Monday, May 10, 2010

Pool Outlook for Phoenix

It was a spectacular season for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010, thanks to a very special Summer in 2009.  The Coyotes had to re-structure their organization and that left GM Don Maloney with all sorts of decisions to make and he made the most of them.  Maloney transformed the team from a basement dweller with a lot of youth to just a young, hard-working team with a great coach that would exceed everyone's expectations of them.  The Coyotes finished the season in second in the Pacific Division and fourth in the Western Conference, giving them home-ice in the first round, but that wasn't enough to beat the Detroit Red Wings.  The season was a smashing success that attracted people to the seats (eventually) and made hockey into a viable entertainment option in the desert.

The Coyotes had to be good from the back outwards and that all starts with the goaltending and fortunately for the Coyotes, that was where their best players played all year.  Ilya Bryzgalov provided the up and coming Coyotes with consistent goaltending and plenty of minutes all year long.  Bryzgalov made 69 appearances in net during the season, picking up a record of 42-20-6, adding 8 shutouts and 1 assist.  That gave the Russian netminder a total of 101 points in the hockey pool this year, good for 6th spot in the overall rankings and made him the 2nd best goalie in the pool as well.  He will be highly sought-after in the Fall, I'm sure.

The Coyotes and their head coach, Dave Tippett, did an amazing job taking a bunch hard-working plumbers and making them all work together with positive results. GM Maloney also made good use of some trades throughout the year to add some like-talent that meshed well with the team immediately.  Leading all Coyotes forwards in scoring was Wojtek Wolski, who spent the better part of the season in Colorado, but made an impact in Phoenix, with 65 points (23 goals and 42 assists) in 80 games.  Shane Doan had somewhat of a down year, sinking to 55 points in 82 games, Matthew Lombardi broke out a little with 53 points in 78 games, Lee Stempniak lit up Phoenix after coming from Toronto, finishing with 48 points in 80 games and Radim Vrbata was a decent support forward with 43 points in 82 games.  Other than Doan, those were some names you likely weren't expecting to see up at the top of the Coyotes' list, but when the coaching staff cut some of the younger players for some more experience, this was the eventual result.

It was a good crew of defensemen that were formed in Phoenix as well, with a couple of 10+ goal scorers in Keith Yandle and Ed Jovanovski, with Yandle leading the way with 12 goals and 41 points in 2010, while Jovanovski had 10 goals and 34 points.   The Coyotes re-acquired Derek Morris from the Bruins, who had a decent season with 29 points in 75 games.  Adrian Aucoin gave a good veteran performance with 28 points in 82 games.  The blueline group played well in front of Bryzgalov, which is their main focus and if you look at Bryzgalov's number, you can tell he had some good help in the year.

Playing behind Bryzgalov in the season wasn't as boring as playing behind some of the other teams in the NHL.  Jason LaBarbera figured into 17 games for the Coyotes, which isn't big numbers, but it isn't terrible either.  LaBarbera had a record of 8-5-1 for 16 points in the pool, which wasn't as busy as his season previous in Vancouver, but it wasn't too bad.  LaBarbera ranked 55th among goalies with those numbers, which is a bottom-end back-up, in theory.  He would be a last resort type of pick, especially if you don't get a second goalie until late in your Draft.

2011 Season Outlook
With all of the talent that the Coyotes brought into the fold in 2010, they also left the end of the regular season with a lot of flexibility with their cap numbers going into 2011.  They will have to look over the list of potential free agents, which is pretty long, before they can put together a solid enough outlook, but with the core players that they have signed on already, they should be in good shape for the start of next season.

Shane DoanKeith YandleIlya Bryzgalov
Radim VrbataEd JovanovskiJason LaBarbera
Vern FiddlerJim Vandermeer
Petr PruchaKurt Sauer
Lauri Korpikoski
Mikkel Boedker

As you can see above, the Coyotes will only be a shell of the team that made it to the playoffs and took the Red Wings to seven games in their first round series.  On the plus side, they do have some good pieces already in place in Bryzgalov, Doan, Yandle and Jovanovski.  Their approximate annual cap hit currently stands at $29.1 million for the 12 players in the table above.  The Coyotes will get the chance to thumb over the talent that played for them in 2010 to pick and choose who worked and who didn't and then add some of the talent they have been growing in the minors as well. 

I'm going to start with the unrestricted free agents in Phoenix, as they will be the ones that will need to be looked over first, before they head off to the open market.  The list has some key names on it including: Matthew Lombardi, Lee Stempniak, Robert Lang, Derek Morris, Adrian Aucoin, Taylor Pyatt and Zbynek Michalek, among others.  Those were definitely considered the regulars in the bunch and I imagine that a good portion of them will be invited back for another year, costs depending, of course.

On the restricted free agent list, Wojtek Wolski, Martin Hanzal, Scottie Upshall, Daniel Winnik, Petteri Nokelainen and Sami Lepisto are on the list for consideration of new deals.  I would have to wonder about a couple names, but Wolski, Hanzal and Winnik have to be their priorities going forward.

Even before this Summer begins and the talk of the Entry Draft begins, the Coyotes are very well stocked in young talent. They even sent most of it down to the AHL so they could grow their game as a team and by a few accounts that I've read, it seems to be working well. Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker had good seasons in San Antonio and will get a look in camp, while their 2009 1st round pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson has made strides in Sweden, as did Viktor Tikhonov in Russia.  Each young player in their system will likely get a shot at making the team in September, but I would have to believe that they will have to earn their roster spot, giving reason for them to be there in the first place.

And if you thought that the Coyotes were in good shape before the Draft, the team currently holds two picks in the 1st round this year, their own and Calgary's 13th overall pick, which should work out for picking out some more quality talent to add to their youth stables.  The best available players do come to mind, but the team is lacking in goaltending depth, so there is a definite possibility of picking up some new life there.

What I said at this time last year: "I can't honestly believe that the Coyotes won't be a better team next season. Peter Mueller has now had his sophomore slump, as did Martin Hanzal, so on those two alone, they should be getting a bit better. Kyle Turris didn't have a great year to begin with, so a summer of training should make him better equipped for the rigors of the league. There is a lot to look forward to in Phoenix and hopefully, with the right budget, the team can survive one more year in the desert, hopefully winning enough games to attract some of the locals."

The overall statement of the Coyotes, although positive, really didn't pan out too well for me. Mueller did break out of his slump, but not until he was dealt to the Avalanche at the deadline. Hanzal improved on 2009, but not greatly. Turris got to spend a year in the AHL, so he's a year behind of what I thought would happen. Saying all that, I didn't have the luxury of knowing what was going to happen with the Coyotes in the Summer, but at least the results came and the people did too.

For 2011, there are going to be a good number of teams that will be looking for the few playoff spots available and in a lot of the Outlooks I've done already, I would have to believe that the Western Conference will get a little bit tighter for 2011, so it will have to take a good bit of management in Phoenix to stay in the top half of the playoff spots, including the Pacific Division title.  My best guess would be that the Coyotes figure out a way to sign up all the dynamic players on their free agent list, have a look at some of the names on the market and build another competitive team.  I do wonder if teams will look at tape and figure out what Tippett is doing again, bringing the Coyotes back into the tight race of 5,6, 7 & 8 spots in the playoffs.

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