Greetings and salutations to both desert dwellers and Coyotes enthusiasts from all corners of the cosmos. Put away the Coppertone, turn off the coolant system, and conceal your eyes from the palm trees. No matter what the temperature outside reads, the pond’s just about frozen solid, and it’s time to drop the puck on another season of Coyotes hockey! I’ll be your host as I break down this year’s version of Yotes for you. Please excuse the occasional tangents and frequent frothing at the mouth. These are to be expected from those who suffer from my particular affliction.
If you took the summer off from following the coolest team in the desert, you missed a lot. Bryzgalov high tailed it to Broad & Pattison, leaving former Lightning goalie Mike Smith as the featured net minder. JovoCop surfed on back to South Beach, and Bellanger, Ebbert, and Stepniak have moved on as well. In addition to Smith between the pipes, the Yotes have brought in a plethora new blood to help the team take shape. You may need a score card to keep track of all the new center icemen on the roster this season. Daymond Langkow is the most noticeable addition, as he makes what he and fans hope will be a triumphant return to Arizona. Other additions at the center positions include Petteri Nokelainen, Boyd Gordon, Kyle Chipcura, and Alexandre Bolduc. A couple of wingers were also added to the mix in Raffi Torres and Patrick O’Sullivan.
While some of the faces and names have changed, the song, for the most part, remains the same. Defense is still the order of the day in the desert. While Lanks has been known to find the back of the net on occasion, most of the off-season moves were made with an eye toward making the defensive play even stronger than it has been in the recent past under returning Coach Dave Tippett.
This team starts between the pipes, so that’s where we’ll begin our tour of the ice. Newcomer Mike Smith has some big skates to fill in Bryzgalov. Goalie coach Sean Burke will take Smith under his wing this season. While Smith’s career high games came in 2009, when he logged 42 games in net for the Lightning, he will be the man on opening night. Look for Smith to improve in the defensive-minded system in Phoenix. This is a best case scenario for Smith, and he has all of his ducks lined up for him as the starter. Jason LaBarbera returns as the #2 man. LaBabs appeared in just 17 games the last two seasons. Look for this number to go up a little this year, and he should benefit from the added PT.
Like Bryzgalov, Ed Jovanovski also headed East. Like the goalkeeping situation, the Yotes did not sign a high-priced free agent to replace the departing vet, instead choosing to replace him from within. While they’ll miss Jovo’s physical presence on the blue line, this year’s defensive corps will remain largely the same as last year’s. Keith Yandle will again be the anchor of the defense. Look for him to kick his game up a notch this year, perhaps delving into the 70 point range. Derrek Morris and Adrian Aucoin may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but they’re still as steady as they come defensively. Larsson, Rizsival, and Kessler look to round out the defensive troops. If there is an area for need, it’s another offensive threat on the blue line to compliment Yandle. But the Coyotes have proven their detractors wrong before with their extreme defensive style. They’ll look to do the same on defense this year.
It’s only fitting that we take a look at the offense last, as that’s what the Yotes seem to do as well. While there is some offensive potential in the front line this year, most all of these players share one important attribute: playing rock-solid defense. In fact, it’s highly possible that no Coyotes forward will top 60 points scoring this season. The Coyotes may be the only team in hockey that can say that proudly. If any other team had no 60 point scorers, their season would surely be more doomed than Barry Melrose on stroll through Newark. But for the Yotes, that’s business as usual. The Cap’n, Shane Doan, will lead the way again this year. Look for him to be somewhere right in the neighborhood of 60 points on the season. Doan has the dubious honor of helping to form one of the oldest lines you’ll find anywhere this side of well, Arizona. His likely line mates will be elder statesmen Ray Whitney and Langkow. Phoenix fans will be hoping Whitney has one last hurrah in him; and that Langkow can fully recover from his neck injury and regain some old magic. Kyle Turris is still sitting out there unsigned, with no obvious resolution in sight. Thus, the 2nd line will likely consist of Vrbata, Hanzal, and youngster Boedker to start the year. There are others that will contribute, including Brett McLean, Kyle Chipkura, and Raffi Torres. None of them, however, seem likely to light the lamp with great regularity. Paul Bissonette returns to his familiar enforcer role.
The Coyotes will compile a record of 47-28-7, for 101 points and 2nd place in the Pacific division. The Yotes will win at least one playoff series, with a chance for more if everything comes together. With all the changes, the goalkeeping is likely to be the key for success this season. Phoenix management managed to avoid the traps of overpaying for free agents this off-season, and it will surely pay off in the long run. As for this year, if Smith or LaBabs can get hot come crunch time, the Yotes have the system and the experience to make a deep playoff run. The Zamboni’s fired up and ready to roll. Buckle up and hold on tight. It’s gonna be a wild ride!
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About the Author: Hockey fanatic and fantasy revolutionary for over a score, Hockey and Baseball obsessed maniac, Husband, Father of 2 boys, Youth baseball coach. Don’t mind the occasional frothing at the mouth and maniacal rants. These things are to be expected from those who suffer with my particular affliction.