Join TSN in a 30 teams in 30 days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Teams will be unveiled in reverse order of the pre-season TSN.ca Power Rankings, and the Phoenix Coyotes are up first. Get the lowdown on their off-season, the issues they face this season, and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. Use the Your Call feature to give us your take on the Coyotes!
2008-09: 36-39-7 (13th in the West - Out of Playoffs)
TSN.ca Pre-season Power Ranking: 30th
General Manager: Don Maloney (2nd Season)
Head Coach: Wayne Gretzky (5th Season)
What They Did In The Off-season:
Despite many questions facing the organization, the Desert Dogs started the summer on the right foot by signing goaltender Jason LaBarbera, forward Vernon Fiddler and defenceman Adrian Aucoin as soon as free agency opened. The Coyotes then pulled off a pair of trades, first acquiring Lauri Korpikoski from the Rangers in exchange for Enver Lisin. Then the team re-acquired forward Radim Vrbata by sending defenceman David Hale and winger Todd Fedoruk to Tampa Bay. The Coyotes also signed Scottie Upshall to a one-year deal.
Biggest issue facing the team:
It's impossible to discuss the Coyotes outside of the ownership situation that hangs over the franchise like impending doom. Anything that the team accomplishes on the ice will seem insignificant in comparison to the saga that continues off it. The team's dwindling fan base must feel like children trying to come to terms with a divorce, leaving them to wonder what they ever did to deserve such treatment.
There is some good young talent in the desert, though, and under the right circumstances there is the potential for a solid base for the franchise. But their development could be hindered by the fact that they won't know if they'll be continuing their career in Phoenix or elsewhere. Last season, the Coyotes had a lot of young players who were all given significant ice time and a chance to contribute. Players such as Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Peter Mueller, Viktor Tikhonov and Kevin Porter can no longer be considered prospects as the team will rely heavily upon each of them. This is an awful lot to ask of very young players, especially considering the many distractions inherent with an unknown future in the desert, but they do provide fans with something to look forward to in the near future. With very few veterans on the roster and the continuing question about ownership, though, this season could be an uphill climb.
To make matters worse, the team's off-ice issues have allowed the name of the greatest ambassador the sport has ever seen to be dragged through the mud. Earlier in the summer, court documents were released showing exactly what the Coyotes are paying Wayne Gretzky, and it was a lot for a first time coach with a losing record who has never led his team to the post-season. That being said, the Gretzky name still brings credibility to a franchise desperately lacking in that trait. If reports of The Great One potentially being let go are true, it would be a terrible ending in Phoenix for the NHL's all-time leading scorer.
The best the franchise can hope for would be a quick and concrete resolution to the ownership soap opera off the ice - with a competitive season allowing the team to enter the 2010-11 campaign with a clean slate. When the most significant moment of the season happens before training camp even gets under way, well, you know it's going to be a long year.
Player to watch:
Shane Doan is the lone 'original' Coyote remaining with the team after breaking into the league with the Winnipeg Jets back in 1995. He's seen the lows far outnumber the highs during the team's tenure in the desert - and this past off-season had to hurt for someone who has dedicated such a large portion of his life to one franchise. Doan, as always, has handled the situation with class, but you have to think that his patience with the team could be wearing thin by this point. Doan could be a vital piece for a contending team, and no one could fault him for looking for a way out. If the off-ice saga continues to drag on, Doan may well be suiting up for another team before the year is out. If Doan goes, a youngster like Turris would have to take over as the face of the franchise. Otherwise, Doan remains the marquee attraction.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
Coming off a summer of discontent, the Phoenix Coyotes have a roster full of young players, which gives them plenty of upside, yet at the same time makes it difficult to bank on them.
The safest of Coyotes is captain Shane Doan, who scored a career-high 31 goals in 2008-2009 and his 73 points was the second-best mark of his career (after 78 points in 2007-2008). Even with a young and largely unproven supporting cast, Doan is likely to put up solid numbers again this season.
One of the crucial young players for the Coyotes is Peter Mueller, the third-year forward who dropped from 54 points as a rookie to just 36 points last season. If Mueller can rebound and become a quality scoring forward, he'll get ample opportunity in this lineup...