With the Detroit Red Wings up 3-1 and looking to finish off Sid the Kid and the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday night in Detroit to claim their ninth Stanley Cup, the 2007-2008 season is finally coming to a close.
But as any player, coach, or owner can and will tell you, the job is never done. As soon as one season ends everyone gets to work on the next one.
In Phoenix, where the Coyotes failed to reach the playoffs for the fifth straight season, everyone is in high gear to make sure the team doesn’t make it six.
Like all teams, there are questions. These Questions have answers that will go a long way in determining whether that goal is achieved or not.
What changes in personell and philosophy need to happen for this team to get to the playoffs?
Usually when a team has gone as long as the Coyotes have without making the playoffs, there are changes aplenty. Phoenix, however, is better served standing pat with the staff and the direction of the team.
The team has a great GM in Don Maloney. Coach Wayne Gretzky now has a team that one person in the organization described as “his team”.
I don’t see the roster experiencing any major changes either through free agency, although that may change as the season trade deadline approaches. A youth movement has served the team well as young talent like Peter Mueller, Daniel Carcillo and others got plenty of playing time.
The youngsters not only improved as the season progressed, but also helped the team post its most points since the 2001-02 season (which coincidentally enough was the last time the team made the playoffs). Add to the mixture veterans like team captain Shane Doan (who posted career bests in points and assists) and Ed Jovanovski and you have the makings of a team on the rise.
How many points will the Coyotes finish with next year?
With all the talent on the roster including top goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and the dramatic improvement in play on the ice this season, expectations are high heading into next year.
It is no exaggeration that anything else then the playoffs would be a huge disappointment. There are two things that will keep them from reaching that goal.
One would be a repeat performance of the uneven play at home that saw the team tie for the fewest home victories in the league. The other is the team’s trouble starting and finishing games.
Having said all that, barring a complete meltdown by the team I see the Coyotes finishing with about 90-96 points which should be good enough for the sixth or seventh seed in the West and third place in the Pacific division. I would place them higher in the division, but I just don’t see them finishing ahead of the Sharks or Stars.
How will the goalie depth depth shake out behind Bryzgalov among Tellqvist, Montoya, Tordjman, and Gistedt?
What a difference a season makes. This season, the number one spot was up for grabs. Now, after the Coyotes picked up Bryzgalov off waivers for pennies on the dollar and turned him into a number one goalie, the netminder position is definite strength for next season.
Mikael Tellqvist proved he was more than capable of holding down the backup role and his knowledge of the Coyotes’ shooters proved invaluable to Coach Gretzky in shootout situations. As for the other four, I look at Joel Gistedt to emerge as the best of the rest and hopeful future franchise goalie. His age (Gistedt doesn’t turn 21 until December) would allow the organization to bring him along slowly before handing him the keys.
How will the Blake Wheeler situation affect the team?
After thinking they had Wheeler wrapped up, the Coyotes were given the switcheroo as Wheeler informed the team that he would not be accepting their offer and would instead enter free agency.
But you know what they say, when life gives you lemons... GM Maloney and the team are doing just that, turning their attention to the 5 picks they have in the first 2 rounds, including the 8th overall pick in the draft.
The thing to remember about the NHL as opposed to other sports, is that huge blockbuster trades and or huge free agent signings don’t happen often. Superstars often stay with their team and if they do leave, it is usually at the tail end of their career. The Coyotes are well aware of this and know that the youth is the future and considering their recent success with scouting, I look to the organization to get the most for their picks.
These are just a few of the questions the team is looking at going forward into the next season but in the end, the upcoming season will be huge in determining the direction of the organization and the people involved. Failure to make the playoffs again will result in drastic changes to the staff and players.
The odds of Wayne Gretzky returning to the bench would be somewhere between slim and none. You could see fan favorites like Doan up on the trade block. No playoffs again would also do even more damage to an already dwindling fan base.
Only time will tell. Of course the Coyotes seem to have done and continue to do what it takes to see that those scenarios don’t take place.