The Desert Dogs of old were a complete joke. A complete country club team that didn’t hold any high regards in proper team building or hiring the right personnel. Now that there’s a new management in place, the Coyotes have made strides and have really become one of the West’s dark horses.
Bringing in Olli Jokinen was huge. The big centre, despite apparent locker room problems, brings an extra dynamic to the Coyotes’ gritty offense, and for the first time in a long time Shane Doan has a legitimate centre to play with. That’s not to saw that Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, or Martin Hanzal don’t have the talent, it’s just that they’re not quite there yet, and allowing them to really play with the truly underrated Doan and an elite centre in Jokinen will help them make big strides. The top six is well-rounded and talented, especially if Turris delivers, after much hype at the draft and being personally touted by Wayne Gretzky as one of the league’s future stars. After the team’s top six, however, it gets interesting. Dan Carcillo is really establishing himself as the league’s next Sean Avery without the comments, and it’ll be interesting to see when the division rivals match-up. Carcillo has good hands, as evidenced by his 13 goals, and plays a game that is actually quite similar to Doan’s. Needless to say, you can never have too many of those kind of players and Carcillo will be staying in the desert for quite some time. Then there’s Steven Reinprecht, the veteran who has somewhat faded into obscurity, but still provides a strong veteran presence. Then there’s the two new additions, Todd Fedoruk and Brian McGrattan. Traditionally most teams have carried only one or two enforcers, but the Coyotes felt that they needed more than what would’ve sufficed, and it remains to be seen if this is a good move or not. Neither player can provide regular minutes like Carcillo, and the Coyotes have hinted towards both players dressing for Opening Night.
Losing Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton hurt, but it’s nothing the Coyotes can’t overcome. Ed Jovanovski had a bounce-back season and is looking like the player the Coyotes committed $6.5m/year to. Derek Morris provides yet another veteran presence, and his increasing consistency made Boynton expendable, while Zbynek Michalek has also become another dependable body, averaging just over 21 minutes in ice-time last year. However, perhaps the most valuable player on their blue line could very well be the underrated Kurt Sauer. The former Av doesn’t do anything special, and his offensive game is close to non-existent, but he does use his 6’4″, 220 lbs. frame to great use and is as dependable a stay-at-home as any in the league. He won’t be expected to become a gamebreaker, but count on Gretzky to use him when protecting leads – the Coyotes posted only a .818 winning percentage when leading after 2 periods – a mediocre 22nd in the league.
Goaltending has always been a problem, but it won’t anymore with Ilya Bryzgalov on board for a full season. The Russian netminder is now a NHL starter, after playing second fiddle to Jean-Sebastien Giguere for some time in Anaheim. There’s nothing to worry about in this department.
Believe it or not, the Coyotes have tons of cap space. This is because asides from Jokinen and Jovanovski’s big contracts, and then Doan and Morris’ mid-level ones, everyone else is either on a rookie contract or sub-million contract. Don Maloney’s new philosophy is to not splurge on potential free agent busts, but to really build from within, and the Coyotes have done a great job in drafting over the past couple of years to keep their pipeline healthy and stocked. They could potentially make a run at a playoff spot and surprise some in the playoffs, and should that scenario be likely Maloney has tons of money to work with to land a big name player.
Shane Doan – Olli Jokinen – Peter Mueller
Dan Carcillo – Kyle Turris – Enver Lisin
Steven Reinprecht – Martin Hanzal – Mikkel Boedker
Todd Fedoruk – Dan Winnik – Joel Perrault
Zbynek Michalek – Ed Jovanovski
Kurt Sauer – Derek Morris
Keith Yandle – Matt Jones
Ilya Bryzgalov – Mikael Tellqvist
scratches: Brian McGrattan, Viktor Tikhonov, David Hale
Coach: Wayne Gretzky
GM: Don Maloney
Predicted finish: 4th Pacific, 8th West