On Sunday afternoon, the Coyotes players, coaches and management gathered at Glendale Arena for a team meeting as Phoenix officially concluded their 2005-06 training camp and began working towards the regular season. The next order of business for the Coyotes is making the final round of cuts and submitting a 23-man roster to the NHL by the 9:00 a.m. Monday morning deadline.
For the Coyotes, there are still several decisions to be made in regards to which players will make the opening night roster and which will be assigned to the team's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
Phoenix's defensive unit has been the subject of much speculation during this preseason in regards to which players will make the 23-man roster. With veteran defensemen Paul Mara, Sean O'Donnell, Cale Hulse, Derek Morris, Denis Gauthier and David Tanabe already aboard, there are only a limited number of open spots remaining and several viable candidates. Rookies Keith Ballard and Matt Jones have been impressive in both the Coyotes training camp, as well as the preseason. Jones and Ballard continually impressed the coaching staff and made it nearly impossible to take them out of the lineup.
Add to the mix Zbynek Michalek and the decision becomes even harder. Michalek has 22 games of NHL experience under his belt after spending part of the 2003-04 season as a member of the Minnesota Wild. During this preseason, Michalek has demonstrated that he has the ability to thrive at the NHL level, including scoring the game-winning goal in overtime on Saturday night against the Mighty Ducks.
Up front, Fredrik Sjostrom and Jeff Taffe have also put together impressive training camps and are strong candidates for the opening night roster.
Another factor in the Coyotes decisions will be injuries. Currently, the Coyotes have several key veterans nursing minor injuries. If a decision is made that a player will have to begin the season on the injured reserve list, Phoenix would be able to substitute that player on the opening night roster. However, once a player is ready to return from the injured reserve list, the Coyotes would have to make a roster move to create a vacant roster stop before the player in question could return. At this point, no decision has been made as to whether or not the Coyotes will have anyone on the injured reserve list, but the possibility remains.
The good news for the Coyotes is that they have benefited from a deep, talented roster in this year's training camp and while it is always hard to make the final round of cuts, having too many talented players rather than not enough is a problem that has many general manager envious of Coyotes General Manager Mike Barnett. Now the waiting begins as the Coyotes prepare to make a final roster announcement on Monday morning.