Detroit Red Wings v Phoenix Coyotes - Game Four

2011-2012 season preview: Phoenix Coyotes

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2010-2011 record: 43-26-13, 99 points; 3rd in Pacific, 6th in West

Playoffs: Lost to Detroit 4-0 in Western quarterfinals

The Coyotes have surprised the critics in each of the last two seasons. Two years ago, many people picked the Coyotes to finish last in the league — only for the team to win 50 games and earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Many thought it was a fluke and doubted Phoenix once again last season, and again the Coyotes surprised the doubters, producing a 99-point season, and another trip to the playoffs. But if the Coyotes are to make the playoffs this time around, it could be their most surprising feat yet.

Offense

There isn’t much offensive firepower amongs the forwards. Someone looking at the team in a negative light would point out that Phoenix only had a single player that scored 20 goals last season. Then again, an optimist would point out that the team had 10 players who scored double-digit goals for the team a season ago. To understand this simple stat is to understand the way the Coyotes are built: they don’t have any superstars who are going to carry the offensive load. Just like all players are expected to buy into Dave Tippett’s team defense philosophy, all forwards are expected to chip in on the offensive end as well. This season, Daymond Langkow, Boyd Gordon and Raffi Torres will be expected to pick up where departed forwards Lee Stempniak, Vernon Fiddler and Eric Belanger left off.

Defense

The team has made a living over the past couple of years by keeping the puck out of their own net. Last season, Keith Yandle emerged as an elite defenseman and signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason to prove it. He’ll be expected to play about 25 minutes per game as he helps the Coyotes on the offensive side of the puck as much as the defensive side. Adrian Aucoin, Rusty Klesla, and Derek Morris all provide depth, but it’s the youth that should make Phoenix fans excited. After splitting time between Phoenix and San Antonio last season, former No. 6 overall pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson will start the season with the big club. He has all the tools and the team fully expects the young Swede to develop into a top-pairing defenseman in the near future.

Goalies

Goaltending is the 800-pound elephant in the room for the Coyotes. Over the last two successful seasons, Ilya Bryzgalov has been one of the best netminders in the game. The Coyotes sent Bryzgalov to the Flyers when they couldn’t reach an agreement with the pending unrestricted free agent and turned their attention to the open market for a replacement. The good thing is that they were able to acquire their No. 1 option on July 1 when they nabbed former Lightning goaltender Mike Smith. The bad thing is that very few people outside of Phoenix think Smith will be able to replicate Bryzgalov’s success in the desert.

For Smith’s part, he had success when he played under Dave Tippett in the Dallas organization. The team likes his style: he’s a big goaltender who can play the puck extremely well. He’ll need to have a career season — otherwise the Coyotes will suffer a substantial drop off in goaltending.

Coaching

If it weren’t for Shane Doan, then Tippett would be the face of the franchise. The defensive philosophy that he brought with him from the Stars two seasons ago is exactly what the organization needed to survive. Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league, Tippett consistently finds a way to get the most out of his roster on a nightly basis.

Breakout candidate

The organization thinks that Mikkel Boedker is poised to break out this season. Last season, he split time between the Coyotes and the minors, but with a new contract and a more mature game, he could be set up to take the next step in the NHL. Boedker plays with incredible speed and with Stempniak moving on to the Calgary Flames, there’s a spot on the right wing for the young Dane. He may never develop into the 30-goal scorer that people envisioned when he was drafted, but don’t be surprised if he scores double-digit goals, plays a strong two-way game, and creates energy for his team with his speed.

Best-case scenario

If the recent past has told us anything, it’s that the best-case scenario for the Coyotes is a solid playoff spot. If Smith can come in and thrive like the team expects him to, he could minimize the pain from losing Bryzgalov. If Langkow can come in and stay healthy for a full 82-game season, Torres can find chemistry with a center like Gordon, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson can start filling his immense potential, the Coyotes could make it back to the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

Reality

The reality is the Coyotes have a gigantic hole in net they have to fill. In fact, the void in the Phoenix net may be the most devastating loss for any team this summer. The Coyotes are asking Smith to walk into a new team and have a career season just to maintain their success from last season. They had a Norris Trophy candidate put up 59 points from the blue line and will need the same kind of production again this season. The forwards will have to continue to play an even stronger two-way game while scoring a little more to compensate for the new netminder. There are just too many questions the Coyotes to answer to put them into a playoff spot. This could be the season where it all catches up with them — last place in the Pacific and one of the bottom feeders in the Western Conference.

Report: Gaborik (foot) to miss World Cup final, start of Kings season in doubt

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 17: Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe celebrates his first period goal against Team USA during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Some bad news for Team Europe and the Los Angeles Kings — Marian Gaborik, who was seen this morning on crutches, is reportedly out of the World Cup of Hockey final and may miss the beginning of the NHL campaign as well.

The news, first reported by Sportsnet, comes after Gaborik played 17:58 in Europe’s shock semifinal win over Sweden, scoring his team’s opening goal.

Gaborik took a puck to the foot during the second period, yet managed to finish the game.

The veteran Slovak had enjoyed a good tournament prior to getting hurt, scoring a pair of goals while getting healthy doses of ice time, including nearly 19 in a win over the Czechs in the group stage.

With Gaborik out, Mikkel Boedker will (presumably) make his tournament debut. Boedker has been a healthy scratch for the Europeans thus far, though it’s possible he could continue to sit if head coach Ralph Krueger elects to dress seven defensemen — Luca Sbisa would get the call — rather than plug in another forward.

As for the ramifications for L.A… well, this could be tough. Gaborik, signed through 2021 at $4.875M per, only scored 12 goals and 22 points in 54 games last season — missing extensive time with a lingering knee injury — and the Kings were hopeful he was in line for a bounce-back campaign, especially given how good he looked at the World Cup.

Sportsnet reports Gaborik is headed back to Los Angeles today.

‘Never say never,’ but Krueger’s commitment is to Southampton, not to making an NHL return

Southampton v Bayer Leverkusen - Pre Season Friendly
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Ralph Krueger spent one lockout-shortened season in charge of the Edmonton Oilers, before he was unceremoniously fired (via Skype) to make way for the hiring of Dallas Eakins.

But Krueger’s success at the World Cup, leading Team Europe into the best-of-three final against Team Canada, has a lot of people wondering if he might one day make an NHL return.

Krueger’s current full-time job is a big one — he’s chairman of Southampton Football Club in the English Premier League.

Suffice to say, it’s not a job one just leaves for anything.

“I came in here committed completely to Southampton Football Club and the future of that organization in my role,” Krueger said Sunday. “You can never say never, but at the moment I’m very proud to be back in hockey at this level and to be competing. We are just having so much fun in our room, the coaches, the players, the whole group is enjoying it, and I am, too. But my real life is my commitment to Southampton Football Club at the moment.”

Kreuger repeated his “never say never” line today, so it sounds like he’s at least open to the possibility. However, he insisted that he didn’t take the World Cup job with the goal of getting another job in hockey.

Related: Southampton smokes West Ham in London

Byfuglien ‘didn’t enjoy’ his World Cup experience

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15:  Dustin Byfuglien #33 of Team USA answers questions during Media day at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It’s getting harder and harder to find positives in the aftermath of Team USA’s poor performance at the World Cup of Hockey.

On Monday, Winnipeg d-man Dustin Byfuglien weighed in on his time at the tourney, telling Sportsnet it wasn’t much fun.

“The experience and everything that went on, it is what it is,” Byfuglien said. “You know, I didn’t enjoy it.”

That revelation is hardly a surprise. Head coach John Tortorella made Byfuglien a healthy scratch for the tournament opener against Europe — a dismal 3-0 loss — then played Big Buff just 10:50 in a 4-2 defeat to Canada.

Byfuglien did get a healthy chunk of ice time in America’s final game — 21:18 in a loss to the Czechs — but by that point, the damage was done.

It was clear early on the Byfuglien experiment had its problems.

Named to the U.S. national team for the first time in his career, he was platooned between forward and defense in the exhibition games leading up to the tournament, even though he’d previously stated he much prefers playing defense.

“It’s definitely not my favorite spot,” Byfuglien said after playing up front in a pre-tourney win over Finland. “It’s just something they wanted to try and that was it.”

Not long after the Finland game, Big Buff was out of the lineup. And Tortorella’s reasoning behind the move wasn’t very clear.

“As we went through our lineup and the situations that we may get involved with — power play, penalty killing and all that — we felt this was our lineup to start the tournament,” he explained.

The lack of explanation only further confused the issue. Parking Byfuglien was a bizarre decision to begin with, especially in light of America’s offensive woes at the tournament — a versatile weapon on the power play, Byfuglien was the highest-scoring U.S. defenseman in the NHL last season.

In the end, this situation only underscores the problems that plagued Team USA throughout the tourney. Roster and lineup decisions constantly came under scrutiny and, in the end, nobody had anything positive to say about the end result.

But at least there was one good memory…

What about the Red Wings for Trouba?

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 27:  Jacob Trouba #8 of the Winnipeg Jets in action against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on March 27, 2014 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Earlier today, PHT writer Adam Gretz made compelling cases for the Ducks, Bruins, Rangers, and Avalanche to take a run at Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba.

But allow me to add one more team to the potential mix — the Detroit Red Wings, who could really use a 22-year-old, right-shot defenseman who skates well and has good offensive instincts.

The Wings also have a surplus of forwards to work with. While Dylan Larkin is probably untouchable, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar probably aren’t. Or perhaps a youngster like Andreas Athanasiou or Anthony Mantha would interest the Jets.

The question the Wings may run into, should they make a push for Trouba, is whether they’d be willing to part with Danny DeKeyser. The 26-year-old defenseman just signed a six-year contract extension, and there’s reason to believe the Jets may look for a youngish, left-shot d-man in return for Trouba.

That’s pure speculation, for the record. DeKeyser is an important part of the Wings. He’s a Michigan native and he comes with a fairly reasonable, $5 million cap hit. However, it’s worth noting that, according to General Fanager, his no-trade clause doesn’t kick in until next summer.

At the very least, Ken Holland should be in touch with Kevin Cheveldayoff, if only to gauge the price for Trouba. The Red Wings’ GM said over the summer that he may look to trade for a defenseman around training-camp time, which happens to be right now.

“Part of this might be let’s get to September and see,” Holland said. “I’m hoping we’ve got 15, 16 NHL forwards and we’re positioned to do a deal.”