A week or so has passed since the season ended for the Coyotes and I left Phoenix to continue broadcasting in the playoffs on TSN and NBC.
That wasn’t what I had in mind when the 2008-09 season started, as I felt very confident in our chances to progress and take that next step to the postseason.
Make no mistake; I enjoy doing the playoffs and being in the heat of the action. Why wouldn’t I? That’s what I came here
for. I came to be part of a winning team. I came to the desert to be broadcasting Coyotes games in the playoffs.
Here are five keys to the Coyotes getting into the Stanley Cup Playoffs next year:
• It is an 82-game schedule no matter how you slice and dice it up. For the past several seasons, the Coyotes have been a pretty competitive team for 60-68 games. Not an 82-game team. When adversity hits this team, the record falls. It’s time to get playoff tough...in the regular season.
The regular season is about preparing for the grind of winning the Stanley Cup. The Coyotes can’t fall in love with 5- and 10-game segments, and then fall out of love with the same group of players after a few losses. There has to be consistency. There has to be belief. It starts now.
• Accountability is a prominent word when talking about the good to great teams. There is character on the team when there is accountability in the room. Check your egos at the door when the first day of training camp begins. This is not about individual accomplishments. This is about winning as many 10-game segments as you can, especially in February, March and April. This is about believing in the dream and in the process of accomplishing the dream. It will be about not accepting poor play, from the players in the room to the coaches on the bench.
• Specialty teams win hockey games. Period. The Coyotes can not be in the bottom five in both the PP and the PK. There is no excuse for that. Wayne Gretzky has said it many times about key moments in games when the PP has to step up. Too many one-goal games were lost because of it. The PP needs structure, as it had late in the season with the likes of Matthew Lombardi, Scottie Upshall, Keith Yandle
and Shane Doan
on the ice. The trades brought hockey sense and chemistry, and now we have to add to the skill level.
• There has to be no negotiation when it comes to mistakes that get made, no matter who the player. I was between the benches for NBC for Game 2 between Washington and the N.Y. Rangers and the phrases you hear from players and coaches are all the same. Here they are:
“Get the puck deep”
“Chip it in and chip it out”
“No one-on-one late in the period, don’t turn the puck over”
“Take a hit to make a play”
“Close the gaps, hold the line”
There are many more, but these are staples in our game. If you can’t follow these simple sayings as an NHL player, you shouldn’t be in this league.
• There is NO entitlement. With the movement the Coyotes have made toward the draft picks and the youth, there appears to be entitlement. That can not be the case. The message at the exit meetings for all the young players was simple: Here is what you have to do in the off-season to be on the team next September. If you don’t do that and get better in these areas, then the AHL is waiting for you.
There are ZERO guarantees to be on the big squad. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Simple enough. We need an extra layer of skin if we are going to be known as a tough team to play against and a team that will compete for the Stanley Cup, not just the playoffs.
Do me a favor and watch as many playoff games as you can. Check the phrases that I have listed above. You will see them all. When the season starts, see how we are doing. Remember that in October, November and December, the teams that have gone a long way in the playoffs don’t quite have that intensity just yet. It will be in the later months that the Coyotes will have to play like men. That’s when the little things will be the biggest of all things.
Enjoy the playoffs.