Don't forget about the Phoenix Coyotes

Everyone is focused on Chicago, Washington, Pittsburgh, San Jose and
Buffalo (and some others of course) but unfortunately the only coverage
the Phoenix Coyotes are getting this year generally have to do with the
situation surrounding their ownership issues.

Yet the Coyotes are a
team that has maintained a high level of play all season, have a great
shot at being successful in the playoffs and barring a historic collapse
will finish with the best regular season in team history, and the best
since Winnipeg’s 43-win season in 1985.

The Coyotes sit 4th in the
West and most likely will not finish any higher unless they find a way
to overcome San Jose for first in the Pacific.

With a win tonight, the Coyotes will have the best regular season in franchise history, starting to put the finishing touches on one of the more remarkable turnarounds a team
has had from one season to the next.

Dave Tippett has instilled a
sense of professionalism and pride in a team that has been lost for far
too many years. I understand the hope was that Wayne Gretzky would have
been able to do the same, but he’s just another example that not every
former great player can translate their skill into coaching.

At
the beginning of the season some — including myself — believed that
the Coyotes were winning based on the exceptional play of Ilya
Bryzgalov. Yet if you watch them play you see that it’s not just great
goaltending that’s leading the Coyotes, it’s the fact that this is a
team that truly plays as a team. Every player buys into the
system and what their role is and it translates into the product on the
ice.

This is a team that can be very dangerous in the playoffs,
and will be one that no one wants to face in the postseason. Their
confidence in the system and in each other will be extremely valuable,
and Tippett’s defensive style will frustrate any team that relies on
it’s offense to win games. He’s brought some old-school approaches to
Phoenix and it’s causing nothing but trouble for their opponents.

They
aren’t without their flaws, however. The Coyotes struggle to score
goals, which led to the number of moves they made at the trade deadline.
The power play is the worst in the NHL, and the team is hoping that
Mathieu Schneider can help cure some of their extra-man woes. And while
their winning has started to bring fans back, you can’t exactly say that
Phoenix has home-ice advantage at this point.

Just making it out of the first round of the playoffs will be a
heck of an accomplishment and something the Coyotes have never done
since moving to Phoenix.

The disparity between what’s happening on
ice and what’s happening off ice with the Coyotes is jarring, but under
Tippett’s steady approach the team is much more calm and reliable than
their ownership situation. And it couldn’t have come at a better time;
the NHL is strictly against moving the team if at all possible and with
the Coyotes winning again — and if they continue to win in the playoffs
— then it will become much tougher to do so in the near future.

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    Blues to name Pietrangelo 21st captain in franchise history

    St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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    Shortly after the Blues’ PR department unveiled a “major announcement” scheduled for Thursday, the Post-Dispatch broke news that Alex Pietrangelo will become the team’s new captain.

    It’s a big honor for the talented defenseman, who joins the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Scott Stevens, Bernie Federko and Al Arbour as those that have captained the Blues.

    Pietrangelo, 26, was taken fourth overall by St. Louis  in 2008 and has spent his entire professional career within the organization.

    A staple of the Team Canada blueline and a two-time NHL 2nd team All-Star, Pietrangelo inherits the captaincy from David Backes, who wore the “C” for five years before signing with Boston in free agency.

    Pietrangelo had previously served as one of Backes’ alternates — first earning his “A” in 2013 — along with forward Alex Steen, who’s served as an alternate since 2011. It’s logical to assume Steen will retain his role in the leadership group, but it will be interesting to see who gets the other alternate captaincy.

    Poll: Is moving Larkin to center the right move?

    NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings leans on the bench during a timeout during the game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.  The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

    It wasn’t that long ago — 2013, in fact — that Detroit had a wealth of options down the middle. Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg all played center with regularity.

    Now, only the latter remains.

    We bring this up because, earlier this summer, Detroit GM Ken Holland announced that prized rookie standout Dylan Larkin would be making the shift to center.

    Larkin, who bucked tradition by making the Red Wings as a 19-year-old last year, enjoyed a banner freshman campaign, scoring 45 points in 80 games to finish fifth in Calder voting.

    But a large chunk of that success came playing wing on a line centered by Zetterberg, who “took a lot of the responsibility off Dylan,” according to Holland.

    The for/against debate here is pretty straightforward.

    Holland said the “long-term” plan is to have Larkin be a center in Detroit, so why not get that process underway now? That move, combined with the addition of Frans Nielsen, would allow Zetterberg to return to the wing (and potentially play alongside Nielsen.) The more options head coach Jeff Blashill has at his disposal, the more creative he can get at forward.

    But would it be too much, too soon for Larkin?

    There’s already the looming specter of a sophomore slump, and it’s important to remember he faded down the stretch last season, as the rigors of a full NHL campaign took their toll. He was largely shielded from faceoff duty (and still finished at just 41 percent), only turned 20 just over three weeks ago, and Blashill could go Zetterberg-Nielsen-Luke GlendeningRiley Sheahan down the middle quite easily.

    As per usual, we now turn it over to you. Vote away:

    Under Pressure: Ken Holland

    Colorado Avalanche v Detroit Red Wings
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    This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

    There’s no denying Ken Holland’s been feeling the heat in Detroit for a while now.

    But this season, the temperature could become unbearable.

    There are three pressing concerns as the Red Wings look to make the playoffs for a 26th consecutive campaign, all of which fall directly into Holland’s lap:

    1) Can the Wings survive without Pavel Datsyuk?

    2) What will they do in goal?

    3) How will they fix their defense?

    To address the first issue, Holland went out and spent $31.5 million in free agency on Frans Nielsen, a good-but-not-great center that turns 33 next season. Nielsen is defensively responsible and a fairly consistent scorer — a perennial 45-to-55 point guy — but lacks Datsyuk’s playmaking ability and deft skill set.

    (Though to be fair to Nielsen, most do.)

    Still, a solution’s a solution. Nielsen comes to Detroit in relative high regard, earning a handful of Selke votes every season, and was one of the best options available to replace Datsyuk, which was never going to be an easy task.

    So onto the goaltending.

    The situation at hand — with Petr Mrazek (presumably) the club’s No. 1, and Jimmy Howard now in a backup role — is tough for everybody involved. It’s tough for Howard, who is 32 and pulls in $5.29 million annually, an albatrossian combination with regards to potential trades.

    It’s tough for Mrazek, who now faces the added pressure of making good money himself ($4M annually), but is still coming off a year in which he lost the starting gig to Howard, only to regain it halfway through the playoffs.

    The situation is tough for Holland, too.

    Sinking nearly $10 million into the position was all his doing, and he doesn’t seem to know how to get out of it. He’s flip-flopped on Howard — first saying he’s thought “lots” about trading him, only to later envision a scenario in which Howard sticks around.

    Then, there’s the defense.

    Holland’s made no secret of the fact he’d “love to get a top-three defenseman” in the door, and was reportedly in talks with Anaheim about a potential Cam Fowler trade. But as we saw with Edmonton trading Taylor Hall to get Adam Larsson, the acquisition price for good blueliners is sky high.

    Which could be why Holland hasn’t addressed the position yet.

    At the time of writing, Detroit will enter this season with a top-seven group of Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Brendan Smith, Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet.

    It’s a good group, but one with warts. There’s not an elite level guy, and it’s not especially young. Green is 30, Ericsson is 32 and Kronwall’s 35… and was just dropped from Sweden’s World Cup team due to a knee injury.

    Add it all up, and you’ve got a team with more questions than answers.

    And a GM who sounds like he knows the pressure is on.

    “I don’t know that there are more than five or six legitimate Stanley Cup contenders; we’re probably not in that group,” he said, per NHL.com. “After that five or six, there are 20 teams without much difference between them. We’re in that group of 20.

    “Certainly there are lots of questions about our team.”

    Kronwall out for World Cup, Sweden names Lindholm as replacement

    NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04:  Niklas Kronwall #55 of the Detroit Red Wings mugs for the camera during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Appropriate timing for this news, given it’s Red Wings day at PHT — Team Sweden has announced that Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall will miss the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, and has been replaced by Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm on the active roster.

    Kronwall, 35, has been dealing with a troublesome knee issue all offseason. Shortly after getting eliminated by Tampa Bay, Kronwall acknowledged he had a “rough year” and was seeking options for the knee — but going under the knife wasn’t one of those options, according to Red Wings GM Ken Holland.

    That he avoided surgery led some to believe that rest and rehab was the way the club and “Kronner” wanted to fix the injury. If that’s the case, missing the World Cup makes sense — it would give the veteran an additional month to get healthy.

    As for Lindholm, scoring this roster spot is a nice feather in his cap. At 22, he’ll be the youngest d-man on the team and got the nod over the likes of Dallas’ John Klingberg, Edmonton’s Adam Larsson, Vancouver’s Alex Edler and Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom.

    Lindholm is still without a contract, however, so his situation will be worth monitoring as the tournament draws close.

    Related: Rakell added to Sweden World Cup roster to replace Alex Steen