BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Phoenix Coyotes
Preface: I know we've all been waiting for September forever, but now that it's here, I can't stand it.
I'm way too busy. I think I have three articles due to day, which could possible be as high as five at the end of the day. Needless to say, I'm tired and I need a nap.
And no, I'm not resorting to posting at 1am in the morning, but I'm getting pretty close to being nocturnal.
Anyhow, I'm done with that for know. I guess I'm just a wuss.
The Phoenix Coyotes were never "we're going to challenge for the Cup" good.
They were "we're going to sneak into the first round" good, but they've always been ousted once they made it to the playoffs, losing two series in five games, one series in six games, and two in seven.
The day may be arriving though, that the Phoenix Coyotes may actually see second round hockey.
Oli Jokinen-F (Trade), David Hale-D (F.A.), Brian McGratton-F (Trade), Kurt Sauer-D (F.A.), Todd Fedoruk-F (F.A.)
Keith Ballard-D (Trade), Nick Boynton-D (Trade), David Aebischer-G (F.A.), Mike York-F (F.A.), Pavel Brendl-F (F.A.), Niko Kapanen-F (Europe), Radim Vrbata-F (F.A.), Marcel Hossa-F (F.A.)
How did 2007/08 go?
38-37-7, 83 points, 12th in Conference, fourth in Pacific division
Top ten in Conference, make the playoffs.
Let's break'er down...
Now throughout this series, I've tried to say something inspirational about the team, or a little speech about how they "aren't all bad" if they've been terrible in recent memory, or how "dominance is enviable" if they're good.
I just miss the Winnipeg Jets. Leave the 'Yotes in Phoenix because I kind of like them there, but I miss the Jets. These are things that I think you should know (It's been FOREVER since I've used that line....I missed it....look for it to make a comeback!).
Feel that Bryz(galov) blowing between your ears?
I almost went with legs instead of ears, as a goalie joke. Then I thought about the children who read this column. Then my girlfriend called and said "kids don't read your column but maybe one day they will". I don't know what prompted her to call and say that but she did.
Now I'm worried.
Anyways, as some always thought, Ilya Bryzgalov is a good goalie, maybe even a great goalie, who was able to prove coming out of Anaheim, that he could handle the load once he left J.S. Giguere's shadow. Overcoming a slow start (2-3, 2.55 GAA, .909 save percentage with Anaheim), Bryzgalov won 26 games for the Coyotes, posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.43 GAA.
He's never had a season below .500, and he's only ever posted a GAA over 2.50 in the NHL once (2005 with a 2.51) and with an improving Coyotes team, Bryzgalov could be good for 30 wins, and a surprise Vezina candidate.
For a while, Leafs fans were treating Mikael Tellqvist as the next starter, and we were happy to have the future set. Then, he seemed to erode a bit, and all of the sudden he was worth little more than Tyson Nash.
Tyson Nash never played a game for the Leafs. At least I don't think so. If he did, then there's a reason I never payed attention to him.
Anyways, since then, Tellqvist has provided Phoenix with little more than an admirable backup presence, and a fill-in until Al Montoya is ready to take some minutes at the NHL level. Once Bryzgalov's contract is up though, Montoya will have hopefully developed the consistency to be a starter at the NHL level—because he has established that he has some of the skills to get him there.
Doan't stop believ'in....sometimes it just takes a little time....
For a couple of seasons, Shane Doan was the best player the Coyotes had. Although he had the tools (The size, grit, and two-way ability) he didn't have the talent surrounding him, or the playmaking consistency to be "the guy" in Phoenix. Following the signing of Doan's five-year extension though, the worry for years that Doan's time in Phoenix would be put to bed was put to rest, and Doan found himself in a scenario where a young, exciting team was being built around him.
Following seven straight 20-goal seasons (and one 30 goal season following the lockout), Doan will be looking to pair up with one of Phoenix's young stars to further improve his production.
Peter Mueller is one of those players, and although the Minnesota native isn't the biggest, strongest, or fastest skater in the league, Mueller has the goal scoring ability to help improve Doan's assist totals. Following a debut 20-goal season, I wouldn't be surprised if Mueller put up 25-30 this season now that he's got his legs under him.
Martin Hanzal meanwhile, has the ability to be a great playmaker for the Young 'Yotes. At 6'5 he's got a very long reach, and great hockey senses, which allow him to exploit holes in the opposition's ranks, and find the open man. While he'll have the skills in a few years to turn almost any linemate into an almost 20-goal scorer, Hanzal may struggle this year as he gets accustomed to his size at the NHL level.
Then you've got Kyle Turris—the highly touted BCHL product who forwent his time in College to join the Coyotes late last season. Although he had one assist in his first three games, Turris is making a big jump in levels of hockey, and although he has the instincts and skills to get by on, it'll be a few years before his body grows into itself, and Turris is used to taking the consistent abuse at the NHL level.
Three of the biggest acquisitions though this offseason for the Coyotes were Brian McGratton, Todd Fedoruk, and Oli Jokinen. While Jokinen will provide a big body and adept scoring presence (Three straight 30-goal seasons with Florida, and two 80+ point seasons in the past three years), it's Fedoruk and McGratton that will help the most.
With their addition, Daniel Carcillo is now free from his league-leading 300+ penalty minute status, and is now expected to use his hands to score a few more goals, rather than rough the opposition up so often. Remember, he had five goals in his last two games last season, and he's scored in the 20-30 range before. If he can stay out of the box, he's going to surprise a lot of people.
Steven Reinprecht will be able to provide some slight scoring depth, but he'll also be expected to play a strong two-way game on an offensive-minded Phoenix team. With an increase in the talent around him though, Steve Reinprecht may flourish a little more than he has, and he may reach 20-goal, 50-point potential once again.
Meanwhile, Viktor Tikhonov may surprise this season, especially with some of the talent surrounding him, while Enver Lisin will definitely benefit from being surrounded from so many playmakers this year, and for years to come.
At least it's not as bad as the opening scene from 'JovoCop'
Ed Jovanovski will once again lead a very underrated defense. Jovanovski has turned one of the most questionable decisions of his career in signing with Phoenix, to one of the best for his future, as his tough nature and natural ability make him the perfect choice to lead this corps.
With all of the potential he could be paired with, Jovanovski could shatter his career-high 17 goals (along with some extended power play time) and could eclipse last year's 50 points.
Over the past few seasons, Derek Morris' point production has fallen off a bit, but he's still a solid defender and number two option. Like Jovo, Morris' shot and play, will benefit from the talent surrounding him.
Kurt Sauer was the main shut-down guy in Colorado last season, and he came $2 million cheaper than Jeff Finger. Zbynek Michalek turned in a solid season after breaking his hand early, and his offensive numbers should bounce back, while his defense should improve from last year.
With a few more seasons, Keith Yandle should also be a great offensive defenseman, but his defensive fine tuning—like most young d-men—will take a little work.
So what's it all mean?
To be honest, I have a very difficult time believing that the Coyotes won't take the Pacific division by storm.
The young, growing defense will be dangerous, the forwards are deadly, and Bryzgalov may be one of the more underrated netminders in the game. Or he could just be unproven.
Because it can still be considered a year of flux, and some of them are still untested though, I still need to see the 'Yotes in action to believe it.
But I really can't wait to see it.
4th in Pacific Division
Oh, and here's a link to his L.A. Kings preview, which had BT surprised with all the wealth of response. Thanks Kings fans!!!
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