Phoenixcoyotes.com: How important was it to get everyone especially guys like Ladislav Nagy & Mike Comrie signed before the start of training camp?
Michael Barnett: With any team sport, if you have members of your playing roster unsigned at the start of camp, it not only can set that individual player behind, the longer the holdout is, but it can also become a distraction for the club. It also eliminates the coach's opportunity to immediately begin trying line combinations and implementing new systems and the things you do in training camp.
The first goal is always to get your roster there, fit and ready to go by opening day, but inside that goal has to be the obvious, and that's do that it an affordable dollar amount that fits within the budget you've been given by ownership.
Phoenixcoyotes.com: After an extended absence from the game, what are you looking for this season from Owen Nolan?
Michael Barnett: We're hoping that he's going to be able to author something similar to the story that Curtis Joseph painted last year. It's clear in retrospect that the year off was extremely beneficial to Curtis and his injured ankle that had suffered a couple surgeries.
There is no question that the best thing for Owen with the magnitude of his knee surgery was time off skates, away from the game and away from the physical demands that a sport like ours places on the knees. He's helped himself enormously this summer by dropping 10 to 12 pounds from his playing weight in Toronto, so he'll be carrying a lighter load. He's aware that the game is played at a quicker pace than the last time he played in the league, so he's done everything he possible can to give himself the chance to get back and be the dominant player that he's always been.
We're not speculating that he's going to be a 20, 25, 30 goal scorer, that will all take care if itself. What we do know is that there is only one way he play's the game and that I rugged, which is what we felt we needed more of, particularly as it pertains to our home record. As a captain for many years in San Jose, he set the table there that it was not an easy rink to play in and he'll be one of 22 players sending that message early this year.
Phoenixcoyotes.com: When you step back and look at all the changes made to the defensive unit this off-season do you now consider the group you have as one of the best in the league?
Michael Barnett: We like our depth. In today's league where we play virtually every second day and have players logging north of 25-minutes, they really have to pace themselves or be remarkably conditioned to play 82-games at a high level and for that many minutes per night. Our feeling is that we have six very solid NHL defensemen. They won't all play equal minutes because some are obviously more accomplished and more experienced than others, but we have the depth now to overcome short-term injury at that position. The opportunity with three right-handed shots, three left-handed shots, guys that are predominately defense-oriented and others that look forward to jumping up in then play, it's the type of mix you hope for.
Now with Ulf Samuelsson coming in to run the blueline, there is no doubt that they are going to be given the directive to play with an edge every single night.
Phoenixcoyotes.com: This team has a lot of solid, established veterans in the locker-room, but you also have a handful of young players who are going to compete for a roster sport this year and vie for playing time. How important is it from an organizational standpoint to have that next crop of talented players coming from within?
Michael Barnett: Last year, Wayne (Gretzky) and the coaching staff, felt very good in retrospect at the end of the year that the minutes (Keith) Ballard, (Zbynek) Michalek, and (Fredrik) Sjostrom had earned, would serve us well in this upcoming year and in years beyond.
You try to every year bring in a couple of younger players that you have developed and brought up through the system and that won't be any different this year. We would like to see a couple of those young players win spots. It's not going to be an easy line-up to crack, but they've all shown potential to have good, solid NHL career and will have an opportunity to stay with the big club come this October.
Phoenixcoyotes.com: How important was it to the team's identity and what you are building here to have Wayne Gretzky return as a head coach and sign a five-year extension?
Michael Barnett: It speaks loudly to how thoroughly he enjoyed getting behind the bench as a head coach. In the role, knowing that he was willing to make a five-year commitment says it all. As far as what it does for our hockey club, it had to have an influence in our successful summer of signing free agents.
To be one of 22-players getting an insight into the mind that governed the arguably the best player that ever played out game, is a privilege. In-between period insights, in-game match-up, all those things that so often as a player he would see and that other wouldn't, is part of the intrigue that proven NHLers find intriguing. They know when they are approached by the Phoenix Coyotes that they are going to get to know and learn from the hockey mind of Wayne Gretzky.
When you look at great organizations like the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA and the Detroit Red Wings (NHL), the New York Islanders (NHL) during their heyday; they all had continuity in management, coaching staff and core players. That is what we are striving for here. Incoming players look for that kind of stability because it says that things are not going to change overnight. What you think and hope that you are walking into is not going to be turned upside down. When you have a coach firmly in place for the next five years and he's hand-picked his staff, who will likely be with him for that long and an ownership committed to creating an entertaining and inning product, all those are part of the reason why players are now looking very strongly at the potential of playing in Phoenix.
Phoenixcoyotes.com: Are you still looking to make another move before the start of the season or are you set with the current roster?
Michael Barnett: You can never say, "We're done." Even teams that win Cups immediately begin thinking the next day about what adjustments they need to make to retain their championship. We haven't won anything yet, but we really like the personnel we have now and coming into training camp. We have a pretty good idea about what this team can be, but you never truly know until you get on the ice. In the end, players that finally garner a roster sport on the NHL club are the ones that control their own destiny. It's in their hands as to how they come together, how hard they play for each other and how high a standard they set in the un-acceptance of losing.
Only time will tell, but we're anxious to see this group that has a high level of widely regarded character, play for each other. That's what championship team do. It's players accepting the role they are given on the club and supporting each other. I think it's unquestionably the foremost group that we've had in the five years since Wane and I have been here.
People around the league will likely regard this as a physical, hard-working hockey club; now the key is, we need to add the word "winning" to that description and that's something that the 22-players need to take care of.