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Out of the playoffs in 4th straight season, Coyotes seek answers

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -The Phoenix Coyotes have seen plenty of change in recent years.

They moved into a state-of-the-art building, underwent an ownership shuffle and switched colors.

They even hired the biggest name in hockey, Wayne Gretzky, as coach.

Yet one thing remains constant: Phoenix will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth straight season. And that might mean more changes in the roster and the front office.

"Any time you're not winning, everybody's in focus and in line to take criticism and the heat to go with it," Gretzky said. "This is a great sports city and a city that wants to do well. ... When a team is not successful, obviously you start pointing fingers, and that's just human nature."

The Coyotes are tied with Los Angeles for last place in the Western Conference after snapping a five-game losing streak in a 4-0 victory over Philadelphia on Monday night.

This is not where the team expected to be last July, when it introduced four free agents - center Jeremy Roenick, defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Nick Boynton and forward Georges Laraque.

Of those four, only Boynton still contributes every night. Jovanovski has been out since Feb. 22 with a groin injury. Roenick's playing time has dwindled, and he's talking about retiring. Laraque was traded to Pittsburgh for a third-round draft choice and rookie left wing Daniel Carcillo, who scored his first NHL goal Saturday.

"No one is happy," captain Shane Doan said.

Still, Gretzky won't be going anywhere.

"It's easy to jump ship when things are not perfect," said Gretzky, who owns a piece of the team and signed a five-year contract last May. "The reality is, at the end of the day, when you have success it's much more rewarding when you battle through tough times. And obviously, this has been a tough time for the entire organization and for hockey fans here in Phoenix."

The Coyotes and their $42 million payroll didn't win enough this season, but Gretzky defended the moves, saying the club needed to sign free agents to compete in the crowded Phoenix sports market.

"I don't know if people realize and know how tough it was here just to try to survive, to bring players in to just have this franchise survive," Gretzky said. "We tried some of those players. It didn't work out. It wasn't successful. It wasn't from a lack of trying to put together a group to make this team better."

After opening the season 2-8, the Coyotes never recovered. After reaching .500 (20-20-2) on Jan. 9, they dropped four of the next five and have languished since.

That midseason slide forced the organization to change its plan.

"We made a clear decision that if we're not going to be successful in making the playoffs, then we're going to go young," Gretzky said. "It's going to be a tough grind here for a while."

General manager Michael Barnett, Gretzky's friend and former agent, acknowledged the Coyotes "need more firepower." But he said the roster doesn't require an overhaul and that a crop of minor-league prospects will pay dividends.

"There are obviously important pieces that we need to add," Barnett said. "But we haven't done anything in the last six months to enhance the present at the expense of the future, and that's certainly following with the plan. We're developing our own. Over the long term, that's the formula for success in the new (salary) cap world that we play in in the NHL."

But will fans be patient?

President Doug Moss, who spends game nights bantering with ticketholders in the arena concourses, thinks so.

"It's a little bit of a change of direction, but it's a proven way to build a foundation for a team in the NHL, and I think our fans understand that," he said.

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