The Phoenix Coyotes' Shocking Season

Matt ShottContributor IJanuary 16, 2009

We are just over the halfway mark of the season, and surprisingly the Phoenix Coyotes have a two-point cushion for seventh place in the extremely talented Western Conference. 

Of course, the Coyotes success this year is being overshadowed by the Canadian media’s constant ridicule of the team’s financial crisis. 

Granted they have every right in the world to focus on Phoenix in particular—it was this city that stole the Jets from Canada.

But that is years in the past. Get over it Canada—I'm sure you will get one back eventually. Chances are it won’t be the Coyotes, though, as Coach Wayne Gretzky has repeatedly told the media that he is devoting everything he has into making this team stay. 

That sound you heard were 50 fans breathing a heavy sigh of relief. 

Now that we have passed the midpoint mark of the season, I think it is time to dish out a few awards to our beloved team.

Some awards are good self-esteem boosters, while others might make a player cry a little bit—but let’s face it, we can’t all be positive about this season or we would be first place. 

Let’s get started.

MVP: Shane Doan

How can any person overlook Shane Doan for this award? Obviously, they don’t know Phoenix Coyotes hockey if their choice is someone else. 

Shane Doan is the Phoenix Coyotes, and this team would absolutely crumble without his leadership. He is the perfect player to help show these young kids what hard work and perseverance will bring you as a hockey player. 

If the 'Yotes do indeed keep their pace and make it to the playoffs, Doan absolutely has to be considered for the Hart Trophy—especially if he is able to break the 90-point barrier (right now, he is on pace for 78 in 82, but is known to kick it up a notch Emeril style down the stretch).

Again, I preach that without Shane Doan there would not be any Phoenix Coyotes, so no more trade rumors about him leaving the desert, Mr. Anonymous Rumor Blogger (e5).

Top Defenseman: Zbynek Michalek

I would also like to award Zibby with another award—the most underrated defenseman in the league. If Zibby was playing in Canada or any other hockey-loving city, he would not be as underrated. 

If you watch the way he absolutely sacrifices his body every shift night in and night out which is what a defenseman is supposed to do. He’s not the flashy goal-scorer, he is the stay at home hard-working defenseman—and that, I think, is what the Norris trophy criteria should be, the best DEFENSE-man. 

At least give a Selke-esque award that is given to the best defensive defenseman instead of giving it to the defenseman that scores the most.

Biggest shock thus far (positively): Mikael Boedker

Player-wise, yes. The overall biggest shock—um, how about us being in the playoffs if the season ended today? 

His combination of speed and strength continues to amaze me when I watch him play.  The fact that he is our lone Young Star shows that he was the most prepared to play in the big leagues.

Honorable mention: Joakim Lindstrom.  Who knew this minor deal made with the Ducks would be so good? This kid has got moves, a shot, and some size. Oh yea, and he is young, the perfect fit for this blooming Phoenix team.

Biggest shock thus far (negatively): Ilya Bryzgalov

Man, when he is on, he is unbeatable—but then he goes on the road and absolutely screws the pooch. His inconsistency is going to be the death of this team.

In order for the Coyotes to continue their strong push for the playoffs, he is really going to need to step up and be that unbeatable goalie that he knows he can be.  Fortunately we have our boy Mikael Tellqvist backing him up and doing wonderfully in that role. 

Honorable mention: Peter Mueller. I guess he is not suffering as bad of a sophomore curse as other players but he just isn’t coming in as clutch as one would think, especially given how much he worked in the offseason. 

I'm sure he will come around and start producing the goals we need him to score down the stretch.

Most Improved Player: Martin Hanzal

It took him 72 games last year to score eight goals; so far in 44 games, he has 9.

So he has already improved, thanks to some offseason back surgery. Not to mention he is easily the Coyotes' best forward on the penalty kill.  Next year he should definitely be considered for the Selke award.

Most Unimproved Player: Dan Carcillo

I also award Mr. Carcillo the “WMDs are in Iraq” award for the worst prediction by a higher authority. 

Now what does that mean? Earlier in the preseason, Coach Wayne Gretzky predicted that Carcillo will not take as many penalties and score 40 goals in a year. Carcillo’s stats as of January 15: 2-2-4-113 in 37 games. 

He still takes the same stupid penalties and fights at the wrong times, but I guess he isn’t explaining to the refs his side of the story anymore so he is cutting back on his 10 minute misconduct penalties. 

He is currently on pace for 4-4-8-229.  Oh yeah—and he is tied with two others for the lowest plus-minus on the team. A great prediction by the Great One—only 38 more goals to go.

Best offseason acquisition: Olli Jokinen

Obviously the best move made was getting Olli Jokinen, who has helped giving the ‘Yotes the much needed secondary scoring that they lacked last year.

He also gives Phoenix the big number-one center to go up against all the other top centers in the Pacific Division. 

Granted he is not performing as well this season than he did for Florida, but he is getting the goals that count. Not to mention he is the only player who we put on the point during the power play that isn’t afraid to actually shoot the puck. 

Shoot the puck? What a marvelous idea—it’s so crazy it just might work.

The Stooge Award (Worst offseason acquisition)

How perfect that the stooge award goes to "Three" players: Todd Fedoruk, Garth Murray, and Brian McGrattan. 

Boy, does Gretz love his fighters.  Too bad Fedoruk, the Fridge, hasn’t fought more than twice this season.  We didn’t get him to score goals or produce big plays.  We got him for one reason and one reason only—to fight!  So far he has done it twice all year. 

Garth Murray almost made the cut for the final roster, but that would have been a huge mistake as he has done nothing very productive besides grind, and we have enough of those players. 

And finally, Brian McGrattan didn’t cost us anything much, but I guess you get what you paid for.  And off he goes to the substance abuse program.

The Three Stooges, ladies and gentlemen.

The Best Coaching Decision: Finally letting Enver Lisin stay 

It only took three years for Gretz to finally realize just how good this kid is. He is such a flashy player with his speed and hands, and deserves to be on this team. 

Just think—Wayne didn’t keep him on the team to start the season but almost kept "Party On" Garth (Murray).  It took an injury to Daniel Winnik for him to finally be able to show the coaching staff that he deserves to stick. 

On a side note: I would kill to see Boedker and Lisin in a fastest skater competition.

The Worst Coaching Decision: Kyle Turris

Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am pumped that he is on our team because he will be a superstar when he finally matures. But I think the coaching staff should have taken a page out of Anaheim’s book and let Turris mature while in the AHL. 

Look at Bobby Ryan and how well he has played since being called up this year.  That is because he was sent to the minors to learn the ropes down there before being finally allowed to come up and prove himself against the pros. 

K-Tizzle does make some good plays, but due to his scrawny physique he gets tossed around like a rag doll most of the game. 

I think he needed another year or two to develop before being allowed to move up to the big leagues, but I still think he will end up being one of the Coyotes best players in a year or two down the road. 

Until, then we just have to watch and hope for the best.

Alright...Some aspects of the game that we truly do need to change in order to make sure we get into the postseason:

Power Play

Our largest problem with our game is inability to connect on the man advantage.  We have tried Mueller at the point, Jokinen at the point, Boedker at the point, and even tried putting “Oh No” Jovo in front of the net (shocked that didn’t work). 

Nothing seems to work, we just can’t seem to settle down enough to be able to think about the right play to make.  We definitely do take our time—but in the wrong way, because we do not shoot enough. 

We move the puck around too much with no attack in mind.  In order to get better at the power play we need to shoot more. After all it was our coach that once said “100 percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.”

On the Road

If we played as well on the road this year as we did last year, we would be in fourth place easily. We were finally able to improve in front of the home crowd, but in return we decided to suck on the road. 

In order to get ourselves deeper into the playoff race, we will need to improve drastically on the road.  Return to the way we were last year and we should be able to take full control of the West. 

What we must realize is that we will not get home-ice advantage in the playoffs because we will not finish in the top four, so we need to improve our road play in order to succeed so whatever they did last year needs to be brought back from the dead.

Find Chemistry

This one is directed at Head Coach Wayne Gretzky: STOP SWITCHING LINES SO MUCH!!!

You can’t form chemistry with your teammates if every game you play with a different set of players then the game before. 

Look at the Red Wings, the Ducks, the Sharks, and any of the other top teams in the league. They keep the same players together unless it is overly obvious that they aren’t meshing well together and that is how chemistry is formed. 

There are times in the middle of the game that Gretz decides to switch the lines and that can be so confusing for a player and makes them have to readjust their game in order to thrive with his new linemate.