2010-11 NHL season preview: Phoenix Coyotes

tippettwithtrophy.jpgLast season: (50-25-7, 107 points, 2nd in Pacific Division, 4th in Western Conference) Only the most optimistic, pie-in-the-sky Coyotes fans expected the team to be so successful last season. Amid ownership squabbles and the hasty addition of new coach Dave Tippett, the Coyotes nearly took the Pacific Division before pushing the Detroit Red Wings to a Game 7 in a captivating (if sloppy) first-round series. It will be a difficult season to top, that’s for sure.

Head coach: Tippett earned the Jack Adams Award as the top NHL coach for good reason. He took an unshaped mass of a team left behind by befuddled coach Wayne Gretzky and made a playoff team out of them. He doesn’t have the most-talented team in front of him, but if anyone can get an encore performance out of this group, it’s Tippett. I just wish he would grow his mustache back.

Key departures: F Matthew Lombardi, D Zbynek Michalek, D Mathieu Schneider, F Robert Lang, D Jim Vandermeer. Michalek is the biggest loss since he logged big defensive minutes last season, but he received a pretty staggering deal from Pittsburgh. Lombardi’s speed and skill will be missed. Schneider, Lang and Vandermeer were somewhat marginal veterans by the end of last year.

Key arrivals: F Ray Whitney, F Eric Belanger. Whitney might be an underrated pickup. The Coyotes need a pure point producer, and when he’s healthy, Whitney is just that. Belanger might be bitter toward the Capitals, but he’s a solid two-way center who should fit in well with Phoenix.

Thumbnail image for bryzgalovandtheyotes.jpgUnder pressure: Ilya Bryzgalov had a near-Vezina-worthy campaign last season and the Coyotes will need that kind of season from him again to maintain their momentum. The wacky Russian goalie has the added pressure/incentive of being in a contract year.

Protecting the house: Bryzgalov was one of the best goalies in the NHL last season — and like I wrote before — he’ll need to be great again next year. My instinct is to say that Jason Larbarbera is an exceedingly mediocre goalie, but he put up great numbers last season. In 17 games, Labarbera boasted a 2.13 GAA and a .928 save percentage. It seems like both goalies are going to struggle to match last season’s work.

The Coyotes will miss Michalek dearly, as their next best defensemen are Keith Yandle, Adrian Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski. You have to wonder if they’ll regress a bit, but perhaps Tippett’s system will help to mask some of those blemishes.

Top line we’d like to see: Whitney-Wojtek Wolski-Shane Doan. The Coyotes aren’t loaded with flashy talent, but this trio would put up some nice offensive numbers. Lee Stempniak is another player who could be in consideration for such a top line.

Oh captain, my captain: After years of being the only good player on an abysmal team, Doan is now the heart-and-soul captain of a group that gets it done by committee. He didn’t score very often in the series against the Red Wings, but his physical play helped the Coyotes make life very difficult for Detroit.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for paulbiznastyfalling.jpgStreet fighting man: Their fighter is the man who goes by Paul Biznasty 2point0 on Twitter, otherwise known as Paul Bissonnette. He hates PT cruisers, speaks his mind and punches people for a living. Hard to argue with a guy like that.

Best-case scenario: Instead of struggling to match last year’s output, the Coyotes show that last season was just a transitional phase since Tippett received a full training camp to work with this summer. Bryzgalov tops last year with a Vezina-winning season, while Stempniak and Wolski prove that their trade deadline hot streaks were just a sign that they needed a change of scenery. The Coyotes win a slightly weakened Pacific Division and get to the Western Conference finals.

Worst-case scenario: Much like the Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues last season, the Coyotes fail to match their Cinderella season. Bryzgalov comes back to earth, the Coyotes’ offense cannot produce by committee and their defense misses Michalek badly. The Coyotes finish last in the Pacific division and (ugh) leave town with their tails between their legs.

Keeping it real: The Coyotes are a well-coached team with a quirky but talented goalie that should stay with most teams. They made solid, subtle moves all summer long but lack much in the way of scoring punch. Nothing will come easily for the Coyotes, but I think Tippett will help them take third place in the Pacific and a low seed (probably 8th place) in the West to squeak into the playoffs.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Coyotes deserve a 3. Scrappy teams with good goalies and even better coaching can go a long way. They have great leadership, plenty of two-way players and a lot of mojo. Still, as that Red Wings series showed, they struggle against more talented teams and are a long shot to actually win it all.

Scroll Down For:

    Kings place Ehrhoff on waivers

    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Christian Ehrhoff #10 of the Los Angeles Kings head for the piuck during the first period at Staples Center on December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Getty
    Leave a comment

    The Los Angeles Kings have placed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on waivers, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

    A veteran of almost 800 NHL games, Ehrhoff has not fit well with Los Angeles after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal in August. The 33-year-old has just 11 points in 40 games and is a team-worst minus-10. Though he had two assists in last night’s 9-2 win over the Bruins, he also took a careless tripping penalty in the first period that led to a Boston goal.

    In a related story, the Kings are rumored to be looking for help on the back end. In fact, they were reportedly quite interested in Dustin Byfuglien, before he re-signed with the Jets.

    According to Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider, 23-year-old defenseman Kevin Gravel is “on the verge of a recall” from AHL Ontario.

    The Kings play Thursday in Brooklyn.

    Report: Kadri’s throat-slashing gesture being reviewed by NHL

    Nazem Kadri
    AP
    1 Comment

    Nazem Kadri‘s throat-slashing gesture is under review by the NHL, according to TSN.ca.

    The Maple Leafs forward made the gesture while sitting on Toronto’s bench last night in Calgary, moments after he was laid out by Flames captain Mark Giordano.

    The NHL first started cracking down on the throat-slashing gesture in 2000. Former NHLer Nick Boyton was suspended twice for making the gesture, first in 2006 then again in 2010. He was banned one game for each incident.

    Fix coming? Blues activate Schwartz after 49-game absence

    Jaden Schwartz
    Leave a comment

    After Tuesday’s loss to the Jets — the Blues’ fourth in their last six games — head coach Ken Hitchcock said his club has “got to play harder than this” and “got to compete at a lot higher level than this.”

    He then added “it’s up to us to fix it.”

    Well, help is on the way.

    On Wednesday, the Blues activated forward Jaden Schwartz off injured reserve, after he missed the last 49 contests with a fractured left ankle. Schwartz is expected to be in the lineup on Friday when the Blues take on the Panthers in Florida.

    The 23-year-old should provide an immediate boost to the lineup. Schwartz had four points in seven games before getting hurt, and that came on the heels of a successful ’14-15 campaign in which he posted career highs in goals (28) and points (63).

    The Blues’ first-round pick in 2010 (14th overall), Schwartz is a 17-18 TOI per night guy, so he’ll be a big presence almost immediately. His return also inches the team back to full health, though there’s still a ways to go — Alex Pietrangelo and Jake Allen are still week-to-week with knee and lower-body injuries, while Steve Ott is out until late February following hamstrings surgery.

    Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made

    ‘Very upset’ Jokinen blasts NHL’s handling of Abdelkader-Barkov hit

    24 Comments

    You can add Jussi Jokinen to the list of Florida Panthers livid with Justin Abdelkader‘s hit on Aleksander Barkov.

    “I’m very upset,” Jokinen said, per the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don’t know if I’m too emotional because that’s my best friend on the team. It looked really dangerous.”

    Barkov was knocked woozy by a big Abdelkader check during Detroit’s 3-0 win over the Panthers on Monday. The hit forced the young Finn from the game, and also forced him to miss yesterday’s contest in Buffalo.

    Abdelkader wasn’t fined or suspended for the hit and, according to the Sun-Sentinel, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety didn’t contact him at all.

    It’s also worth pointing out that Abdelkader wasn’t penalized at the time of the incident.

    But that didn’t stop Nick Bjugstad and head coach Gerard Gallant from calling the hit “cheap,” with Gallant suggesting Abdelkader left his feet to make the hit, and caught Barkov in the jaw.

    Jokinen put the onus on the league to wipe out checks of this nature.

    “There are too many hits like that an no suspensions,” he explained. “Fans want to watch Barkov, not those guys. The league has to do a better job of taking those hits out of the game.”

    Florida and Detroit next play on Mar. 19, in case you’re wondering.