We continue our 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season today with a look at the Phoenix Coyotes. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
Despite lingering turmoil and uncertainty surrounding their future in Arizona, the Coyotes continued to produce on the ice last season. After making the playoffs for the first time since 2002 with a 107-point campaign in 2009-10, the Coyotes made it back-to-back postseason appearances last year.
Dave Tippett's squad posted a solid 43-26-13 record last year, good enough for sixth place in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, the Coyotes ran into Detroit in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year and were once again sent packing by the Red Wings.
Without a doubt the biggest question mark for Phoenix on the ice this year is in net. After it became clear they weren't going to be able to re-sign Ilya Bryzgalov, the Coyotes traded his negotiating rights to Philadelphia. To replace Bryzgalov, the Coyotes brought in veteran Mike Smith. He's certainly not at Bryzgalov's level, but is a serviceable netminder who shouldn't cost the Coyotes any games.
Without their star in net, the Coyotes will rely more than ever on budding star Keith Yandle and veteran leadership from Ray Whitney and captain Shane Doan. They will also look for some of their young players like Kyle Turris (the third overall pick of the 2007 draft), Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mikkel Boedker to continue to develop.
Here's a look at some of the other storylines to watch for this season.
Additions: F Daymond Langkow, F Raffi Torres, G Mike Smith, F Kyle Chipchura, F Boyd Gordon, F Alexandre Bolduc, G Curtis McElhinney, D Dean Arsene, D Nathan Oystrick, G Justin Pogge, F Patrick O'Sullivan, F Marc Pouliot, D Tyler Eckford, F Matt Clackson
Prospect Report: Defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson should be a lock to stick with the team this year. The young Swede played 48 games with the Coyotes as a 19-year-old last season before finishing the year with San Antonio of the AHL. In those 48 games though, Ekman-Larsson showed he was capable of playing with the big boys.
Defending Hobey Baker Award winner Andy Miele will be another player to watch at Coyotes camp. The 23-year-old had a tremendous season for Miami (Ohio) in the NCAA, scoring 24 goals and 71 points in 39 games. Phoenix isn't long on playmaking centres which could leave the door open for Miele to not only make the squad but make an impact.
Breakout Player to Watch: After spending the entire 2009-10 season in the AHL following his rookie year, Kyle Turris showed definite improvement in his second NHL season, posting 25 points in 65 games for the Coyotes. He also improved from a minus-15 in his rookie year to an even rating. But where Turris really made a breakthrough was in last season's playoffs. Despite the team being swept by the Red Wings, he registered three points in four games and led the Coyotes' in plus-minus. In his third season, Phoenix is hoping for big things from the 21-year old former third-overall pick. That is, if the restricted free agent signs a new contract with them.
Marquee Match-Up: Saturday, Oct. 15 - The old Winnipeg Jets meet the new Winnipeg Jets for the first time as the new Jets visit the Coyotes. The Coyotes will make their first trip back to Winnipeg since moving to Phoenix back in 1995 on Thursday, Dec. 1.
Other Dates To Watch: Thursday, Dec. 8 - The Coyotes travel to Detroit to take on the team that has knocked them out of the playoffs in each of the last two years.
Reason To Get Excited: Despite all of the off-ice turmoil, the Coyotes have been an exciting team to watch the last few years. The loss of Bryzgalov definitely hurts, but the Coyotes will have a chance to win every night with veteran Mike Smith in net. The team has a solid mix of young talent and veteran leadership. Doan and Ray Whitney lead the way up front while Yandle will be counted on heavily at the back. Doan is already the franchise's all-time leader in several statistical categories and could move up the list in a few more.
Home Hardware: Yandle emerged as a potential star for the Coyotes last season, finishing third among defencemen with 59 points and earning an All-Star nod. He has increased his point totals every season he has been in the league. If that trend continues he could very well receive some Norris consideration come awards night.
The Coyotes signed the 24-year-old to a five-year, $26.25 million deal this summer. Now it's up to Yandle to prove he's worth the commitment as the anchor of the Coyotes' blue line. How he handles the pressure will go a long way to determining if the Coyotes can make it three straight playoff appearances.
On The Hot Seat: The City of Glendale. Will this be the final season for the Coyotes in Arizona? With their uncertain ownership and arena situation, the Coyotes tend to make headlines for their off-ice issues as often as they do for their play on the ice.
The Coyotes are hoping for big things from Turris. But if he can't give them the consistent production and log the minutes the Coyotes need him to it may be time for both sides to move on.
It's Your! Call: Do the Coyotes have what it takes to make it back to the post-season for a third straight year?
The Coyotes' success this season will likely depend heavily on how well Mike Smith can fill the void left by Bryzgalov in goal. The Coyotes have a strong veteran presence both on offence and defence, but will also need some of their younger players to step up if the team is going to get back to the playoffs.