November 8, 2010

The Do’s and Doan’s of Building a Contender: Why the Phoenix Coyotes are Mired in a Slump

It used to be that Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan was a fantasy hound. He struck the perfect balance between contributing the odd point and making the odd trip to the penalty box, with the odd alleged slur aimed at French Canadians added in for good measure. But no longer. Now the only slurs he’s uttering are solely in karma’s direction.

Doan recently found himself on the receiving end of an awkward collision with Dallas Star Nicklas Grossman, sustaining a lower-body injury last Friday with the hit. As a result, he’s been put on the shelf for what is being called an extended period of time. This after he nearly sidelined Anaheim Duck Dan Sexton with an illegal hit last month and broke Cam Fowler’s nose in the same game. 

Meanwhile, his Coyotes have lost more than their captain, going 4-5-4 in the team’s first 13 games this season. Last year after the same amount of games they were 9-4 en route to a franchise-record 107-point season. So, without further ado, a simple do’s and Doan’s list to be used as a reference guide for head coach Dave Tippett and general manager Don Maloney:

Do play your best players. I don’t think anyone knows exactly why Wojtek Wolski was a healthy scratch for two games, except for his obvious goal-scoring drought that has somehow made its way through the entire roster like a new strand of the Black Plague. I mean, Ed Jovanovski’s a good guy, but not who you want leading your team in scoring. Truth be told, Wolski does have six points in his last six games, with his two games out of the line-up coming smack-dab in the middle. So, the next best guess regarding his benching: Wolski spit in his coffee and instead of snickering behind Tippett’s back, he was all in-your-face about it. Smooth, Wojtek.

"Easy as spitting in your coach's coffee... I mean pie! Spitting in your coach's pie!"

Doan sign Eric Belanger and make him your number-one center. Too late, apparently. While Belanger is a healthy addition to any line-up, he should only be signed for depth purposes only. Belanger excels as a third-liner and can really only be expected to put up lower-tier top-six numbers, if that. The defensive aspect of his game is his strong suit and that should be embraced, not taken as a sign that he’s ready to step up and become a late-blooming French-Canadian Sidney Crosby.

Do examine your goaltending options. Ilya Bryzgalov has been decent in nets and cannot legitimately be considered a one-year wonder after his spectacular 2009-2010, but the team’s depth chart in goal is surprisingly thin. As it stands now, his being the best use of money by the name of Ilya in the NHL isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. With Vancouver Canuck Cory Schneider potentially available, maybe it’s time to think further down the line. Maybe it would be wise to consider actually challenging Bryzgalov to maintain his ever-softening grip on the number-one spot. Sure, Jason LaBarbera isn’t scaring anyone, but, put another way, neither is Al Montoya as your next viable option.

Doan trade for Marc Savard, no matter how in need your team is of a first-line center. Considering the logjam the Boston Bruins currently have at forward, it would be wise to wait until Savard actually gets healthy, at which point you should still be able to catch them desperate enough for cap relief to get him relatively cheaply. The rumours may not be true, but sometimes where there’s smoke there’s fire. And if the ones concerning Keith Yandle going back the other way are even remotely true, Maloney may end up being burned at the stake.

Do finally ease Kyle Turris into the line-up. Admittedly, Turris has been playing lately, but Tippett’s generosity has been inconsistent with his ice-time varying from a low of just over six minutes to a high of just under 18. I thought the Coyotes were trying to groom a first-liner, not an actual desert dog through behavioural conditioning. He’s been through enough already, missing out on being a Chicago Blackhawk being at the top of the list had Dale Tallon not guessed right with Patrick Kane three years ago.

"If this isn't a license to get crazy on the ice, I don't know what is."
Doan dole out illegal hits and then pretend you don’t know how you got suspended by the league. That has a nasty way of catching up to you and your teammates.

Obviously it’s still early in the season and a lot can change, but improvement can’t come soon enough. They take to the ice against the Detroit Red Wings, and, considering they were the team that eliminated Phoenix last post-season, it would make for a fitting time for the Coyotes to actually start living up to their potential. Maybe they did play over their heads last season, but, as Doan can attest to, hunting those of opponents is no way to get back on the winning track.

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