Did you hear that? That whooshing sound you heard was every Phoenix Coyote fan exhaling with relief after the announcement that it was the Atlanta Thrashers that were moving to Winnipeg. Now all the relocation rumours can end, until 2 weeks from now when some idiot is going to say "we should move the Coyotes to Quebec City".
I for one am glad that the relocation issues are over in Phoenix. Now when the Red Wings beat them yet again in the playoffs, their fans can't use that as an excuse.
I kid, of course. Although the Coyotes have failed to get past the Wings in 2 straight years, it's been more a case of the Wings just having too much depth for Phoenix, and now that the Coyotes have lost arguably their most important player, getting back to the playoffs could be a difficult task.
The Coyotes haven't won a playoff series since they were the Jets (1979 in your NHL handbook), and there's no guarantee that 2011-12 will see them have a chance to end that streak. Are the Coyotes better than the team that fell to the Wings last year? Grab some water and trek across the desert jump to find out.
A lot of people (myself included) thought the Coyotes would come crashing back to earth last year. After a very surprising 2009-10 that saw them make the playoffs and take the Wings to a 7th game, I thought that the lack of overall talent on the team would mean a drop in the standings, and I actually predicted them to miss the playoffs. The Coyotes clearly thought that we were married, because they took great pains to prove me very wrong, making me eat crow. Unfortunately, they were witness to the awesome power of a fully armed and operational Red Wing team this year, and before you could say "1987" the series was over.
Pertinent Stats in 2010-11
Points: 99 (11th NHL, 6th West)
Goals For: 226 (14th NHL)
Goals Against: 226 (13th NHL)
Power Play: 15.9% (23rd NHL)
Penalty Kill: 78.4% (26th NHL)
Offense: Few things in Phoenix are as consistent as Shane Doan, the last remaining Jet and captain of the team. Doan once again led the team in scoring with 60 points, but he was the only 20-goal scorer on the team. The Coyotes truly were a middle-of-the-road offensive team, ranking 13th in total goals for. While Doan was the only player to crack 20, one should not think that the Coyotes couldn't score. They had 11 players score at least 10 goals on the team, and only 3 (Belanger, Stempniak and Scottie Upshall) are no longer on the team. While the Coyotes don't have one line that can be guaranteed to be an offensive threat every night, their scoring is spread out enough that any line can beat you on a given night.
The Coyotes will once again be relying on a mix of youth and veterans to score their goals. Ray Whitney has quietly put together a decent career in the NHL, amassing 341 goals and 926 points in his 21 seasons. He and Doan represent the old guard of the Coyotes, but younger players like Kyle Turris, Martin Hanzal and Lauri Korpikoski will all be expected to take on bigger offensive responsibilities and provide secondary scoring beyond the two vets. Only 3 players topped 50 points last season, so getting scoring from other sources will be vital to the Coyotes' success.
The Coyotes do have one of the more underrated offensive defenseman in the NHL in Keith Yandle, the team's second leading scorer from a year ago. He's a solid puck-mover who can run a power play and has a good shot, and after signing a 5-year deal this offseason it's clear he's been slated by the team to be their #1 defenseman.
Defense: Beyond Yandle, the defense of the Coyotes is a mix of older players on the downside of their careers or younger players looking to make their mark. Yandle himself, while excellent at the offensive side of the game, is still working to develop his overall play, including making better decisions in his own end. However, he's only 25 and still is still on the positive side of the learning curve.
Adrian Aucoin has fit in well in Phoenix. He's a dependable stay-at-home defenseman who can chip in with some offense, and is a solid 1st or 2nd pairing guy at this stage of his career. Michal Roszival is another good puck-mover who could use his size better. Last year at the trade deadline, the Coyotes brought in Rostislav Klesla, a former first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets who didn't quite live up to potential. He's a big body with offensive upside, but I think that the BJs tried to get too much out of him and didn't allow him to develop into a decent overall defenseman. He was good against the Wings in the playoffs, and should make the Coyotes better being in Phoenix for an entire season.
Goaltending: The Coyotes took a massive hit to their roster when their former Vezina-nominated goalie left for better parks in Philadelphia. I should note that I commend the Coyotes for letting him go, because there's no way on this or any other planet that Bryzgalov was worth what he was paid by the Flyers, but I'm sure one of his agent's big selling points was "hey, it's not like he'll have to play the Wings in the first round." Bryzgalov was once again very good in the Phoenix net, but his numbers against the Wings in the playoffs were Toskala-esque, and he was allowed to leave.
In his place, former Tampa goalie Mike Smith was signed and named the starter by coach Dave Tippett. He's a guy that has never taken a starting job and run with it, although he did spend 2 years behind Marty Turco in Dallas and wasn't given an opportunity to be the #1 guy. In Tampa, he yielded to Dwayne Roloson last year and was deemed expendable, and it will be interesting to see whether he can hold up for an entire year as the starter behind a decent defense. Could this be Craig Anderson 2.0?
Player to Watch: The biggest question mark this offseason in terms of free agents (besides Bryzgalov, who was likely going to leave anyway) was Yandle, and the Coyotes locked him up long-term for a decent ($5.25M) cap hit. With the stability of the contract out of the way, Yandle should be able to go about establishing himself as one of the true leaders on the team. He hit 59 points last year, and could get close to that number again.
Player With Something to Prove: Kyle Turris was the 3rd overall pick in the 2007 draft (only Patrick Kane and James Van Riemsdyk were taken ahead of him), but he has failed to blossom as the offensive threat the Coyotes envisioned when they got him. However, while Kane and JVR have been shown the money, Turris is waiting for his big payday. Reports are that he's looking for $3-4M per year, but considering Jeff Skinner had more goals and points as an 18-year old rookie than Turris has in his career, perhaps he would be better off signing whatever the Coyotes are offering, proving that he's a legitimate offensive threat, and then cashing in. And believe me, even Coyote fans think Turris is crazy. If he does sign a deal that's close to what he's asking for, then he's going to have a giant target on his back for fans.
The Skinny: The team has remained virtually unchanged from a year ago. They lost some depth forwards, gained some other depth forwards, and their defense is pretty much the same. One would think that the Coyotes should finish around where they have the last 2 years, but then you see that their All-Star goalie is no longer there, and is being replaced by a guy that hasn't started more than 45 games in a single season. Can the Coyotes survive this kind of change? My gut tells me no, and I think they barely miss the playoffs. I also think that there's going to be some sort of karma for Doan's comments on head shots, and while I don't wish this on him, I can't help but think that he's going to sustain a concussion, and we will all laugh because the universe has a sick sense of humour, just like the rest of us.