GLENDALE -- The Coyotes franchise came closer than ever to winning its first Stanley Cup in 2011-12. After capturing the club’s first Pacific Division title, the team then reached the Western Conference Final in a memorable playoff run fans won’t soon forget.
In an effort to take the next step, Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney and his staff spent the off-season identifying areas of the roster that needed upgrading and then signing key players to fill those roles. Those players will all be present on Monday when the team takes the ice for the first practice of the 2012-13 training camp.
First and foremost, the Coyotes added veteran winger Steve Sullivan to the mix on July 4, confident he will fill the void left by Ray Whitney, who signed with the Dallas Stars a few days earlier.
|Steve Sullivan. Photo by Norm Hall. |
“Steve is an intelligent player who adds skill to our lineup and will help improve our power play,” Maloney said. “He is a great addition to our roster.”
Sullivan, who notched 17 goals and 48 points for Pittsburgh last season, said signing a one-year pact with Phoenix was an easy decision, especially considering the Coyotes are coached by Dave Tippett.
“They made such a deep run last year, and if you look at how they did it, it was definitely a team effort, starting with great goaltending and working its way out,” Sullivan said. “You hear so many great things about coach Tippett … it’s definitely a system I’m a little bit familiar with. If you look at my years in Nashville – both organizations and coaching styles are similar. I think I can fit into that system, and playing for a players’ coach is always really, really fun.”
Sullivan has played for five other NHL teams: New Jersey, Toronto, Chicago, Nashville and Pittsburgh.
“It’s never easy to coming in to a new organization but I’ve learned most teams are extremely welcoming and there’s not really a bad guy in the game of hockey,” Sullivan said. “I’m really excited to be joining the Coyotes.”
Sullivan, 38, is a crafty player who can play either wing. He has scored one-fourth of his 283 NHL goals on the power play. The Coyotes, who ranked 29th in the NHL on the power play last season (13.6 percent), are hoping he and new forward David Moss will help improve that ranking.
Moss was eager for the season to start because he played only 90 games for the Calgary Flames the past two seasons due to injuries. Last year he missed 50 games because of an ankle injury he suffered after blocking a shot in November.
|Dave Moss. Photo by Norm Hall. |
In 317 NHL games, Moss, 30, has lit the lamp 61 times.
“Hopefully I can add something on the power play,” Moss said. “In past years I’ve been fairly productive on the power play when given a chance in front of the net.”
Like Sullivan, Moss is excited to play for Tippett. He’s also excited to play for Associate Coach Jim Playfair, who watched Moss break into the NHL with Calgary as his head coach in 2006-07.
“David's a great competitor,” Playfair said. “He's got a real passion to be a top player in the NHL. He's a strong player, he's very good in wall battles, and he can get pucks to the net and he's got the ability to finish. Overall, he really fits in to our disciplined style of play.”
Playfair said he expects Moss to develop into an even better player with the Coyotes.
“This is a rebirth for him,” Playfair said. “This is his second organization and I think he feels he has something to prove - that he can be an everyday player and a healthy player, and that he can help teams win. I think that 's what's motivating him and it's really going to serve us well.”
The Coyotes also bolstered their defense in the off-season be re-acquiring shot-blocking defenseman Zbynek Michalek from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a trade that took place during the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
“When I found out I was traded to Phoenix I was really thrilled because I’m heading back to the place where I played my best hockey,” Michalek said.
Michalek played five seasons for the Coyotes before leaving via free agency after the 2009-10 season. During those five seasons he evolved from an undrafted player simply looking to land an NHL job into an alternate captain.
|Zbynek Michalek |
“I really feel like the Coyotes are my team and I’m excited to be coming home,” Michalek said. “I can’t wait to step back on the ice in a Coyotes uniform and play in front of the fans that I had a really good relationship with when I was there. Hopefully they will support me again.”
Maloney said the Coyotes are glad to have Michalek, 29, back on the roster - and under contract for the next three seasons - because they never wanted to lose him in the first place.
“We just thought with the way we play that we needed that No. 1 match-up guy (on defense),” Maloney said. “He was a guy who just fit with us. He was an assistant captain when he left so we know what we’re getting.”
Likewise, Michalek knows what he’s getting with the Coyotes.
“I think I watched every single game they played in the playoffs (last season) and I was so impressed with the way they played,” Michalek said. “Having said that, I wasn’t surprised how well they played at all because of the way they’re coached. Nobody gives the Coyotes enough credit. They had a great run and it was fun to see. I was really rooting for them hard.”
With all of the new faces in the lineup, the Coyotes are expecting even bigger things in the 2012-13 season.