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Coyotes feel they're deeper, but are they better?

Friday, 09.30.2011 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 15

By Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

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Coyotes feel they're deeper, but are they better?
With key performers like goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov gone, the Phoenix Coyotes will rely on depth and some key newcomers as they try for a third consecutive playoff berth.
In one sense, the Phoenix Coyotes 2010-11 season ended the same way as the season before -- a loss in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Detroit Red Wings.

But so much was different in 2009-10, when the Coyotes set franchise records for wins and points and cruised into a playoff spot with home-ice advantage before losing to Detroit in seven games. Last season, the Coyotes improved offensively but lost some of their defensive mojo, had one of the League's worst penalty kills, crept into the playoffs by two points and were swept from the postseason.

Changes -- some expected, some a result of the team's on-going financial uncertainty -- came this summer. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who rewrote the franchise record book in less than four seasons, was shipped to Philadelphia, where he signed a long-term, big-money deal. Center Vernon Fiddler, defenseman Ed Jovanovski and 19-goal scorer Lee Stempniak are gone.

Some of those big-ticket players will be replaced by cheaper veterans (Mike Smith, Daymond Langkow, Raffi Torres) or young players getting the chance to prove they belong in the NHL (Mikkel Boedker, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Kyle Turris).

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards
r. whitney d. langkow s. doan
l. korpikoski m. hanzal r. vrbata
t. pyatt a. miele m. boekdker
r. torres b. gordon v. tikhonov
k. turris* p. bissonette
DEFENSE
k. yandle d. morris
r. klesla m. rozsival
o. ekman-larsson d. schlemko
a. aucoin
GOALIES
m. smith
j. labarbera
ones to watch
d maxim goncharov
f brett maclean
f kyle chipchura
* restricted free agent
"If you look at our roster, I think we're deeper at every position over the team that started last year," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "We're very happy with the depth in our goaltending with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera and we are very optimistic that we've positioned ourselves for not only another run at the playoffs, but a chance to go further."



The Coyotes rely heavily on scoring by committee. Shane Doan led the team with 20 goals last season, but 10 players -- nine of them forwards -- scored at least 11 times. Two of those forwards, Stempniak and center Eric Belanger, are gone, but Phoenix is hoping veteran newcomers Langkow and Torres will fill those spots and stats.

Langkow, acquired from Calgary for Stempniak, missed all but four games last season following neck surgery, but he expects to be 100 percent this season. If that's the case, he could be paired with Doan and 39-year-old Ray Whitney on a "30-something" line. Langkow also will give a boost to a penalty-killing unit that was one of the League's worst last season.

Lauri Korpikoski is coming off a career-best 19 goals and 40 points and was rewarded with a new contract over the summer. He will likely be paired with the Czech duo of Martin Hanzal (16 goals in 61 games) and Radim Vrbata, who signed a three-year extension after totaling 19 goals and 48 points.

The third line has to score as well, and will have a new look with Fiddler gone and hard-working faceoff specialist and penalty killer Boyd Gordon taking over. Taylor Pyatt showed signs of being the power forward the Coyotes need with 18 goals and 31 points. Torres, who went to the Stanley Cup Final last spring with Vancouver, is a gritty agitator who can score (14 goals, 29 assists).

Then there are the kids. The Coyotes saw good things from Boedker last season and are hoping he will show he's ready for big minutes with skilled lines and power-play units. Viktor Tikhonov had eight goals in 61 games with the Coyotes in 2008-09 but hasn’t been back in the NHL since, with stops in AHL San Antonio and Russia. This season could be his last shot with Phoenix. Brett MacLean has great size and a nose for the net, but has to show he can keep up with the pace of the NHL game.

SUMMER MOVES

IN: Alexandre Bolduc, C (free agent, Canucks); Kyle Chipchura, C (free agent, Ducks); Tyler Eckford, D (free agent, Devils); Boyd Gordon, C (free agent, Capitals); Daymond Langkow, C (trade, Flames); Curtis McElhinney, G (free agent, Senators); Petteri Nokelainen, C (free agent, Jokerit Helsinki, Finland); Mike Smith, G (free agent, Lightning); Patrick O'Sullivan, C (free agent, Wild); Raffi Torres, LW (free agent, Canucks)

OUT: Eric Belanger, C (free agent, Oilers); Ilya Bryzgalov, G (trade, Flyers); Andrew Ebbett, C (free agent, Canucks); Vernon Fiddler, C (free agent, Stars); Ed Jovanovski, D (free agent, Panthers); Lee Stempniak, RW (trade, Flames)
The biggest question mark is Turris, the third pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, who had 11 goals in 2010-11 and appeared to take a giant step forward at the end of the season. As of press time, however, Turris remains an unsigned restricted free agent.

Paul Bissonnette remains a legitimate heavyweight but was less active last season, dipping to 71 penalty minutes in 48 games after ringing up 117 in 41 games in 2009-10.



The Coyotes let Jovanovski walk (he signed with Florida) after his five-year, $32.5 million contract expired and declined to spend big on a veteran to replace him, leaving it to their current blue-line candidates to fill the void.

Some of that money went to giving Keith Yandle a five-year, $26.25 million contract extension, locking up one of the most dynamic defensemen in the League. On a team that doesn't boast a plethora of skill up front, Yandle was second among all blueliners with 48 assists and third with 59 points last season. He serves as an assistant captain and has assumed the unofficial title of most likely to succeed Doan as Captain Coyote.

Yandle's preferred partner is Derek Morris, who the Coyotes re-acquired in part to finish the mentoring job he started. Now 33, Morris is a steady veteran, and while quickness is becoming an issue, they remain a solid pair. Czechs Michal Rozsival and Rostislav Klesla were acquired last season at the expense of goal-scoring forwards (Rozsival from the Rangers for Wojtek Wolski, Klesla from the Blue Jackets for Scottie Upshall), but give the Coyotes size, strength and two more players who can log heavy minutes.

Adrian Aucoin remains a solid, smart, dependable player at age 38, but it's probably time to cut back his minutes for peak effectiveness. Aucoin could serve as mentor for the 21-year-old Ekman-Larsson, the sixth pick of the 2009 draft, who showed flashes last season but ultimately lost his job to steady sparkplug David Schlemko -- one of Phoenix's better players in the playoffs.



COYOTES 30 IN 15 RELATED STORIES

This is the biggest question mark on the team.

Bryzgalov was the Coyotes' MVP in each of the last two seasons and had a Vezina-quality season in 2009-10. However, his postseason numbers were a different story and his struggles last spring made his huge contract demands easier to reject.

Neither member of the new goalie tandem has played more than 42 games in an NHL season. Smith, who played for coach Dave Tippett in Dallas and began last season as the starter in Tampa Bay, spent part of last season in the minors but finished the season as Dwayne Roloson's backup. LaBarbera played sparingly the last two seasons as the No. 2 goalie behind Bryzgalov.

Maloney wasted little time signing Smith after free agency opened.

"We've always liked Mike. He's a very athletic goaltender, with flashes of brilliance and then some average play," Maloney said. "But Dave Tippett had Mike in Dallas and knows his personality and talent and (goalie coach) Sean Burke has had great success with big goaltenders. When we first got Bryzgalov, there were a lot of inconsistencies in his game. With some help and the change in styles with our team, we think he can be a very good goaltender in this League."
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