Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Phoenix Rising

The Phoenix Coyotes have made waves around the NHL. Whether it was because they have been the victim of amazing goals the past few years or because Don Maloney has set this team up to succeed in the future, the Coyotes are making headlines.
This past season, people were expecting the Coyotes to finish dead last in the league and be fighting for the first overall pick in the NHL Draft. However, with a little luck, the Coyotes' development accelerated a bit this season. Ilya Bryzgalov was a divine gift to Phoenix as he was placed on waivers during the season and provided a number one goaltender for the present and for the future. With that solid anchor in net, the defense is not under as much pressure to allow less shots. Obviously the idea isn't allow more shots on goal or to get too comfortable with a good goalie behind but it will make the defense be more relaxed and play a simpler, calmer game leading to less mistakes.
The offense had trouble all year putting up consistent numbers but the team managed to stay in playoff contention late into the season. Hard work and tough play brought them to their peak when they came East and ripped up the New York metropolitan area. They stuck with it until the last two weeks where it seemed fatigue burned them out.
Despite the poor finish, Maloney considered the season a success and continued the building plan that he started the previous summer. In an absolute surprise and I am sure it was to Don as well, he acquired a piece in Olli Jokinen that had been missing from the Coyotes since Jeremy Roenick was the number one center. Jokinen is a number one center which will help the team both offensively and defensively. With power forwards like Joe Thornton, Anze Kopitar, and Ryan Getzlaf, Jokinen will be able to counteract these guys. These three have really ripped the Coyotes up because of their lack of size down the middle but Jokinen changes that. Jokinen also allows young center Kyle Turris to develop in the NHL without going up against these bigger guys. Turris has gained some weight but not enough to go up against the bigger customers in the Western Conference.
With Jokinen coming to Phoenix, the Coyotes lost Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton. Both of these guys were minute eaters for the Coyotes and would certainly be tough to replace. Maloney went into free agency looking for defensemen, which these year's free agent crop was chock full of. But he wasn't looking at the big name guys that everyone was going for. When Maloney was said and done, he had signed Kurt Sauer and David Hale. Both of these guys are depth players that are young. Sauer is a big guy at 6'4 220 pounds and will be relied on to become a shutdown anchor on the blue line. Hale is a depth defenseman who is coming into his own as a reliable low pairing defender who can eat up minutes and play a sound defensive game. Maloney wasn't looking for flashy guys. When I talked to him at the Coyotes Rookie Open House, he said he was looking for "value" guys. And he certainly did that. 
The signings of Brian McGrattan and Todd Fedoruk were obviously to bring more toughness to an organization that was beginning to bring in a lot of younger players. But they are also here to cut down on Carcillo's penalty minutes so Danny can focus more on his offense rather than enforcing. He has offensive skills and the Coyotes believe he can be a 20-25 goal guy. With Fedoruk and McGrattan protecting the young players, that is certainly an attainable goal for Carcillo.
But this team isn't being built around these guys. The spearhead of this organization are the prospects who will be making their way up through the ranks in the AHL and the NHL. Kyle Turris will certainly make the team after playing 3 games last year. But other prospects will be looking to make the team out of camp such as Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov, Brett MacLean, Kevin Porter, and Chad Kolarik. Offensively, they will all be relied on to develop their offensive skills and help lead this team into the future along with sophomores Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Dan Carcillo, and Daniel Winnik. The Coyotes future is dependent on these young guys producing and becoming a core that this team will hold together for as long as possible. They will be lead by veterans Shane Doan, Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, and Steven Reinprecht. Wayne Gretzky and his staff are growing with the players and the organization. If the Coyotes stay the course, success can only be a short time away. 

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