The ongoing uncertainty of the Coyotes’ future in Phoenix hasn’t affected the club’s on-ice performance the last two years. Phoenix ended a long playoff drought with its first postseason appearance since 2002 with a 107-point campaign in 2009-10, then made it back-to-back playoff berths this past season.
Neither run lasted long though, as Phoenix ran into Detroit both years. After pushing the Red Wings to seven games in 2010, the Coyotes were swept this past season. Now Phoenix must try to find a way to get over that first-round hump without Ilya Bryzgalov in goal, as he found $51 million reasons to spend the next nine years in Philadelphia.
2010-11 record: 43-26-13, 99 points (3rd Pacific Division; 6th Western Conference; lost in first round to Detroit, 4-0)
Key additions: F Raffi Torres (free agent); G Mike Smith (free agent); F Kyle Chipchura (free agent); F Boyd Gordon (free agent); F Alexandre Bolduc (free agent); G Curtis McElhinney (free agent); D Dean Arsene (free agent); D Nathan Oystrick (free agent); G Justin Pogge (free agent); F Patrick O’Sullivan (free agent); F Marc Pouliot (trade with Tampa bay); D Tyler Eckford (free agent); F Matt Clackson (trade with Philadelphia)
Key losses: G Ilya Bryzgalov (traded to Philadelphia); F Vernon Fiddler (signed with Dallas); D Ed Jovanovski (signed with Florida); F Andrew Ebbett (signed with Vancouver); D Nolan Yonkman (signed with Florida); F Eric Belanger (signed with Edmonton); F Bracken Kearns (signed with Florida)
Burning question: How will the Coyotes replace Ilya Bryzgalov in goal?
The Coyotes devoted their resources toward re-signing defenseman Keith Yandle, who inked a five-year, $26.25-million deal this summer to stay in Phoenix. But the financially floundering league-owned club wasn’t prepared to hand out another long-term, big-money deal, and traded starting goalie Bryzgalov to the Flyers, who signed him to a nine-year, $51-million deal.
To replace him, the Coyotes signed Mike Smith, who was made expendable in Tampa after Dwayne Roloson’s arrival. Smith was 13-6-1 with the Lightning last year, but with just a 2.90 GAA and .899 save percentage. The Coyotes also added Curtis McElhinney as a backup. He was just 9-13-1 with a 3.18 GAA and .897 save percentage with Anaheim and Ottawa. Phoenix also took a flyer on former Leafs prospect Justin Pogge. Toronto chose to hold on to Pogge and deal Tuukka Rask back in 2006, but Pogge played just seven games in Toronto, going 1-4-1 with a 4.35 GAA and .844 save percentage in 2008-09.
2011-12 outlook: The Coyotes will count on budding star Yandle more than ever now that Bryzgalov is gone. Yandle had 11-48-59 totals last year and is now the unquestioned leader of the defense with Ed Jovanovski heading back to Florida. There is plenty of leadership up front as well, with captain Shane Doan (20-40-60) and veteran Ray Whitney (17-40-57) leading the way. But Phoenix will need more from its young players, particularly Kyle Turris, the third overall pick of the 2007 draft, and Andy Miele, last year’s Hobey Baker winner who signed with the Coyotes after leading the NCAA in scoring with 24-47-71 totals in 39 games at Miami of Ohio.
Did you know? Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette is best known to fans for his colorful Twitter feed, but he’s also become quite well acquainted with his fellow tough guys in his two seasons in Phoenix. Not that opposing heavyweights have much choice, as Bissonnette is pretty much all there is as far as toughness on the Coyotes roster. In 2009-10, he had 19 of Phoenix’s 30 fighting majors despite playing just 41 games. Last year, Bissonnette had 13 of Phoenix’s 23 fights while playing 48 games. So in his two years in Phoenix, Bissonnette has fought 32 times. The rest of the Coyotes have a combined 21 fighting majors. Vernon Fiddler, who signed with Dallas this summer, was a distant second on the team with four fights over the past two seasons.