Gameday Preview: Phoenix Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 03: Martin Hanzal  of the Phoenix Coyotes skates up to a face off during the NHL game against the Nashville Predators at Arena on November 3, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-3. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)


After their Cinderella regular season last year, I’ve come to grudgingly admire Don Maloney’s Phoenix Coyotes. Sure, there’s a part in all of us that can’t help but cheer for the plucky underdog who succeeds despite great obstacles, but it goes a bit beyond that for me. Afterall, I was the guy picking on the Colorado Avalanche all last season.

No, what was admirable about Maloney in the desert last year is kind of what is admirable about Billy Beane in Oakland: faced with obvious budget handicaps, the ‘yotes GM ignored the fact his team was broke and in the midst of an ownership imboglio and went about making smart, efficient decisions. He’s the guy that landed Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a first round pick for Olli Jokinen (ugh). He hired Dave Tippett when Gretzky got out of the way. He picked up functional cast-offs like Radim Vrbata and Taylor Pyatt. He signed Kurt Sauer to a well-below value contract (for those unfamiliar, Sauer played on the Avs previously and was the player Cliff Fletcher thought he was getting when he signed Jeff Finger to his outrageous contract). At the trade deadline, Maloney swapped mushy-headed Peter Mueller for Wojtek Wolski, a guy who was driving things on the Avs beside Paul Stastny. He also swooped in and signed Eric Belanger for a song after his deal with the Capitals went sideways this summer.

None of this is of the big, splashy, free-agent signing type: just small moves that are good bets to provide some value and incremental improvement. It’s the way every GM should do business *cough*, but it’s of particular necessity in Phoenix given the organizations…issues.

Things aren’t going quite as swimmingly for the desert dogs through the early going this year, however. Their record is the worst in the Pacific division and they are in the bottom-third in the league in terms of offense. They have been without Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal for stretches thus far, but the truth is a low budget club like PHX is always going to walk the razors edge when it comes to offense given that goals are the most expensive things for GM’s to purchase. 

All that said, when JLikens of the Objective NHL looked at possession stats with the score tied (to eliminate playing to score effects) and corrected for strength of schedule, the Coyotes ranked as the 5th best possession team in the league through the first month. So it’s not like all the magic from last season has drained away completely.

In terms of players to watch tonight, the Coyotes future Selke candidate is 23-year old Martin Hanzal. He’s a guy who has faced the big guns for years and kept his head above water. Look for him and Vrbata to be hard matched against whoever Tippett considers to be the Flames primary threat this evening (be it Iginla or otherwise).

  • BobB

    Phoenix should be a good opponent for us to once again “see where we are at”

    They are a team that is pretty darn good at playing the odds, in that, if they keep quality scoring chances against to a minimum and players to the outside, they believe they should win.

    I don’t see a huge difference this year from last year, with the exception of a few bad bounces. Injuries have hurt them, and those bad bounces are coming in the shootout this year. If they had the same luck as last year in that skills competition, they would be 10-5 or 9-5-1 and nipping at the heels of LA.

    They’ve got their wins against the most convincing opponents – LA x2, Chi, Det.

    Bryzgalov will be solid as usual as Phoenix makes their goalies’ job pretty straight-forward, but with their injuries and young team they don’t have much depth.

    Give us two from the depth, and one from the Iggy line or Jokinen line and we should win. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we got shutout cause I’m thinking we only muster around 24 shots.

    3-2 Flames.

  • Bucknuck

    I think this game could potentially make or break this month for our boys. If we pull out a road win this eve then we will get some momentum, and a little confidence, heading into the mid-month against some bigger fish. If we lose then tomorrows game in the tank could be “one of those games” we all have come to loath with this team and might send our fragile boys into a tail spin. We need to see the hunger tonight.

    That is all! Flames 5 – 2

  • BobB

    curious about the exclusion of the young brett arrest in your post, and how it will/won’t affect the game tonight.

    or maybe you just think it won’t have any effect at all.

  • Bucknuck

    Very cool to see you giving some props to what Maloney is doing in the desert. They’re off to a rough start, but that’s not terribly shocking given the circumstances. Between the European trip to start the season and the fact that they aren’t going to sneak up on anyone to start this season (like they did last year), I figured it might be a rough October/Novemeber. But it doesn’t change the fact that their GM has put together a fantastic team with the budget he’s working with.

    I completely agree about Hanzal… that guy doesn’t get nearly the respect that he deserves. He’s just like Z. Michalek from last year… a guy who flies under the radar, 30 teams in the league would love to have him…