PHT Exclusive: Coyotes GM Don Maloney reflects on the offseason

Who have been the elite teams in the Western Conference over the last two seasons? Two years ago the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Cup in forty-nine years. The Canucks won the President’s Trophy last season and the San Jose Sharks have been to back-to-back Western Conference Finals. Most people would guess the Red Wings were successful—but did you know that the Phoenix Coyotes had just as many points as Detroit over the last two seasons? That’s right—in the cutthroat Western Conference, the Coyotes have been one of the most competitive teams since 2009-10.

Yet despite the recent success, many people around the hockey world refuse to give the Coyotes any respect. Last year, the preseason pundits thought Phoenix was nothing more than a one-hit wonder. This season, the same pundits are predicting the same results. It’s a subject that Coyotes’ General Manager Don Maloney can joke about.

“I remember two years ago we were projected 30th, so we can’t get much lower than that!” Maloney laughed. “But you know what, that’s OK and I don’t blame them. I know everybody looks at Bryzgalov leaving and saying ‘he was the sole reason that you had the success that you did.’

“But I’m not buying that,” Maloney continued. “I look at Bryzgalov before he came to us and there was a lot of uncertainty to his game at that time. We were bringing him around. No disrespect to him—I think he was fantastic. But I think we’ll be better, certainly at that position [goaltender], than people might be think. And if we are, we’re going to be good.”

No doubt, goaltending is the elephant in the room when talking about the Coyotes. After failing to come to an agreement with the Russian netminder, the organization quickly moved to Plan B when free agency opened on July 1.

“[July 1] was an interesting day for us,” Maloney reflected. “There were a number of different ways we could go. We looked at a couple of different veterans that might have been there. We looked at a couple of younger goaltenders, there were a number of goaltenders available in trades, but we kept coming back to Mike Smith. Fortunately we were able to get [the Smith] deal done relatively quickly on July 1… He was really our #1 pick.”

Addressing the goaltending was the #1 priority for the organization—but it wasn’t the only item on the offseason agenda. Despite their recent success in the regular season, the Coyotes made a concerted effort to address their depth at forward.

source: Getty Images“We were involved in a lot of other talks [on July 1], but the market just went crazy. We signed a couple of guys. We signed [Raffi] Torres which I think is a really good ‘value’ signing for us. He’s a hard player, aggressive, and should give us some more weight on our left side.”

They didn’t just stop with Torres either. They wanted to improve the stable of forwards—but specifically wanted to address the center position. In addition to Smith and Torres, they were able to land former first round draft pick Boyd Gordon as well. He might not be the type of marquee name that would steal headlines on free agency, but Maloney explained that he was exactly the type of player they were looking to acquire. He’ll certainly fill a void for the Coyotes next season.

“Boyd Gordon is a real quality centerman. Very good with face-offs, penalty killing. Our penalty killing was not good last season, we have to be beater and we’re looking at him to be a leader in that area. I think Boyd can fill a lot of roles. He can play on wing with good players, he can play center on a checking unit. Tip’s really good with those veteran players to put them in the right roles.”

As if acquiring Gordon in free agency wasn’t enough, the team was able to pick up another centerman via trade when they landed Daymond Langkow from the Calgary Flames for Lee Stempniak. “For us, picking up Daymond Langkow was really important to us with our center position,” the Coyotes GM said. “Again, Tip is really good with the veteran players. As long as he stays healthy—knock on wood—we’ll be OK.”

Even though the “experts” doubt the Coyotes once again, the Coyotes organization is confident that they have the potential to be just as good as they’ve been over the last two seasons. In fact, they may be even better. Maloney points to their added depth as a point of optimism for Coyotes fans:

“You know, I actually think we’re deeper this year than last year. Obviously, leaving the goaltending uncertainty outside, I think as a group we’re deeper in a lot of positions. Our young guys are closer to being more impactful. Now the next month or two will determine whether we’ve done a good job or not. The way I look at the season, there are three or four teams that you can legitimately say, ‘OK, they’re ahead of the pack.’ Then there’s the pack and it’s everybody else. We’ll be in the pack—and our goal is to be at the top end of the pack.

“We hope we did a good job [this offseason]. We’ll find out in a month or two!”

Yes, we certainly will. Bring on the hockey season.

Is it a slump or is regression setting in for the Winnipeg Jets?

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Might regression be hitting the Winnipeg Jets at the moment?

It’s a question Jets fans are asking themselves after a three-game road trip that produced just a single point and a goose egg in the win column.

It’s the first time the Jets have lost three straight all season. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have come as much surprise, but the Jets have thrown the status quo out the window this season and have sung a different tune.

The analytics would suggest the Jets were due for a fall back to earth.

For most of the season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in terms of Corsi, with only recently climbing up that ladder with a help of a very lopsided game against the Ottawa Senators.

Regression in goal is also starting to happen, and a lot of Winnipeg’s early-season success had to do with how well Connor Hellebuyck had been playing.

Hellebuyck has been sensational most of the season and his 15-3-4  record supports that. But his save percentage has been trending in the wrong direction lately. In five of his past six starts, Hellebuyck has only achieved a .900 save percentage or better once, and that came in that 5-0 shutout against the Senators.

Nov. 27 vs MIN: .895
Nov. 29 vs COL: .885
Dec. 1 vs VGK: .871
Dec. 3 vs. OTT: 1.000
Dec. 5 vs DET: .844
Dec. 9 vs TBL: .857

The Jets give up a lot of shots, so the odds that Hellebuyck’s early season numbers would survive throughout the year were low.

The sky is by no means falling in Winnipeg. The Jets showed they can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on Saturday. Overtime has just been the bane of their existence this season with a 0-5 record in free hockey.

The Jets touched the summit of the Western Conference last week, a pipe dream around these parts in recent times. They also possess two of the league’s top point-producers (Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler) and one of the league’s top goal scorers (Patrik Laine), not to mention having a rookie just outside top 10 in rookie scoring (Kyle Connor).

Prior to the road trip, Winnipeg’s power play had scored eight times in 19 attempts.

The Jets have also been largely healthy. Defenseman Toby Enstrom is the midst of an eight-week spell in the press box — and there’s a pending diagnosis coming for Dustin Byfuglien after he left Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury — but the Jets gotten by relatively unscathed thus far and managed well when Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry missed several games.

The Jets have made too many strides this season to regress too far away from where they are right now. Asking a team to go from outside the playoff line to tops in the division might be asking a tad too much. But with that said, the Jets are simply a good team these days and stacked with high-level talent.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Calgary Hitmen fans make 24K stuffed animals fly during Teddy Bear Toss (Video)

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Congratulations, Vladislav Yeryomenko, you were this year’s Teddy Bear Toss goal scorer for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

Yeryomenko’s goal at 9:36 of the first period during their game Sunday vs. the Moose Jaw Warriors was the sign for Hitmen fans to launch their teddy bears inside the Saddledome. Boy, it sure did rain plenty of fur.

Here’s what it looked like:

And here’s a fan’s eye view:

After a clean up delay of approximately 40 minutes , the game resumed but the Hitmen would fall to the Warriors 6-3. The counting, as you would imagine, took some time, but when they were finished it was announced that an astounding 24,605 stuffed animals were collected, which will go to 60 local charities.

“It’s an unforgettable moment,” Yeryomenko said via the Hitmen website. “It’s possible it can only happen once in your life and it happened to me. I enjoyed the moment of it all.”

There were 23,924 stuffed animals tossed during last year’s game, and the Hitmen hold the record of 28,815 bears, which was set in 2015.

The Hitmen have been holding this event since 1995 and are their fans are the true leaders in tossing those bears. Including this Sunday’s total, the team has collected 347,948 stuffed animals for local charities. Just last weekend the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears held their Toss event and fans there set a team record with an impressive 25,017 stuffed animals hitting the ice.

This once again proves that the Teddy Bear Toss is the greatest promotion in all of sports.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brayden Schenn scoring at will as domination continues

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What’s the limit for Brayden Schenn?

Curious and inquiring minds, like PHT’s own James O’Brien, want to know. 

Add Schenn’s opposition to the list of people looking for answers. They surely want the madness to end.

But Schenn appears disinterested in letting cooler heads prevail. He is, of course, red hot at the moment. And he’s quickly turning into a fearsome goal scorer that is increasingly harder to contain.

Schenn buried his 16th of the season on Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres some 40 seconds into the game. The goal, which can be seen below, was Schenn’s sixth in his past four games and a marker than extended his goal-scoring streak to four games.

Some wondered how Schenn would cope with the loss of Jaden Schwartz, who is out for at least six weeks because of an ankle injury. 

He answered that in under a minute.

Coming into Sunday’s game, Schenn was on pace for 41 goals and 98 points. He’d crush his previous career highs if his torrid play continues.

For the time being, Schenn is the leading candidate for the top off-season acquisition in the NHL.

How bad is Ron Hextall kicking himself at the moment? A few months ago he had Schenn and didn’t have Jori Lehtera.

The cringe faces must be excellent. Surely.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Marc-Andre Fleury set for return after getting taken off IR

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The Vegas Golden Knights have their starting goaltender back.

After nearly two months and 25 missed games, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after being pulled off injured reserve on Sunday.

Fleury hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha collided with the 33-year-old as he drove to the net. Fleury was shaken up on the play but saw it through, picking up his first loss of the season after allowing six goals on 27 shots.

Fleury was solid in the crease in the four games he figured into, going 3-1-0 with a .925 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.

Since he went down, the Golden Knights have had four other netminders see the crease after injuries ran rampant through their goaltending stable.

Their combined record, despite a clear lacking of NHL experience, has been remarkable:

  • Malcolm Subban – 10 GP, 7-2-0, .924 save percentage
  • Maxime Lagace – 14 GP, 6-6-1, .872 save percentage
  • Oscar Dansk – 4 GP, 3-0-0, .946 save percentage
  • Dylan Ferguson – 1 GP, 0-0-0, .500 save percentage

Remember when Subban was claimed off waivers on the eve of the start of the regular season? Quite the steal.

That adds up to a 16-8-1 record with Fleury out of the lineup, which is incredible given how banged up Vegas got between the pipes.

The Golden Knights are on a four-game heater at the moment, and with Subban playing admirably — winning his past three starts — it remains to be seen if Fleury takes the crease on Tuesday.

If not Tuesday, Fleury is surely a lock to get the start against his former team. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Thursday.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck