Fresh off a playoff appearance in 2009-10, the Coyotes looked to capitalize on their unexpected success and scrapped together a second consecutive postseason stint, thanks in large part to the efforts of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. The Coyotes’ recent success is particularly impressive when one considers the roller coaster that has become Phoenix’s ownership saga.
With cries of relocation to Winnipeg, the franchise’s original home until the mid-90s, echoing throughout Jobing.com Arena, the team secured a playoff spot but ultimately succumbed to the Detroit Red Wings in four straight games. Still without an owner, the Coyotes managed to lock in one of the NHL’s top defensemen in Keith Yandle to a five-year extension and also came to terms with Lauri Korpikoski on a two-year deal after the winger’s explosive emergence.
The Coyotes’ inability to score consistently doomed the team to failure in the 2010-11 playoffs and Phoenix will head into the new season with two tall tasks in front of them. The ‘Yotes must develop a sustained offensive threat and improve on last year’s pedestrian 2.76 goals per game average, while finding a way to replace arguably their most valuable player in Bryzgalov.
Phoenix inked Mike Smith, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning, to compete with Bryz’s former backup Jason LaBarbera. Neither option provides any certainty at the position, and if the team continues to struggle to light the lamp, it’s tough to imagine the Coyotes advancing beyond the first round of the 2011-12 playoffs for the third straight season.
THE BIG GUNS
Shane Doan (RW): Doan has emerged as the face of the Coyotes franchise. The captain quietly takes care of business, falling below the 50-point platform just once in the previous 11 seasons (he tallied 49 in 2001-02). With 20 goals and 40 assists in 2010-11, Doan once again figures to be a prominent piece of the Coyotes’ offensive puzzle and should be treated as a top-20 option at right wing.
Keith Yandle (D): The Coyotes signed Yandle, the team’s lone All-Star representative, to a five-year contract extension during the offseason, ensuring that the most important piece of the blue line remains in the desert. Yandle finished last season ranked third in scoring among NHL defensemen, notching 11 goals and 48 assists. The blueliner was also the team’s most productive playmaker on the power play, tallying 26 points when the Coyotes had a man advantage. Yandle has proven his worth as a top defenseman in the league and should be treated as such in fantasy drafts.
ON THE RISE
Mike Smith (G): Smith, who posted a 13-6-1 record in 22 games last season, arrived in Phoenix with a legitimate opportunity to become the team’s No. 1 netminder after he was unable to secure a considerable role in Tampa Bay with the emergence of Dan Ellis. Now that Ilya Bryzgalov has departed for the East Coast, the Coyotes need to shore up a goalie situation that is anything but clear. The coaching staff knows what to expect from veteran Jason LaBarbera, so barring a disastrous training camp, it’s not unreasonable to expect the team to roll with Smith out of the gate. If the Coyotes can muster an improved offensive attack, Smith could emerge as a decent fantasy option.
Lauri Korpikoski (LW): Korpikoski was rewarded for his excellent 2010-11 season with a two-year contract extension this offseason. After bursting onto the scene with career-highs in goals (19), assists (21), game-winners (four), and a respectable plus-17 rating, Korpikoski proved to be one of the Coyotes’ most consistent offensive threats. The winger played his way into top-six minutes last season and general manager Don Maloney envisions a similar, if not expanded, role for Korpikoski in 2011-12.
TWO TO AVOID
Martin Hanzal (C): While Hanzal tallied the best scoring numbers of his career last season (16 goals), his assists took a significant hit, dropping to 10. He also struggled to stay healthy throughout the year and the Coyotes aren’t thrilled with the center position. The team will likely mix it up during the season to find different line combinations to spark some offense and Hanzal’s playing time could fall victim to the experiment.
Rostislav Klesla (D): Klesla, who came to the Coyotes in February of the 2011 season, has had a difficult time remaining on the ice. In 61 games last season, the blueliner notched just four goals and seven assists to go along with a plus-4 rating. Klesla appeared to have some trouble finding his niche with the Coyotes, tallying just one of his four scores with Phoenix. The defenseman has cracked the 20-point plateau just once in his career and it’s difficult to foresee that changing in the desert.
Kyle Turris (C): Turris played in 65 games with the Coyotes in 2010-11, but is expected to spend some time at the AHL level this season. The former Wisconsin Badger notched 11 goals and 14 assists in Phoenix, and caught the eye of head coach Dave Tippett with his play during the Coyotes’ lone playoff series against the Red Wings. With the team looking to create a spark at the center position, a young player such as Turris could have an opportunity to carve out some extra playing time and capitalize on his momentum from the end of last season.
Andy Miele (C): Miele, who took home the 2010-11 Hobey Baker trophy, exploded onto the hockey scene with an eye-popping 71 points in 39 games while skating at Miami of Ohio. Twenty-four of those points came in the form of goals and the Coyotes could use some of his offensive burst as the team struggles to create more scoring opportunities. With Eric Belanger now in Edmonton, Phoenix hopes their young prospect could contribute early on and fill some of the void. Miele is an especially intriguing option for keeper leagues.