How Free Agency and Trades Changed the Coyotes From Pretenders to Contenders
If the NHL was to conclude today, the Phoenix Coyotes would clinch a playoff spot, the first time since 2002. The seven year drought would look to end with the revamped Coyotes.
Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett has built up an early Coach of the Year resume under a new and improved Coyotes roster. After an off-season of uncertainty the Coyotes have changed their way of playing including the acquisition of several free agents as well as trades.
I have broken down the Top 10 moves the Coyotes made in the off-season to find out just who gives the most credit out of the new and improved Phoenix Coyotes? At the conclusion we will discover which Coyote could challenge Shane Doan for Team MVP at the end of the season.
10) Taylor Pyatt
Taylor Pyatt signed a one year deal with the Phoenix Coyotes back on Sept. 2 after becoming an unrestricted free agent after playing the last three seasons with the Vancouver Canucks.
During his time in Phoenix he has played in 17 games, including playing against his younger brother Tom Pyatt, a member of the Montreal Canadians, back on Nov. 12.
In 17 games with the Coyotes, Pyatt has registered one goal and two assists. It has been a rough year for Pyatt who lost his fiancée in a car accident back in April. Despite the loss, Pyatt continues to be a second generation hockey player as his father, Nelson Pyatt, played a couple seasons in the NHL back in the 1970’s.
9) Shaun Heshka
Back on June 27, the Coyotes traded a 7th round draft pick to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Shaun Heshka. The trade has played off well for the Coyotes.
Heshka was called up from San Antonio after the Coyotes lost both Al Michalek and Ed Jovanovski due to injury. In seven games with the Coyotes, Heshka has shown that he deserves to keep his position as a member of the Coyotes. Heshka isn’t known as scoring defenseman. In fact the last time Heshka scored a goal was back when he played with the Everett Silvertips back in the 2005-2006 season.
Heshka has registered two assists during his seven game try-out with the Coyotes. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Coyotes hold onto Heshka after Michlaek and Jovanovski return from their injury. Heshka has a bright future as a member of the Coyotes and his time has just begun.
8) Jason LaBarbera
It appears as though the Vancouver Canucks were simply giving away all of their players to the Coyotes. Jason LaBarbera is the third former Canucks to be included on this list.
LaBarbera is a back-up goalie plain and simple. During preseason, he won the back-up position after beating out former Coyotes back-up goalie Al Montoya. However, I have just received word that the San Antonio Rampage has fired their Head Coach. Perhaps, Montoya will be able to learn from Assistant Coach Ray Edwards who was named interim Head Coach.
Meanwhile, LaBarbera has appeared in five games this season posting a 1-3 record. While LaBarbera is not my favorite acquisition he has made his presence know on the ice.
I expect LaBarbera to turn things around when he is in net. While the record of 1-3 isn’t that impressive you have to take in that he played against playoff caliber teams in the Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabers, New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lighting. LaBarbera also played in games where the Coyotes were skating without top players such as Matthew Lombardi and Jovanovski. With Montoya struggling in San Antonio, LaBarbera’s position appears safe for now.
Watch Jason LaBarbera give tips on how to play goalie:
7) Sami Lepisto
One player that the Washington Capitals wish they could have back is Sami Lepisto. While the Capitals wished they could have him back the Coyotes have welcomed Lepisto with open arms.
Lepisto, comes from hockey royalty over in Finland. His father was a well-known Finnish defenseman and his godfather Jari Kurri is one of the greatest hockey players to ever come out of Finland.
While Lepisto struggled to find a regular spot in the line-up with the Capitals the Coyotes have given him a place he can call home. In 22 games with the Coyotes, Lepisto has all the makings of becoming a great defenseman in the NHL. Lepisto is currently tied for 11th place on the Coyotes with four assists.
While the season is still young I think we have only seen the beginning of what promises to be a great season for Lepisto and the Phoenix Coyotes. At the end of the season don’t be surprised to see Lepisto leading the defense in assists.
6) Paul Bissonnette
If you have read my articles before, you would know that Bissonnette is my favorite Phoenix Coyotes. If you haven’t read my articles before well now you know!
Bissonnette’s role as a member of the Coyotes is being the enforcer and Bissonnette has played that role very well. Bissonnette currently leads the team in penalty minutes and he will probably lead the team at the end of the season in penalty minutes.
After failing to make the Pittsburgh Penguins team, it didn’t take long for the Coyotes to find their enforcer. Bissonnette has become a popular member of the Coyote organization and an opponent’s headache. In one of my earlier articles I compared Bissonnette to former Toronto Maple Leaf bad-boy Tie Domi, the guy is that good.
Bissonnette is not going to lead the team in anything but penalty minutes. He currently ranks 15 in the NHL in penalty minutes that includes missing the first few games of the season after signing with the Coyotes back on Oct. 1. Don’t be surprised to see his ranking climb as the NHL takes notice of the new NHL bad-boy.
5) Jim Vandermeer
Jim Vandermeer is one of the few Coyotes defensemen who has played in every single game this season.
After coming over from Calgary in exchange for Brandon Prust back in June, it appears as though the Coyotes got the better deal out this trade. Vandermeer is one of the few Coyotes that is very consistent. I have yet to see Vandermeer have a bad game.
Instead, Vandermeer has served as a valuable member of the Coyote organization due to the absence of Jovanovski, Michalek and Kurt Sauer. When Vandermeer is on the ice, goaltenders Ilya Brygalov and LaBarbera feel a lot safer knowing that Vandermeer is right around the corner.
When the Coyotes are healthy they have one of the top young defenses in the NHL and having a veteran such as Vandermeer in the lineup, Vandermeer makes the young defenders mature as the Coyotes continue on their dream season.
4) Vernon Fiddler
Did someone say veteran leadership? Fiddler has made an impacting debut as a member of the Coyotes. Like Vandermeer, Fiddler has appeared in all 23 games this season. And like Vandermeer, he has stepped up for the hurting Coyotes.
The biggest loss that the Coyotes have had to deal with this season was losing Jovanovski. During his absence, Fiddler has taken over the Assistant Captain spot which was held by Jovanovski.
I would welcome the argument that Fiddler deserves to be higher on this list because Fiddler is having an excellent start to the season. I’m not really sure what the Nashville Predators were thinking when they decided to let Fiddler skate away from them.
While the Coyotes are in contention for a playoff birth, the Predators are not quite there yet. Fiddler on the other hand has enjoyed his stay as a member of the Coyotes playing in some crucial games and coming up big when the Coyotes needed him.
Fiddler currently has three goals on the season as well as seven assists. While the Coyotes do not have a premier scorer this season the Coyotes instead have played as a team. Players like Vernon Fiddler should not be free agents. However, what Nashville didn’t want the Coyotes have secured themselves a leader who can be relied on to help them continue to win games.
3) Robert Lang
Did someone say leader? While this isn’t the Robert Lang that the NHL is used to, it is still Robert Lang!
In what could be his final season in the NHL after signing with the Coyotes back on Sept. 29, Lang has shown why he has played in the NHL for over 16 seasons.
Age is only a number when we discuss Lang. Lang, when healthy, is a 25-30 goal scorer something which the Coyotes desperately need. Lang currently has five goals and seven assists on the season. If he continues to stay healthy I would not be surprised to see Lang finish the season with over 30 goals.
A player of his stature normally wouldn’t be a last minute addition to any team. However, after missing 32 games last season several teams thought they had seen the last of Lang. Instead, while everyone thought he was done the Coyotes came calling. Lang has yet to miss a game this season and provides veteran leadership to young organization. While he might not be a Hall of Famer, fans will never forget Robert Lang.
2) Adrian Aucoin
The Calgary Flames made another mistake this past off-season when allowing Adrian Aucoin go to free agency and sign with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Aucoin, 36, has not shown any signs of slowing down after signing a one year deal with the Coyotes. If I was Don Maloney I would not repeat the mistakes the Flames did by letting Aucoin go. The Coyotes had a great off-season when it comes to signing free agents. One of the top free agents they picked up was Aucoin.
Like Fiddler, Aucoin has taken over the other Assistant Captain spot while Michalek and Jovanovski continue to heal from their injuries. While the duo has been nursing their injuries, Aucoin has taken over. He is currently tied with Robert Lang for third place in points. If anyone had any questions as to whether or not Aucoin or Lang still had it that last sentence proves that these veterans can still play.
On almost any team Aucoin would be the top free agent signing. However, there is one other player that has played better than Aucoin and could contend for Team MVP if he continues his magical season and that person is…
Watch one of Adrian's recent goals here:
1) Radim Vrbata
Raise your hand if you had Radim Vrbata leading the Phoenix Coyotes in goals. If someone told me that Vrbata would be leading the team in goals 23 games into the season I would have looked at you funny.
Instead, what’s funny is that Vrbata is currently one of the best players on the Coyotes roster. This isn’t the first time Vrbata has played with the Coyotes. Back in 2008, Vrbata appeared in 76 games for the Coyotes while scoring 27 goals and 29 assists. Vrbata has all the makings of having a career season with his second stint as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes.
However, it was as though Vrbata never left the Coyotes. Back in 2008, Vrbata signed a three-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lighting. During the 2008-09 season, he asked permission to return to the Czech Republic citing that his wife was having difficulty during pregnancy. Vrbata would not play another game for the Lighting.
Instead, on July 21, 2009, Vrbrata was traded back to the Coyotes in exchange for David Hale and Todd Fedoruk this trade would be the biggest trade that the Coyotes made this off-season. Vrbata has dominated the puck this season making up for Shane Doan’s “quiet” start to the season. While I do not believe that Vrbata will finish the season leading the team in goals. However, what I do believe is that Vrbata will provide a great service to the Coyotes as the Coyotes hope to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Watch Vrbata's impact on the ice here: