Adrian Aucoin: “I’d love to know that there’s going to be hockey in the desert”

1 Comment

Ever since May of 2009, there has been a cloud of uncertainty hovering over the Phoenix Coyotes. Since the day Jerry Moyes put the team into bankruptcy and tried to sell the team to Jim Balsillie, the Coyotes have had two of the most impressive seasons in franchise history (yes, we’re still including the Winnipeg Jets seasons). In 2009-10, they surprised the entire NHL by finishing 4th in the Western Conference with 107 points. They followed up their Cinderella season with a 99 point effort (good for 6th in the West) and another trip to the playoffs. For a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2002, back-to-back appearances have shown that the team was on the right track.

Unfortunately, fans and those within the organization haven’t been able to enjoy this period of success due to the insecure state of the franchise as a whole. Will they stay? Will they go? Will this owner be the one? These are the questions that have dominated Coyotes headlines across the national landscape much more than “Is Shane Doan the most underrated captain?” or “How good is Dave Tippett?” Until an owner has signed on the dotted line and the Goldwater Institute has given its tacit blessing to any sale, the ownership questions are going to continue to steal the headlines from the actual play on the ice.

Defenseman Adrian Aucoin admitted that doubts off the ice can be concerning—but once the players are on the ice, all of the peripheral issues concerning the sale fade away:

“The luxury we have is as soon as you step on the ice, none of that stuff really matters because we’re there for one reason. It doesn’t matter who owns the team we’re going to be playing as hard as we can.”

(snip)

“As far as family and everything goes, it would be really nice to get it settled just so knowing that where everything’s situated and especially in my case with young kids. And if I’m hoping to retire in Phoenix I’d love to know that there’s going to be hockey in the desert. That’s a huge factor.”

He’s not the only one who would love to know if there’s going to be hockey in the desert. There hasn’t been any new news surrounding the ownership situation, nor any news of potential owners throwing their hat into the ring. Since Matthew Hulsizer publically pulled his bid at the end of June, there haven’t been many investment groups jumping to fill the void. Jerry Reinsdorf’s name has been pulled off of mothballs, but any interest from that side is minimal at best at this point. All the while, Hulsizer has shown interest in purchasing (at least a portion) of the St. Louis Blues.

Wouldn’t it be a kick in the gut if the guy who tried to buy the team for seven months ended up purchasing another team only few months later?

The good news for the Coyotes and their fans is they are guaranteed at least one more season of hockey. Despite operating on a shoestring budget, only the Canucks, Sharks, and Blackhawks have had a better record in the Western Conference than the Coyotes over the last two seasons. This season they’ll have Norris Trophy candidate Keith Yandle returning for the first year of his new 5-year contract. They’ll get to watch youngsters Martin Hanzal and Oliver Ekman-Larsson this season; and once they get restricted free agents Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker under contract, fans will get to watch the two young forwards blossom at the NHL level as well.  An increase in season ticket sales shows that the fans are ready to believe.

Just like any other team in the league, the Coyotes will have a few questions to answer throughout the course of the season if they want to make the playoffs. They’ll have to find a legitimate answer between the pipes to replace Ilya Bryzgalov. They’ll need to replace forwards like Eric Belanger and Vern Fiddler who gave the Coyotes strong depth. They’ll need to find someone to replace Ed Jovanovski’s 20 minutes per game. If they can quickly find answers for all three of these questions, they’ll be well on their way towards yet another playoff berth. After surprising people for two years in a row, it wouldn’t be fair to call it “surprising” anymore.

Whether they are able to succeed or not, we know they’ll be looking for the answers while they’re in Phoenix. Hopefully one day we can just look at the team during the offseason and not have to worry about an ownership dilemma. After all, questions about the team’s play on the ice would be a welcomed change from questions about the team’s ownership in a city council meeting.

Report: Panthers will hire Jack Capuano as associate coach

Getty
Leave a comment

Former Islanders head coach Jack Capuano has been waiting to get behind the bench of another NHL team and it sounds like he’s about to get his wish.

According to TSN hockey analyst Darren Dreger, Capuano is on the verge of becoming an associate coach with the Florida Panthers. The official announcement is supposed to be made sometime today.

He becomes new head coach Bob Boughner’s first big hire on the Panthers coaching staff.

Capuano had spoken to the Golden Knights about their head coaching vacancy before they hired Gerard Gallant and earlier this week there was talk of him joining the Sabres as an assistant to Phil Housley.

The 50-year-old was fired by the Islanders in January after he led them to a 17-17-8 record. During his seven seasons behind the bench with the Isles, he had a 227-192-64 record. They made the playoffs three times during his tenure.

Golden Knights might just be best expansion team in NHL history

3 Comments

LAS VEGAS (AP) Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley has repeatedly said he wants to win the Stanley Cup within the first six years of his new team’s existence.

After Vegas came away with a jackpot from the expansion draft, Foley’s franchise goalie is even bolder.

“Let’s do it earlier,” Marc-Andre Fleury said Thursday. “Why wait six years? I don’t know where I’ll be in six years. Right away our goal has to be to get good, to improve and to go out there.”

Vegas shouldn’t start blocking off the Strip for the parade just yet, but Sin City’s new team is holding a remarkable hand after general manager George McPhee’s 37-player haul from the expansion draft and several subsequent trades.

Nashville general manager David Poile is among many hockey observers who think the Golden Knights have the ingredients for the most competitive expansion team in league history. From Fleury on out, Vegas already has a solid NHL roster with a sturdy blue line and four lines of capable forwards.

What they don’t have is the game-changing playmakers and goal-scorers that separate decent teams from great ones, but they’ve got a plan for that, too: Vegas will add even more top-shelf talent Friday in the draft in Chicago, where McPhee holds three first-round picks, including the sixth overall.

The players who have already arrived in Vegas realize that although they’re starting over, they aren’t starting from scratch.

“They put a great group together,” said forward Reid Duke, who became the Golden Knights’ first player when he signed as a free agent in March. “You never really know what to expect, but they made some big splashes. Got a lot of good players, a lot of good picks. It’s nice to see that they are not only building for right now, but the future, too. They’ve got some smart guys up there, and they know exactly what they are doing.”

McPhee continued his moves Thursday, swinging two trades to add draft picks in place of claimed players who might not have made the Golden Knights’ roster. Vegas shipped defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a seventh-round pick next year to Carolina for Pittsburgh’s second-round pick this year, and then traded David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

After Foley paid $500 million to the league as an expansion fee, the Golden Knights were given favorable franchise-building terms explicitly designed to give them a better chance to be competitive more quickly than the new teams of the previous 25 years.

Instead of forcing Vegas fans to watch several years of plodding franchise-building, the NHL wants the Golden Knights to be decent from the start.

Can they be the best expansion team ever? It’s quite possible.

The NHL added nine franchises between 1991 and 2001, and no team did better than the Florida Panthers, who went 33-34-17 and racked up an expansion team-record 83 points in the 1993-94 season. The NHL still had ties in 1994, so teams didn’t pick up extra points through shootout wins.

All but four teams in the Western Conference recorded more than 83 points last season. An 84-point season would have put the Golden Knights in sixth place in an eight-team Pacific Division last season, ahead of Arizona and Vancouver.

The Golden Knights aren’t ready to make any predictions yet, but once they get together in Vegas for the first time under coach Gerard Gallant, they’ll start to figure out just how good they can be.

That transition to the desert will be easier for some Golden Knights: Deryk Engelland has lived in Las Vegas in the offseason for a decade.

“We’ll get our numbers out there for guys to reach out if they need anything, if it’s a place to crash, to see outside the Strip and come look for places (to live) or whatnot,” Engelland said. “Definitely ready for that part of it.”

The milestones will keep coming for the Golden Knights throughout the summer while they build toward the first game in franchise history in Dallas on Oct. 6, followed by their home debut Oct. 10 against the Coyotes.

Vegas’ first player development camp starts Tuesday.

“It’s a different situation for everybody in here to come into a team where there is no team,” said defenseman Jason Garrison, claimed from Tampa Bay. “It’s the first team. You just want to establish a friendship and a culture right away, and it starts right now and leads into training camp and continues forward to the first game.”

 

PHT Morning Skate: Who should be drafted first overall?

1 Comment

–Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick, who should be drafted first overall in tonight’s NHL Entry Draft? Different general managers talk about the top two prospects up for grabs. (Top)

–Speaking of the draft, Rotoworld’s Michael Finewax put together his second and final mock draft of the off-season. In this version, Hischier is New Jersey’s pick at first overall, while the Flyers ended up with Patrick. (Rotoworld)

–Klim Kostin is an intriguing draft-eligible prospects in the draft, but there’s a lot of question marks surrounding his stock. The big Russian suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss a good chunk of time. “His physical talent is elite; protects the puck as well as anybody. His scoring got better as the (Ivan Hlinka) tournament went on. Reminds me of Nichushkin.” (The Hockey News)

–The NHL released their regular season schedule on Thursday and The Score looks at seven matchups that need to keep an eye on in 2017-18. Sidney Crosby faces Connor McDavid on Oct. 24, the Habs and Sens play an outdoor game on Dec. 16 and the Golden Knights play their home opener on Oct. 10. (The Score)

–The Golden Knights will continue to tweak their roster before the start of the regular season, but Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire looks at how Vegas stacks up against the rest of the NHL. By the looks of this article, it looks like they’re gonna struggle for a while. (Sportsnet)

–Even though they’ll probably struggle in their first season, the Golden Knights benefited from pretty favorable expansion draft rules and regulations compared to other teams that went through this same process. “This time (the NHL) got it right. They did it fair. Las Vegas is clearly going to have a very competitive club. All of that is to say maybe the league and the owners should have been a little fairer to past expansion teams.” (TSN.ca)

2017 NHL Draft especially big for Devils, Golden Knights

Leave a comment

CHICAGO (AP) The NHL stage belongs to Ray Shero and the New Jersey Devils. Then it goes right back to George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the wake of Vegas’ expansion draft, New Jersey is on the clock with the No. 1 pick of the amateur draft beginning Friday night at the United Center. The only other time the franchise had the first pick was in 1979, when the then-Colorado Rockies selected Rob Ramage.

“I think it’s been exciting for our franchise, exciting time for our scouts,” said Shero, who was hired as New Jersey’s general manager in May 2015. “In addition obviously to the first overall pick we’ve got the nine other picks, which are going to be very important on Day 2.

“But this is, I think, once the dust has settled now with expansion in terms of Vegas making all the selections or trades, whatever they’ve done, it really puts into focus again OK, the draft itself, which is important for every team.”

After New Jersey makes its pick – Shero said the Devils know who they are going to take, but he was keeping that to himself for now – Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado and Vancouver round out the top five. Then Vegas makes the first pick in franchise history.

The Golden Knights announced two more trades Thursday, running their total to 13 selections for this year’s draft. Vegas sent defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh-round draft pick to Carolina for a second-round selection on Saturday. It also shipped defenseman David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

Vegas, which selected 30 players in its expansion draft Wednesday night, has three picks in each of the first two rounds. It also has two selections in the fifth and sixth.

“It’s a hard draft,” said McPhee, the franchise’s GM. “Going through it today, it’s been a harder draft that most so it’s taking some time … three picks, it’s a lot to manage and you really have to focus. When you have one pick in the first round, you’re looking for one guy. When you’ve got three, it’s harder. But it’s a good problem to have.”

Forwards Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Casey Mittelstadt and Cody Glass and defensemen Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen are among the most coveted prospects. Patrick, whose father, Steve, and uncle James both played in the NHL, held the top spot in the NHL Central Scouting Department’s final rankings in April.

Despite missing much of last season with a groin injury, Patrick had 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games with Brandon of the Western Hockey League.

“At the end of the day I don’t care if I go one, two, three, four, like it doesn’t matter to me,” said Patrick, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field. “I’m just excited to get drafted and have a chance to try out for an NHL team. So it doesn’t matter to me.”

Unlike the past two years, when Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews went No. 1 overall and immediately had a huge impact on their new teams, there doesn’t appear to be a transcendent talent at the top of the draft. Led by Patrick and Hischier, the forwards are generally considered the top position group.

“I think this still will be proven to be a good draft,” Shero said. “Especially as they always look back, there’s always one or two Hall of Famers in every draft. Doesn’t matter where, they’re going to be in this draft 20 years from now. And who is it? That’s what the challenge is for any team.”

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap