Coyotes No Longer Own Element of Surprise After Last Season’s Success

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August 5, 2010

Coyotes No Longer Own Element of Surprise After Last Season's Success A year ago, the future looked pretty bleak for hockey in Arizona. The team was in bankruptcy court, and the league was battling to block Jim Balsille from buying the team and moving it to Hamilton, Ontario.

The NHL ended up buying the Coyotes itself, keeping it in Glendale, at least for the time being. A local buyer still hasn't been found, and now the franchise's original home of Winnipeg is the destination du jour for relocation rumors. But at least the on-ice product had an unexpected resurgence, as the Coyotes were the surprise of the 2009-10 season, topping 100 points for the first time in franchise history as Phoenix made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. 

2009-10 Record: 50-25-7, 107 points (second in Pacific Division; fourth in Western Conference; lost in first round to Detroit, 4-3)

Bruins record vs. Coyotes: Boston leads the all-time series 37-19-7-1, but the Bruins lost 4-1 in the only meeting last season in Phoenix on Oct. 17.

When to watch: The Bruins and Coyotes meet twice this year, but won't play in either Boston or Phoenix. The clubs instead will open the season in Europe with a pair of games in Prague on Saturday Oct. 9 and Sunday, Oct. 10.

Familiar faces: Defenseman Derek Morris signed as a free agent with the Bruins last summer, but was traded back to Phoenix at the deadline after posting 3-22-25 totals in 58 games with the Bruins. Morris re-joined a Phoenix blue line led by Milton, Mass., native Keith Yandle, who had 12-29-41 totals last year.

Key additions: F Ray Whitney (free agent), F Andrew Ebbett (free agent), D Nolan Yonkman (free agent), F Bracken Kearns (free agent), D Garrett Stafford (free agent), G Matt Climie (free agent)

Key losses: D Zbynek Michalek (signed with Pittsburgh), F Matthew Lombardi (signed with Nashville), F Daniel Winnik (traded to Colorado), F Lee Stempniak (free agent), F Robert Lang (free agent), F Petteri Nokelainen (buyout), D Jim Vandermeer (traded to Edmonton), F Patrick O'Sullivan (buyout), C Joel Perrault (signed with Vancouver), D Sean Sullivan (signed with San Jose), F Stefan Meyer (signed with Colorado)

Burning question: Is there enough firepower up front?

Phoenix had just four forwards with 40 points and two with 20 goals last year, and that includes trade deadline pickup Lee Stempniak, who had 14-16-30 totals with Toronto before joining the Coyotes. Stempniak did score 14 more goals in 18 games in Phoenix, but he's a free agent who won't be returning. Phoenix also won't be bringing back veteran Robert Lang, and Matthew Lombardi (19-34-53) signed with Nashville. The Coyotes did add Ray Whitney (21-37-58 with Carolina last year), but he's 38 and can't be expected to carry the offense at this stage of his career. Shane Doan (18-37-55) and Radim Vrbata (24-19-43) are the only other established scoring threats, which could make scoring scarce in Phoenix this year. 

2010-11 outlook: The Coyotes were expected to be among the worst teams in the league heading into last year, but instead they finished with the fourth-highest point total in the NHL. They succeeded thanks largely to their defense and goaltending, allowing just 202 goals all season (2.46 a game). Only the Bruins (200) and New Jersey (191) allowed fewer.

But that defensive system broke down against Detroit in the opening round of the playoffs, as Phoenix gave up 26 goals in seven games (3.71 a game), including an embarrassing 6-1 home loss in Game 7. Ilya Bryzgalov (42-20-6, 2.29 GAA, .920 save percentage) returns in goal, and Yandle and Ed Jovanovski are back on defense, but losing Zbynek Michalek will hurt. Reigning Jack Adams winner Dave Tippett knows how to get the most out of a roster, but the Coyotes won't be sneaking up on anyone this year.

Did you know?
Jeff Hoggan played 47 games in Boston from 2006-08, but managed to get in just eight games in the last two years with Phoenix. So it wasn't a surprise to see him head to greener pastures in Europe this summer, but give him credit for finding the club with the best name in hockey by far. Hoggan became the newest member of the Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg of the Deutsche Liga in Germany on July 29.

Next: We'll head to San Jose to check on old friend Joe Thornton and the Sharks on Friday.

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