Today’s installment of Rant Sports 30 in 30 series will feature the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Coyotes had the best season in franchise history last season. They won their first ever Pacific Division championship as a franchise, and their first playoff series while in Arizona. The Coyotes advanced to the Western Conference Finals by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, and the Nashville Predators in five games. The Coyotes would ultimately lose in the WCF to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, Los Angeles Kings. Last season was the 3rd consecutive year the Coyotes had qualified for the postseason.
Zbynek Michalek: The Coyotes acquired an old friend and former Coyote at the draft. Michalek is slated to be a top-pair defenseman along with Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Steve Sullivan: Sullivan was signed via free agency with the hopes he will fill the spot vacated by Ray Whitney. Sullivan is expected to see power play time and play as a top-six forward alongside Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata.
David Moss: Moss was signed via free agency to replace departed Taylor Pyatt. Moss has struggled with injuries throughout his career but the talent is there. Moss is expected to play on the third line with Lauri Korpikoski and Boyd Gordon.
Nick Johnson: The 26-year-old was signed to a two-way contract by the Coyotes in the offseason in hopes he can compete for a 4th line role. There are a handful of players competing for both 4th line winger positions but Johnson is the favorite to land one entering camp.
Adrian Aucoin: Aucoin was not re-signed in the off-season to allow for the young talent in the system to compete for the 6th defenseman spot. Aucoin played a top-six defenseman role for the Coyotes during his tenure in Arizona. Aucoin now plays in Columbus.
Gilbert Brule: Brule was claimed via waivers early last season and made an impact playing on the 4th line with Kyle Chipchura and Daymond Langkow. The qualifying offer for Brule was too high for Coyotes GM Don Maloney to match. Brule now plays in Europe.
Daymond Langkow: Acquired last offseason in exchange for Lee Stempniak, Langkow’s season had plenty of peaks and valleys. Originally slated to be the 1st line center, he found himself centering the 4th line by season’s end. Langkow has not signed with any team as of Oct. 2.
Taylor Pyatt: Pyatt played well at times for the Coyotes but was prone to having long stretches during the season where he made little impact. Pyatt’s willingness to play both ways earned him a contract with John Tortorella and the New York Rangers.
Michal Rozsival: Rozsival was acquired a couple of seasons ago in exchange for Wojtek Wolski. Rozsival played solid defense for the Coyotes but, like Aucoin, was not-resigned in order to give young talent a roster spot. Rozsival now plays for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ray Whitney: Whitney scored 77 points for the Coyotes last season. Whitney said he left the desert to play in Big D because they were the only team to offer him a 2-year contract. Whitney’s 1st line and 1st line power play role will be tough to fill and led to the signing of Steve Sullivan. Whitney now plays for the Dallas Stars.
The “X Factor” for the Coyotes this season is Antoine Vermette. Vermette was acquired at the trade deadline from Columbus and scored 10 points in 22 games down the stretch. Vermette led all Coyotes in playoff scoring with 10 points. Vermette may be given 1st line minutes this season, centering a line with Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan. It has been awhile since the Coyotes have had anything close to a number one center and Vermette could fill that role this season if his playoff performance carries over into the upcoming season.
Under The Radar
He is not under the radar for Coyotes fans, but is still relatively unknown by fans around the league; Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson had the most time-on-ice of any Coyotes player in the postseason. He is ready to assume his role of a top-2 defenseman next season and for 10 more. The 21-year-old has already crossed the double-digit goal plateau and is only getting better. Ekman-Larsson is one of the best young defensemen in the NHL and will be regarded as one of the best period very soon.
2012-2013 Season Outlook
The 2012-2013 season should be a very interesting one for the Coyotes. How does the team respond and improve upon the best season in franchise history? The defensive corps will add Brandon Gormley, Michael Stone or David Rundblad as a full-time player. Can Sullivan make up for the loss of Whitney? Has Boedker finally turned the corner? Can Vermette be a true number one center? Is Mike Smith for real? All these questions remain, but the Coyotes should be just as good this season as they were last season.
As has been proven time and time again, never count out a Dave Tippett coached team.