Top 10 Phoenix Coyotes Who Need To Step Up This Season

Derek PivkoCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2010

Top 10 Phoenix Coyotes Who Need To Step Up This Season

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    The hardest question in sports is “what if?” The question "what if" is a question which sports journalists love to throw into their articles talking about for what would have been. For the Phoenix Coyotes, the question “what if” became a reality for the 2009-2010 NHL season.

    The Coyotes endured the longest off-season heading into the 2009-2010 season. In May 2009, when teams were competing for the Stanley Cup, the Coyotes were facing a competition that affects millions of families in the United States, bankruptcy. 

    On May 5, 2009 billionaire Jim Balsille made an offer to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes after former Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes filed for bankruptcy.

    Balsille announced plans for the Coyotes to move back to Canada if he acquired the franchise. With the threat of uncertainty in the air, season ticket owners put their tickets on hold as they waited for a court ruling.

    The court ruling went against Balsille, as his third run of purchasing an NHL franchise failed.

    However, the Coyotes were still left without an owner. Who in their right mind would purchase a team which has lost over $200 million since their arrival to Phoenix? The Coyotes are still looking for an owner as the NHL is currently operating the team.

    Sports journalists immediately wrote off the Phoenix Coyotes when former Head Coach Wayne Gretzky stepped down as Head Coach 10 days shy to the start of the regular season.

    Little did hockey fans know that a new coach would be revealed who would lead the Coyotes into the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season.

    Enter Dave Tippet, the former Dallas Stars Head Coach, who would along with General Manager Don Maloney who changed the word pretenders in the Coyotes' dictionary into contenders.

    After years in the bottom of the NHL cellar the Coyotes escaped exile in October 2009 when they tied their franchise record for wins a month, as the NHL slowly started to take notice of players such as Ilya Bryzgalov, who was named second star in the month of October.   

    Records for the Coyotes were being shattered left and right. The Coyotes were dominant in the first half of the NHL season, winning 25 of their first 41 games, including setting a franchise record in the month of December by winning 10 games and outscoring their opponents 32-13.

    The Coyotes were winning games without fancy television contracts. They rarely appeared on Versus and appeared once on NBC during Game 6 of the first round series against the Detroit Red Wings.

    Instead, the Coyotes fan base stayed loyal as the team appeared on Fox Sports Arizona and for those who are fortunate enough to have NHL Center Ice were able to watch the season unfold for the Coyotes.

    The Coyotes lost key names who helped established last years run including Matthew Lombardi and Zbynek Michalek who were too expensive to resign.

    Both Lombardi and Michalek played on the Coyotes top-line and it is hard to replace players at their caliber. Lombardi signed with the Nashville Predators, as Michalek went on to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    However, the 2009-2010 has passed us. You can only talk about last year so much since the past is beyond us and it’s time to focus on the present. The Coyotes are almost a week away before the regular season starts in Prague, Czech Republic, against the Boston Bruins on Versus. 

    With a new season upon us, here at Bleacher Report we break down the Top 10 Phoenix Coyotes players who can help make this season better than last season.

10) Kyle Turris

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    Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney couldn’t have praised Kyle Turris enough in the offseason.

    Turris, 19, the third overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes, would have been in the NHL faster if he played on another franchise. Granted he played 63 games in 2008-2009 season.

    However, Don Maloney didn’t want to rush the youngster into the NHL, so Turris was placed in the AHL, where he could develop what is expected to be an excellent career. Maloney also didn’t want to give Turris a roster position; he had to earn it.

    When Matthew Lombardi went on to sign with the Predators, it looked as though Turris was a lock to make the team. Instead, the Coyotes brought in NHL veteran Eric Belanger and Kyle Wellwood to compete for a Center position with the Coyotes.

    The Coyotes ended up releasing Wellwood last week after Turris had a successful preseason and earned his position with the Coyotes.

    What can we expect from Turris? While he won’t lead the team in scoring or assists, he will be a young asset to an already younger organization.

    Turris spent last season in San Antonio waiting for his opportunity and now that he is with the Coyotes, it will be up to him to decide what he will bring to the team.

    The Coyotes have an abundance of talent in San Antonio, including Mikkel Boedker, Brett MacLean, and Sean Sullivan, who are only a call up shy from the Coyotes. If Turris can be an effective center for the Coyotes, it will only be a matter of time before fans forget about Matthew Lombardi.  

9) Oliver Ekman-Larrson

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    When the Coyotes drafted Oliver Ekman-Larrson in the 2009 NHL Draft, it was only a matter of time until Ekman-Larrson made the team.

    It took one year until Ekman-Larrson made the roster, and in his rookie year, he is already a candidate for the Calder Memorial Trophy given to the best rookie in the NHL.

    Ekman-Larrson arrived at the right time, as the Coyotes lost Zbynek Michalek in the offseason and can lose Ed Jovanovski as he is in his contract year.

    When the Coyotes drafted Ekman-Larrson, they projected him as the future top defenseman for the Coyotes. If Ekman-Larrson does produce this year the Coyotes could let go of Jovanovski who is one of the top paid players for the Coyotes.

    It is only a matter of time until Ekman-Larrson and Keith Yandle are the top defensive line for the Phoenix Coyotes. Could this be a trial run for Ekman-Larrson this year?

    Ekman-Larrson is currently the youngest player in the franchise.

    How is that for high expectations?

8) Ray Whitney

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    While the Coyotes lost key players in the off-season, the biggest off-season acquisition was Ray Whitney.

    While Whitney is getting towards the end of his career, he is still 38 years young. “The Wizard” brings experience to a young Coyote staff where he can mentor players like Wojtek Wolski and Scottie Upshall who are the future of the franchise.

    Another commodity that Whitney brings is Stanley Cup experience. In his first season with the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2006, he lead the Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup.

    Can Whitney’s guidance lead the Coyotes to a Stanley Cup before he sails into the Phoenix desert?

    Time can only tell. 

7) Lee Stempniak

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    No goaltender could stop Stempniak in March.

    After the Coyotes acquired Stempniak at the trade deadline in exchange for a fourth- and a seventh-round draft pick, Stempniak went on a tear throughout the month of March.

    In one week, Stempniak scored five goals in a span of three games and finished the month with 13 goals, earning him NHL Player of the Month honors.

    During the off-season, the Coyotes rewarded their new sharpshooter to a two-year contract extension. The Coyotes had to wait before they could re-sign due to Stempniak becoming a married man, and he put his marriage life before hockey contracts.

    Isn’t that sweet?

    The Coyotes were able to lock Stempniak to a two-year deal and hope that Stempniak’s brilliance back in March will prevail throughout the entire hockey season. However, the NHL has taken note of the former Ivy League graduate.

    If Stempniak can be an efficient scorer, which the Coyotes desperately need, then the Coyotes won’t have to depend on Ilya Bryzgalov to help them win games.    

6) Derek Morris

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    Who gets the opportunity to replace one of the best Coyotes defenseman ever had in Zbynek Michalek?

    It comes to no surprise that Derek Morris was brought back to the Coyotes when the contract of Zbynek Michalek would expire at the end of the season. Morris will be upgraded to play alongside Ed Jovanovski on the top line this year.

    While Jovanovski is in his contract year, meaning that we are unsure about his whereabouts for next season, we do know that Morris is here to stay. Morris signed a four-year deal back in July worth $11 million.

    Morris is a valuable leader to the Coyote franchise. While the Coyotes have Shane Doan as their captain, the Coyotes can always depend on Morris to provide leadership of his own.

    Morris has been an Assistant with the Coyotes in the past and surprisingly wasn’t named an Assistant this year as the Coyotes named Keith Yandle and Ed Jovanovski as Assistant Captains.

    Morris has never been a goal scorer. During his 12 year NHL career, Morris has only put up double digit scoring once. However, Morris reads his opponents and can find his team mates to put the puck in the net.

    While the Coyotes lost a top defenseman in Michalek, Morris doesn’t believe a decline in defense with young players including Ekman-Larrson, Keith Yandle, and Sami Lepisto can help anchor the Coyotes back into the playoffs.

5) Scottie Upshall

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    Oh, Scottie Upshall, how we missed you.

    And please don’t scare us like that again, Mr. Upshall.

    Scottie Upshall was the team leader in scoring in points throughout the better half of the season until a season ending torn his ACL cost him a career high season. Yes, despite only playing 49 games last year, Upshall posted a career high in scoring with 18 goals.

    If Upshall stayed healthy, there is no question that he would have been the only Phoenix Coyote to score 30 goals last year.

    Instead, with the loss of Scottie Upshall, the Coyotes went on a trade splurge, acquiring scoring talents in Lee Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski. Which makes Coyote fans question if Upshall hadn’t torn his ACL last year, would the Coyotes have acquired Stempniak and Wolski?

    The other question that Coyotes fan ask themselves is if Upshall stayed healthy and the trade acquisitions happened and Shane Doan stayed healthy would the Coyotes have made a deeper run into the playoffs?

    For starters, let's go back down Memory Lane and remember just what happened in last years playoffs. Did we forget that the Philadelphia Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Finals, let alone the Washington Capitals being eliminated in the first round?

    While there weren’t a lot of surprises in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Coyotes did get a lot of recognition by taking the Detroit Red Wings to Game 7.

    However, if Upshall and Doan were in the lineup we might have been talking about a couple shakeups in the Western Conference bracket, which makes me eager for the upcoming season.

4) Ed Jovanovski

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    The Coyotes do not have the same top defensive line as they had last year. With the loss of Zbynek Michalek, it will up to Assistant Captain Ed Jovanovski to prove that he is one of the premier defenders in the NHL. We also cannot forget that Jovanovski is skating into his contract year.

    Will the Coyotes be able to sign their talented defenseman in the off-season? Jovanovski is scheduled to make $6.5 million this year, which is more than any other player on the Coyotes.

    We can also not forget that the Coyotes are without an owner and are being funded by the NHL. Michalek wanted more money and got a huge increase by joining the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    If the Coyotes want to resign Jovanovski they are going to have to offer him less money than he’s getting in Phoenix.

    Let’s stop talking about money for a second and talk about how important Jovanovski is to the Coyote franchise. He is an intimidating force on the ice and the Coyotes were a different team when Jovanovski wasn’t playing due to suspensions or injuries.

    Jovanovski is a voice to a young Coyote team, and the team desperately needs him to stay healthy this year and not avoid the suspensions as much as possible.

    Jovanovski is also a defensive scorer who was second in defense in both goals and assists (trailing only to Keith Yandle), then again Jovanovski only played 66 games compared to Yandle’s 82 games.

    If Jovanovski can stay out of the penalty box and injury free, the Coyotes not only have a great chance to win 50 games for the second consecutive season, but then some.

3) Wojtek Wolski

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    It wouldn’t surprise me at the very least if Wojtek Wolski ends up leading the team in scoring this year. Wolski was acquired at the trade deadline after the Coyotes sent ineffective forward Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter.

    The Coyotes were the talk of the trade deadline and Wolski did most of the talking on the ice where he finished the season leading the Coyotes in points.

    While the Coyotes didn’t have a 30-goal scorer last season I firmly believe that Wolski can change that this year.

    There was one change that Wolski almost endured during the offseason when there was talks of changing Wolski’s position to Center. The Coyotes are overloaded in talent at the forward position and lacking at the Center position. Instead, the Coyotes decided if it ain’t broken, why fix it?

    This was the best acquisition that the Phoenix Coyotes made since claiming Ilya Bryzgalov off waivers back in November of 2007. For those who haven’t done their fantasy hockey draft and want to win the league, draft Wolski or trade for him.

    Wolski is expected to produce high numbers for the Coyotes this year, and there is no reason to doubt that he will produce.

2) Ilya Bryzgalov

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    You can’t talk about career seasons without mentioning the name Ilya Bryzgalov.

    Last year Bryzgalov emerged in the conversation of one of the Top 5 NHL Goalies after being second in the league in shutouts (8) and third in wins (42).

    While there is no I in team, there is an I in Ilya Bryzgalov and Ilya Bryzgalov was the Team MVP of the Phoenix Coyotes last season. Believe it or not, Bryzgalov did not set every record last year for the Coyotes.

    Bryzgalov is only 23 wins shy of setting the all-time Phoenix Coyotes record in wins. If Bryzgalov starts off with another hot start like he did last season he could surpass the record in January.

    Besides all-time leader in wins, Bryzgalov is only six shutouts away from the Coyotes all-time leader in shutouts.

    What makes this season and last season different from Bryzgalov is that this is his contract year. If the Coyotes could only resign one player for next season whose contract is up, this would be the player to sign to a long-term contract.

    By the time the season ends, Bryzgalov will hold every major Coyotes goalie records which the majority are held by current Goaltending Coach Sean Burke.

    It is an understatement to say how important Bryzgalov is to the Coyote franchise. You can’t mention Phoenix Coyotes without mentioning Ilya Bryzgalov.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Bryzgalov had a better season than he had last year.

    Could you imagine if last season was just a tune up for this year? It is a lock that Bryzgalov will win at least 35 games and veteran backup Jason LaBarbera can win close to 10 games.

    However, if Bryzgalov can beat my odds of winning over 40 games, then the Coyotes are capable of returning to the 50-win category like they were in last year.

1) Shane Doan

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    The day Shane Doan retires from the NHL will be a heartbreaking day for the Phoenix Coyotes, as Doan is the greatest captain of the Coyotes, like Mark Messier was for the New York Rangers but better.

    Shane Doan was there for mainly the bad days and stayed around for the most memorable season in Coyote history. Doan was a Coyote before they relocated to Phoenix.

    Last season Shane Doan celebrated a highly respected milestone by playing 1,000 career games with the same organization.

    Doan spent his rookie season as a member of the Winnipeg Jets and the year after, Doan has called Phoenix his home.

    Doan has seen several players comes and go during his tenure with the Phoenix Coyotes. He has seen coaches leave before him and in the end there is only one Shane Doan.

    When Doan does call it career it wouldn’t surprise me if he holds a position in the Phoenix Coyotes. One position I could see Doan handling successfully is General Manager.

    In my opinion the Coyotes currently have the best General Manager in the NHL, but could you imagine Shane Doan being in the front office?

    Before we could talk about the future we need to talk about the present. While Shane Doan didn’t have a successful statistical season last year, he did guide the Coyotes into the post-season for the first time since the  2001-2002 season.

    While Doan did miss the last two games in the post-season due to injury, he was a striving force into a season which no one will ever forget.

    If the Coyotes want to top last season, they will need to look up to their Captain. Who wouldn’t want to look up to their Captain?

    This season Shane Doan will be in similar status to Ilya Bryzgalov in terms of shattering records. While Doan is currently the all-time leader in goals, assists, points, and penalty minutes, he is 52 games shy of passing former team-mate Teppo Numminen for the all-time Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes career leader in games played.

    Once Doan passes Numminen’s record, Shane Doan will have every single important Coyote record meaning Shane Doan is above the Phoenix Coyotes. For some hockey players, this might mean they would have an ego and that he isn’t a team player.

    This would be the polar opposite for Shane Doan. He is still the same player that he was during his rookie season, he’s the first one on the ice and the last to leave. In fact that last statement being last to leave serves double meaning.

    While the Coyotes had several bad seasons where players faster before they could unpack their bags, Doan never left.

    He never complained, instead he kept practicing with different coaches who thought they would change the organization the way current Head Coach Dave Tippett did in the span of the year.

    Throughout this article you have read about Phoenix Coyotes players who need to step up. However, the most important player on any sports team is their Captain. If Shane Doan struggles, the entire team struggles. If Shane Doan succeeds then the entire team succeeds.

    It’s that simple.  

    If the Coyotes return to the post-season it won’t be because of some hot-shot scorer they acquired last season at the trade player or the player who is responsible for keeping the puck out of the net, it is what their Captain does. The Captain will either celebrate with their team or go down for with their team.

    In the end, Shane Doan will be the success or failure for the upcoming season for the Phoenix Coyotes.