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Off The Post: Looking Forward to 2011-12

by Luke Lapinski / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE -- It hasn’t even been a month since the Coyotes season ended, yet I’m already relegated to watching reruns of poorly written TV shows from the 90’s and attending various events that don’t involve a large sheet of ice. What a mess – a chilling revelation of what my life would be without hockey.

Fortunately, I’m writing this in the afterglow of last week’s Glendale City Council meeting - one of the more grueling best-of-seven series I’ve ever witnessed; a series the Coyotes won, 5-2, ensuring that the team is back for the 2011-12 season and hopefully well beyond. The fact that things went down the way they did encourages me that the right people believe this team will be here long-term. More than anything, it reaffirms just how committed the NHL and the city are to keeping this franchise where it belongs.

It also allows people like me to focus our attention back to the on-ice product. Sure, the 2011-12 season doesn’t technically start until October. But if you factor in draft parties, rookie camps, and the preseason, it’s really only like three and a half weeks away, right? My goal is a summer full of hockey. I’m not sure why anyone would oppose such a utopia. With that in mind, here are six things I’m most excited about heading into next season…

Lauri Korpikoski. Photo by Getty Images.
LAURI KORPIKOSKI: He entered the 2010-11 campaign with 25 career points, then proceeded to erupt for 40. It’s not the number of points, it’s the fact that he racked them up in key situations with a goal scorer’s touch. He reached a new level this season. Now imagine if he can improve even half that much again…

PROSPECTS: The future of this team is bright – and it’s not just because of the usual suspects like Kyle Turris, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Mikkel Boedker. It’s potential goal scorers like Brett MacLean and Viktor Tikhonov. And up-and-coming blueliners like Max Goncharov and Chris Summers. Even youngsters who are probably still a couple years away like Brandon Gormley and Mark Visentin have tremendous upside. The Hockey News recently ranked the group of 21-and-under players in the Coyotes’ system fifth in the NHL. Last time I checked, they seem to know what they’re talking about.

SHANE DOAN & KEITH YANDLE: Do I really need to explain this one?

THE BASELINE: Head Coach Dave Tippett talked about this a couple days after the season ended and it was refreshing to hear. This team isn’t trying to make the playoffs in a given year, it wants making the playoffs every year to be the baseline it builds from – a foundation of winning, rooted in experience. That sounds great but it means even more when you realize Tippett’s delivering on it: he’s been here two years and the Coyotes have made the playoffs each time.

"BIZNASTY" AND FRIENDS: Oh, that wacky Paul Bissonnette - what won’t he say next? His Twitter exploits are legendary and, more importantly, he’s just one of a number of characters on this roster. Any team can get along if everyone in the locker room is boring. But you could probably make a TV show about this group and it would be more entertaining than 90 percent of what’s on cable these days. To have good chemistry with all those personalities coming together is impressive.

Photo by Norm Hall.
FANS: I have faith that the Coyotes are here to stay. Youth hockey in the Valley is growing at a rapid pace, sports fans in this state are hungry for a winner, and the buzz around Westgate after a hockey game is real. It makes this all worthwhile. For all the random verbal assaults on our hockey community, how many other cities have had to step up and show the commitment this one just did to keeping their team when all the chips were in the middle of the table? Just a thought.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Follow Luke Lapinski on Twitter @LukeLapinski.
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