ready to surprise (Anaheim), last year's underachiever (Dallas), the up-and-comers (Los Angeles), and the orphan that the orphanage has given up on, but not enough to ship it to Canada (Phoenix).
I won't lie: I've never actually heard of that last scenario.
2008/09 Record: 36-39-7, 79 points, 13th in West
Additions: Jim Vandermeer—D (Trade w/Calgary), Radim Vrbata—F (Trade w/Tampa Bay), Sami Lepisto—D (Trade w/Washington), Vernon Fiddler—F (two years/ $2.2 million), Adrian Aucoin—D (one year/ $2.25 million), Jason LaBarbera—G (two years/ $2 million), Lauri Korpikoski—D (Trade w/Rangers), and Stefen Meyer—F (Trade w/Florida),
Subtractions: Enver Lisin—F (Trade w/Rangers), David Hale—D (Trade w/Tampa Bay), Brian McGratton—F (FA), Nigel Dawes—F (Waivers), Brandon Prust—F (Trade w/Calgary), Steve Reinprecht—F (Trade w/Florida)
If I had to explain to you that this past offseason has been a tumultuous one in the desert for Coyotes faithful, well…you just haven’t been paying very much attention now have you?
Typically throughout the previews, I try to avoid putting too much weight on ownership squabbles.
Does it impact the team and players at all? Sure it does, but the players are also professionals who should be able to block out (for the most part) a lot of the distraction, plus no one wants to read that much about owners anyways.
We watch hockey for the action on the ice—not middle-aged bald men scrambling to recoup lost investments off it.
I’m sorry. That was a joke.
I’m sure most NHL owners have really nice hair.
My Name Is Indigo Montoya
Alright, so Indigo Montoya isn’t playing goal for the Phoenix Coyotes.
But Al Montoya could be.
Once thought to be the future of the New York Rangers, Montoya quickly fell off the map after being drafted in 2004 with the sixth overall pick.
Amidst another sub-par season in the AHL (Montoya went 7-17-2 with a 3.23 GAA and a .885 save percentage), the 24-year-old Chicago native got the call part-way through March.
In five games played at the NHL level, Montoya ended up going 3-1-0 and recorded a shutout of the Colorado Avalanche in his first game. While he did give up a combined seven goals (six in one game) in back-to-back games against Los Angeles, Montoya was also able to stymie the San Jose Sharks to one goal on 41 shots.
If Montoya wants to be able to prove that was no fluke, then he’ll have to prove it by going through Jason LaBarbera and finding a level of consistency.
LaBarbera split last year between the Vancouver Canucks and the Kings, and played fairly well in very limited action for the Canucks going 3-2-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
Although LaBarbera has never really jumped into a consistent NHL presence, he does offer the Coyotes a backup with experience of the NHL game for starter Ilya Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov will slide in once again as the starter for the Coyotes, and he’ll hope to replicate a third-straight 26-win season.
Although Bryzgalov wasn’t among the upper echelon of keepers in terms of quality last season, he did prove that he was able to shoulder the load for a weak team, facing (and stopping) the fourth-most shots in the league, while playing in the sixth-most games as well.
In his first full season in the desert, Bryzgalov proved to a lot of people that he could start in this league. Given a solid defense and a matured scoring attack, he won’t be breaking any numbers or making any All-Star teams, but he could certainly back the Coyotes to a few wins.
"Muell"ing over a Few "Doan"ated Offensive Opportunities?
Speaking of goals, the Phoenix Coyotes outscored just four other teams in the NHL last year, scoring 208 times.
When you look at the roster for the Desert Dogs though, there’s a fairly simply reason...the youth.
While other teams are trying the quick-turnaround rebuild or are just outright denying that they’re rebuilding, the Coyotes have put their faith firmly in one of the NHL’s youngest rosters.
Despite Captain Shane Doan and his 623 career points (Doan also had his first 30 goal campaign since 2005/06 last year and second-straight 70-point season) there is not other "veteran" presence, as no other forward is older than 30.
The reacquisition of Radim Vrbata will help some of the younger forwards, as not only is Vrbata excited about playing with the Coyotes once again (he had a career year with them in 2007-08), but he’s also committed to the NHL once again, having left last year to be with his wife overseas.
Although a 27-goal/56 point season may be a tad unrealistic to replicate (think 17-20 goals and 45-47 points), Vrbata could easily line up alongside one of Phoenix’s young centers and create a little chemistry.
And it’s not like those centers are few and far between either: Kyle Turris will be back after a rookie season filled with struggles, while Martin Hanzal still needs to find a linemate to get those crisp passes to. Kevin Porter even has untapped gifts as well, despite being overlooked because of a seemingly endless list of young stars.
For a more established presence down the middle there’s Matthew Lombardi, who could be in for a big season after potting 16 points in 19 games for the Coyotes following the trade deadline.
Down the wings is where a lot of magic is going to happen for this team.
Not only do they have the unquestionably loyal Doan and Vrbata, but Viktor Tikhonov, Mikkel Boedker and Peter Mueller are some of the most-talked about young names.
With Boedker bringing the speed and passing ability, Tikhonov the smarts and untapped potential, and Mueller the big shot there are a variety of young, viable options to line up alongside the plethora of centers that Phoenix is developing.
This is still without talking about Brett MacLean who impressed at the development camp this summer after tearing up the OHL and AHL the past few years, and Scottie Upshall who had 13 points in 19 games for Phoenix late last season.
Along with that, if Petr Prucha ever finds his NHL game again and Lauri Korpikoski can create a bit of offense, then the Coyotes have plenty of options that they can mix-and-match as the season progresses.
Could Jovo-Cop Crush an Aucoin with His Pinky? Probably
The recent acquisition of Adrian Aucoin will help in two ways: one, it offers the Coyotes another big shot from the point which will help generate offense down low off of rebounds, and it provides them with another big-bodied veteran defenseman to help teach the younger back-enders the nuances of the game.
Despite being an asset, Aucoin's skating ability could end up holding a mobile Phoenix team back, as well as Aucoin struggling to keep up with the speedier, shiftier Pacific division forwards.
Although he’s starting to get older, Ed Jovanovski is still a blueliner that I’d take on my team any day. Due to a slow start, Jovanovski registered just four points and a Plus/Minus of -11 in his first 19 games last year. Over the last 63 games, however, Jovanovski picked up his play, notching 32 more points and eight more goals.
Due to his age Jovo is averaging closer to 21:00-23:00 minutes per game, but his value (much like Adrian Aucoin’s) is in teaching the nuances of the blueline to the stars-in-the-making for Phoenix.
The man who seems to be getting ready to take over for Jovanovski is Zbynek Michalek. While Michalek isn’t as physical in the hitting department, he blocks a ton of shots and is able to move the puck around, as well as shoot it. If Michalek ever started to hit with consistency, he could easily be a go-to No. 1 in the NHL, but he still brings plenty to this Phoenix team’s blueline in terms of offense and intangibles.
Keith Yandle is the other big-time blueliner of this Phoenix franchise and with good reason. His ability to move the puck around continues to be on display at the NHL level (as it has throughout his career), and his offensive abilities will soon have the 28th-ranked Phoenix power play flourishing.
Kurt Sauer will continue to be a good defensive defenseman, just not great, while Jim Vandermeer and Sami Lepisto add some much-needed depth to the blueline, but none of them will catapult this team into the playoffs.
In the future, Swedish studs Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jonas Ahnelov will help reshape the Coyotes' defense, providng them with solid defensive zone coverage and offensive production (mostly from Larsson), but unfortunately we're still a few years away from that.
So What's It All Mean?
Offensively, I look at the Coyotes and I think they’re scary. When those players hit their prime, not only will Phoenix be able to roll out two lines who could threaten to score every single shift, but they may very well be rolling out three scoring lines.
Along with that they'll also have one line that’s tough-checking, but still holds a load of scoring potential (featuring the Vernon Fiddlers and Daniel Winnik’s of the world).
The trick is just finding that level of competition and consistency.
On the back end there are still some great pieces to the puzzle, but the addition of Aucoin doesn't bump this solid top four into spectacular status.
In net it's all about finding consistency for Ilya Bryzgalov. If he can stay consistent, then the Coyotes can stay competitive.
If not, he'll be victimized by a patch-work defense and forwards who're still working to find the back of the net.
Fifth in Pacific
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile or you can email him at email@example.com. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.
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