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.
“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.