Coyotes: 10 Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
The Phoenix Coyotes took important strides the past two seasons with back-to-back playoff appearances, but that has been tempered by significant free-agent departures of key players.
A year after losing top defenseman Zbynek Michalek and top-six forward Matthew Lombardi, the Coyotes saw star goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, veteran blueliner Ed Jovanovski and underrated center Vern Fiddler leave this past summer.
Few teams in the league are better coached, and the club's younger core is evolving, but those are damaging losses, and reasons why most people don't view the Coyotes as a playoff team this season.
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Atlantic: NJD | NYI | NYR | PHI | PIT
NE: BOS | BUF | MTL | OTT | TOR
SE: CAR | FLA | TMB | WAS | WPG
Central: CHI | CMB | DET | NSH | STL
NW: CGY | COL | EDM | MIN | VAN
Pacific: ANA | DAL | LAK | PHX | SAN
1. Lower expectations
The rest of the hockey world will see the departures of Bryzgalov and Jovanovski and assume the Coyotes are toast. That could help the club fly under the radar and catch teams by surprise, just as it did two seasons ago, when the Coyotes weren't expected to do anything.
"We may be able to sneak on people this year because, according to what I keep reading now, we're back to where we were two years ago, to being selected as one of the bottom teams," captain Shane Doan told ESPN.com. "Obviously, there are some challenges when you lose a goalie like Bryz and also guys like Jovo and Vern Fiddler."
2. There were some additions
GM Don Maloney doesn't sugarcoat the player departures, but he also is adamant his team will still compete.
"Honestly, in the last couple of years, we've lost not only the goalie, but a couple of other important players without getting anything back," Maloney told ESPN.com. "So generally, you'd have to think that's certainly not an overly positive thing. On the other hand, we've addressed some needs."
Maloney believes rugged winger Raffi Torres will have a nice impact after coming over from Vancouver; Boyd Gordon was brought in and Maloney sees a fit in replacing Fiddler's old checking role; and the Coyotes believe landing veteran center Daymond Langkow in August was key.
"Not only does he fill a real need, but he also gives credibility to the veterans in the room," said Maloney. "We still think we can get into the playoffs and win in the playoffs, and to do that while we continue to develop our franchise. I like our mix, I like our group. Do we have enough skill? I know we have good chemistry, we're a tighter group."
3. Need some saves
With former Vezina nominee Bryzgalov going to Philly, the Coyotes brought in Mike Smith as the new starter with Jason LaBarbera pushing from the backup role. It's not the kind of tandem that steals headlines, but the goalies will need to steal some games for the Coyotes to have a chance.
"If they can give us top-15 to top-10 goaltending in the league, then we're going to be fine," said Maloney. "If we don't get above-average goaltending, especially in our division, it's going to be a struggle. But I'm excited about Mike."
Maloney also believes goalie coach Sean Burke can have a nice impact on Smith.
"Don't forget, when Bryzgalov came here, there were some inconsistencies in his game and I really give tribute to Burkie ironing out a few things," said Maloney. "And I think Mike has been on the cusp of grabbing the ball and running with it. Now whether he does it? Time will tell. But that's going to be the key to our season."
We are more than happy to be proved wrong, but we don't see this duo getting the job done. This is a major red flag for the Coyotes.
4. The kids need to step up
The goaltending is the key, and so are the young players taking another stride.
The captain talked about how young players like Jamie Benn in Dallas, Bobby Ryan and Cam Fowler in Anaheim, Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson in L.A. and Logan Couture in San Jose had really stepped up for clubs within the Pacific last season.
"Those teams have all been picked up by their young guys and we need our young guys to pick us up," said Doan. "I know that's putting pressure on them and maybe they don't want to hear that, but that's the only way we're going to get any better. And I think they're capable of it, I really do."
Ekman-Larsson enters his sophomore season with a better idea of what to expect on this side of the ocean and his impact may be greater felt.
5. Keith Yandle
Yandle was second in the NHL among points by defensemen last season with a career-high 59, and yet the 25-year-old still doesn't get mentioned within the same group of elite blueliners. He deserves to be.
"He's incredible. He's so talented," said Doan. "He's not even close to peaking. He has another level to go to. If he was anywhere but in Phoenix, everybody would be talking about a superstar defenseman in the league. You see the talk about Drew Doughty and how great he is, and he certainly is; I'm not taking anything away from him. But Keith should be in the same conversation."
With Jovanovski gone, Yandle can't regress one inch. The Coyotes will be using him in more situations this season.
6. The Coyotes await an owner ... again
The Coyotes are still awaiting new ownership, and if they don't settle things by January, there are rumblings the team could move. After a while, though, you get used to the uncertainty.
"I don't think anyone ever fathomed it would be going on this long," said Doan. "As a group, I think we've become a little callous to it. We really accept the fact that we're not owned by anybody. It's one of those things we don't really talk about in our locker room."
7. Learning from the first round
The Coyotes, perhaps distracted by all the talk of the team moving, were absolutely waxed by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs. All that work to make the postseason and that's what happened? It left a bad taste among the players.
"To make the playoffs and lose in four straight is almost embarrassing. No, not almost, it is embarrassing," said Doan. "We didn't do nearly as well as we wanted to."
It's the kind of thing that might help fuel the fire early on this season. The Coyotes need all the motivational tools they can use.
8. The captain
Doan challenged his younger teammates, but he also pointed the finger at himself. He wants to be more productive this season than the team-leading 60 points (20-40) he registered last year.
"I've got to be better," said Doan. "The first 25 games, I think I had three points. It was so disappointing. But I'm looking forward to starting from the beginning this year. I expect to be better and I expect to have better numbers this year."
Doan is also slated for unrestricted free agency July 1, so a big season wouldn't hurt in that regard.
9. Financial flexibility
The Coyotes enter the season with a payroll just under $51 million, below the internal budget the NHL offices have allowed them to spend. So, if a deal is right, the Coyotes can add.
"We have some budget room to do some things now, whereas last year, we were right up against our internal cap and it was dollar in and dollar out," said Maloney. "Now we've got a little bit of room."
10. The power play
The Coyotes were 23rd on the power play last season, which actually was an improvement over the 28th-place ranking they had the year before. But the club was hoping for better things with power-play wizard Ray Whitney coming over last season. This is an area that must improve in order for the club to maximize its chances in tight games.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering ninth NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
• Dave Tippett enters his third season behind the Coyotes' bench. He won the Jack Adams Award two years ago as the league's top coach. He gets the most out of that Coyotes roster and deserves high praise for his work.
"Without a doubt, he's one of the top coaches in the game right now," said Maloney. "We're really lucky to have him. He'll figure out a way for us to win, I truly believe it. That's why if we get enough goaltending, we'll win some games. And this team is a Dave Tippett-type group. Maybe not a lot of razzle-dazzle, but they are solid players." -- Pierre LeBrun
Best bet: Keith Yandle
A total of 59 points in 2010-11 proves Keith Yandle's previous breakout season with Phoenix was no happy accident. Like many top fantasy performers, Yandle shoots plenty, plays a monster's share of minutes, runs the show on the man-advantage and doesn't hurt you in the plus-minus department. Any fantasy roster would benefit from his inclusion. -- Victoria Matiash
Risky pick: Mike Smith
A veteran of six NHL seasons, Smith has never performed up to standards. Just because he'll be handed the starting gig in Phoenix doesn't mean he'll be worth any more to us in Rotoland. Smith had every chance to secure the No. 1 job in Tampa last season; and while his 13 wins in 20 starts are impressive, his ratios (2.89 GAA and .899 save percentage) leave much to be desired. His ceiling is as a decent No. 2 in fantasy, and really is more suited to be an insurance policy on the bench. -- Tim Kavanagh
Sleeper pick: Mikkel Boedker
Boedker may need a bit more time to adjust to the NHL, but his time is coming. He spent some learning time in the AHL last season to help reset his development, and did just fine with 34 points in 36 games. Boedker will break out at some point over the next two seasons, so be ready to scoop him up when he does. -- Sean Allen
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Coyotes:
• May 20: Signed C Petteri Nokelainen.
• June 6: Re-signed G Jason LaBarbera.
• June 13: Named Jim Playfair associate coach.
• July 1: Signed G Mike Smith, LW Raffi Torres and C Boyd Gordon.
• July 2: Re-signed RW Radim Vrbata.
• July 2: Signed C Alex Bolduc.
• July 4: Signed G Curtis McElhinney and D Tyler Eckford.
• July 5: Re-signed D Keith Yandle.
• July 12: Named John Anderson assistant coach.
• July 19: Re-signed LW Brett MacLean.
• July 19: Signed C Kyle Chipchura.
• July 20: Re-signed LW Lauri Korpikoski.
• Aug. 5: Signed C Patrick O'Sullivan.
• Aug. 10: Re-signed C Viktor Tikhonov.
• Aug. 18: Re-signed LW Mikkel Boedker.
• Aug. 29: Acquired C Daymond Langkow from Calgary for RW Lee Stempniak.
• G Ilya Bryzgalov (traded to Philadelphia)
• D Ed Jovanovski (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida)
• C Vernon Fiddler (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas)
• C Andrew Ebbett (unrestricted free agent, signed by Vancouver)
• C Eric Belanger (unrestricted free agent, signed by Edmonton)
• RW Lee Stempniak (traded to Calgary)