Ownerless. Starless. Penny-less.
All words, or variations of words, that describe the Phoenix Coyotes. And they never rang more true than this year, a season which saw a ragtag team of role players, veterans and second-chance seekers thrown together in the hopes of achieving something magical.
What transpired was unlike anything ever seen before in the Phoenix-metro area, the state of Arizona and the sports world across the board. A team that absolutely nobody picked to even make the playoffs mustered their way to not only a postseason spot, but a Pacific Division championship to boot.
Sure, the Desert Dogs have a few players on their roster that would be much more heralded and well-known in bigger markets, but you can count them on one hand. But for the others, this was the chance to be part of something bigger, something that would grab attention and something that analysts, fans and casuals look back on say, “Damn, that was fun.”
For nearly 100 games this season, regular season and playoffs combined, the Coyotes busted their ass in their search for glory, coming up just short as they fell to the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the Western Conference Finals. The final game of the season was as good as they get, with end-to-end action, big hits, controversy and a lively, enthusiastic crowd all thrown into the mix, creating a combustible element that seemed ready to explode at any second. (more…)
Looking back on my first round NHL predictions, I got five out of the eight series correct in terms of the teams advancing (the Predators, Coyotes, Blues, Rangers and Devils). Out of those predictions, I only hit one on the head (Blues in 5) while I was barely off on the other four except maybe the Rangers, who I had winning in five but needed seven games. I was completely wrong on the Kings/Canucks, Flyers/Penguins and Capitals/Bruins.
But now looking at the second round match-ups, I can honestly say that I am still pleased with the outcomes. Not necessarily because of the games that will be provided, but because looking at the remaining teams gives me great joy because it upsets the established order that has come to define professional hockey in recent years. There are no Red Wings, no Blackhawks, no Penguins, no Bruins and no Canucks. Instead, viewers will get a nice, heavy dose of what people are not used to seeing, for the most part.
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com writer
What are the odds of Shane Doan being recognized if he walked into any random supermarket around Phoenix at any point between 1996 and 2011? I’m not sure, he’s a big guy, but you could find plenty of 6-foot-2, 220-pound bros at your local gym. If you lined him up with Luis Gonzalez, Steve Nash, and Larry Fitzgerald, who do you think an average Arizona sports fan would gravitate to first?
Maybe at this point his popularity has increased incrementally, but over the past 15 years, given the amount of coverage the Phoenix Coyotes have received, I doubt Arizona fans have given Doan his proper due.
He’s the longest tenured professional athlete in Arizona sports today, and a last remaining member of the original Winnipeg Jets when they moved to downtown Phoenix in 1996, but I’m wondering how much he’s really appreciated overall. To give his time here some perspective, there are no current Expos with the Washington Nationals, and it’s been around seven years since that franchise moved from Montreal. You seldom get players to stick around in the same city for an extended period of time, and Doan has done it with the least popular franchise in Arizona.
How overshadowed has Doan been? Let’s think about the other three sports teams in Phoenix.
Heartbreak has come to define the Phoenix Coyotes in recent years. They have been plagued by ongoing ownership issues, tepid fan support and playoff disappointments. Just about when they seem ready to turn the page and start a new chapter in their history, they shut down the engine.
Well, its time to pick up the pen again as the Desert Dogs have advanced to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of their series, winning the set 4-2. They now face-off with the Nashville Predators, which eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in five games. The Coyotes series win was the first since the team moved from Winnipeg in 1996, the first time in franchise history since 1987.
This is a team devoid of top talent, relying heavily on their goaltending and team defensive structure. There are no Sidney Crosbys or Alex Ovechkins on this club. No Zdeno Charas or Shea Webers (who Phoenix will meet in the next series). No Henrik Lundqvists or Pekka Rinnes (another Predator). Nobody could’ve ever guessed that a team with Mike Smith as its net minder, 39-year-old Ray Whitney as its best offensive weapon and 20-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson leading the defensive corps would get to the playoffs, let alone win their division. But they did it, and have overachieved more than any team in the NHL this season.
Its been said that the playoffs are the real season, when the men are separated from the boys and the regular season means nothing. Well, it is that time of the year for the NHL and after a grueling 82-game schedule, 16 teams are in and ready to battle for one of sports’ most recognizable trophies — the Stanley Cup. The following is a breakdown of the Western Conference first-round match-ups, with predictions provided below each series.
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
Last year’s Western Conference champs, the Canucks, were a dominant force from top to bottom and appear to be at least 95% of their selves from 2010-11. They are a high-powered offensive club who prides themselves on their name and location, providing an intimidating factor. They blew through the Northwest Division and are the only team from the division to make the playoffs.
The Kings on the other hand blew their chance at the Pacific Division crown but played well enough down the stretch to be considered an upset special. They have a Vezina Trophy caliber goaltender in Jonathan Quick and nice offensive weapons in Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, but their defense is suspect.
All in all, this should be the most entertaining series to watch with the abundance of offensive talent but the Canucks are rolling into the postseason. They are the more physical team and should wear down LA on both ends.
Canucks in 5
BY BRETT MURDOCK, Couchsideshow.com contributor
They lost their franchise goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov, who signed an outrageous contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. They are still owned by the NHL and are always under the relocation cloud. And, they still did not have a marquee player to really put butts in the seats at Jobing.com Arena.
They attempted to more or less replace some lost pieces through the market, acquiring goaltender Mike Smith and fourth-line grinder Raffi Torres on the first day of free agency. Their ownership troubles still loomed but there are still interested parties, reportedly. And they acquired former Coyote and first-line center Daymond Langkow in a trade.
The 2011-12 season started off alright as the boys surprised everyone by jumping out of the gate quite nicely, but quickly simmered into something more resembling a team going through the motions than a franchise looking to prove that they weren’t just lucky or a fluke the past two years. Entering the recently completed All-Star break, they were mired in a pack of six teams vying for a playoff spot and did not look like they had the drive, or talent, to make it to the finish line.