The Coyotes gathered Thursday at Jobing.com Arena to take physical exams, sign memorabilia, meet with the coaching staff and say goodbye before going their separate ways for the off-season.
While everyone still was disappointed by the outcome of the team’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Detroit Red Wings, they were also pleased with the strides that were made this season.
“To go from off-ice turmoil, to put the focus back on the ice and on the game itself, I think we came a long way this year,” Head coach Dave Tippett said. “What’s happened now is we’ve set the bar higher for ourselves moving forward and it’s going to be a challenge to make sure that bar moves up again, but when you move it up again, that’s when you know you’ve become a good hockey team.”
Captain Shane Doan
talked to the media about how he and his teammates didn’t want the season to end, but how they were pleased with the progress that was made in the dressing room.
“This wasn’t what anyone was planning on doing today,” Doan said. “You look back over the year and you’re disappointed with the way it finishes, but we enjoyed this year. We had fun as a group and I think that’s big for us.”
Doan said this season’s success – the team won a franchise record 50 games and 29 home games and earned a franchise record 107 points – can be a foundation for the future.
“This is a base for where we start from,” Doan said. “This (making the playoffs) can’t be an anomaly; this has to be kind of the standard.”
General Manager Don Maloney also talked about “the base” and how it can be built upon.
“What excites me is it (this season) sets the base for this franchise,” Maloney said. “This off-season, I don’t have to be worrying about a coach and a staff and a goaltender. We have to say now, ‘How do we get better?’ (and) ‘How do we tweak this?’ We established where we want to be, how we’re going to play, now how do we improve on it?”
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who finished with career bests in games played (69), shutouts (8), goals-against average (2.29), save percentage (.920) and a career best and franchise best 42 wins, on Thursday said he’d like the momentum from this season to continue into next season.
“I hope we will be moving forward and everybody can stay positive and work hard, because our mission is to win the Stanley Cup here,” Bryzgalov said.
Forward Radim Vrbata
, who made his return to Phoenix after spending last season in Tampa Bay and back home in his native Czech Republic, talked about how much he enjoyed his return to the Coyotes.
“Especially with the season we had, it was fun to be around the guys and everybody in the dressing room and at the rink,” Vrbata said. “I knew what to expect but it was better than what I could expect.”
Vrbata also talked about how the chemistry in the dressing room was key to the team’s success this season.
“We had just a great bunch of guys,” Vrbata said. “It just seemed like everything you needed to click, just clicked. And it starts with Shane (Doan) and Jovo (Ed Jovanovski) and guys who even came at the trade deadline. They gelled in right away, it was a special situation and it was fun to be around.”
While he acknowledged what the team accomplished, Tippett stopped short of calling the season “a success.”
“There’s only one team that has a successful season, and that’s the one that wins the Cup,” Tippett said. “There’s been a lot of good stuff that has happened here, and you can’t discredit any of that, but for me there’s only one successful team.”