Saturday morning, Coach Tippett, General Manager Don Maloney, the Chief Operating Officer, and new Fox Sports AZ play by play announcer Matt McConnell took time to meet and answer questions from some fans in what used to called Chalk Talk. Tyson Nash was in the back of the room and talking to fans and flashing his infectious smile.
Matt started with some prepared remarks about how excited he is to be here in Phoenix, has been to Target quite a few times, and pumped some money into the Phoenix economy.
Next was Mike Nealy. Mike talked about the new marketing direction the Coyotes have taken, including being the first sports team for a prestigious marketing company. The tag line, “Hockey the Hard Way” is going to be on 50-60 billboards, tv, print, and other forms of advertising.
Brilliant GM Don Maloney spoke about some of the transactions that were done in the off-season (buyouts of certain players, signing others like Patrck O’Sullivan) and how his budget has increased but is no where near the level most teams have to spend to build a team.
Last to speak was Coach Tippett. He started off by talking about how hard the team is working at the compete level, trying to get the power play/special teams to where it needs to be, and that the chemistry is better than it has ever been. The team was to have been practicing while this was going on but he sensed their road trip took a lot of the boys, so he gave cancelled the morning skate to let them rest for the night tilt against the Sharks.
After these remarks, questions were taken from the fans. The first question was about new goalie Mike Smith. Tip remarked that he had coached him in Dallas and loved his enthusiasm and his skills. He wasn’t resigned in Dallas during Tip’s time there because they thought they couldn’t afford to keep he and Marty Turco. Turco was making 6.5 million per season. Many on the coaching staff thought they were letting the wrong goalie go. Smitty is a big goalie like Sean Burke, and Sean took a player like Bryz and coached him into an everyday consistent player. GMDM gave considerable praise to Jason on how he was thrown to the wolves on many of his starts last year and came away with wins (i.e. Chicago). Smitty is better at playing the puck but has a tendency to get too excited while in net. Burkey has been working on the emotional portion of NHL goaltending and what an everyday goalie needs to do.
Mike Nealy took a question on the availability of Phoenix Coyote license plates. The short answer is that they were approved by the legislature this year but haven’ t been made public because the new owners, whomever they may be, have the ability to change the team name to the Arizona Coyotes. Throughout the morning, all commented that having ownership will provide steadiness and a basis onto which the organization and fan base can grow.
Don’s ability to find gems on the unrestricted free agent market for peanuts was noted. He was given some well earned applause and talked about two years ago how he had to move money, trade players, sign and buyout players to gain cash for signing free agents. Now, the NHL did give him a larger budget that he’s used on players who have great potential and allows him some money in the bank for future acquisitions.
I asked coach if he thinks team defensive speed is faster than last year. I’ve been to a couple of practices and that is my impression. Tip agreed and said that the younger players like Keith, OEL, and Schlemko have started to come into their own, know their assignments, and can jump up to join the rush and then quickly get back and shut down the opposing rush.
When asked if Viktor will be making the team, Tip said no, not now. He had been sent down this morning, and due to his KHL opportunity, not sure if he will report to Portland. Tip commented how Viktor has the skills, but his body hasn’t caught up to his talent and that is what they are waiting for. Phoenix is not like Edmonton or the Islanders, or the Coyotes of a few years ago. When players were drafted and rushed onto the ice before they were ready. It is due to the outstanding camp Patrick O’Sullivan has had that allows the Coyotes to send Viktor down to get more playing time and physically mature. Tip mentioned Andy Miele was being sent down as well. Andy dominated the rookie camp but when the veterans reported, he struggled a little with the speed and physicality. Portland will allow him to learn this style and be ready for call-up if an injury occurs.
Tip had strong praise for the play of Paul Bissonnette. Biznasty’s play has improved. He first got noticed as a tough guy, and you cannot play in this league if you are just a physical player. His defensive play has vastly improved (Tip pointed out Paul is a converted defenseman) and should get more ice time this year.
Tip was asked if last year in the playoffs, it looked like the team was flat. Tip noted that was true. The best thing about the playoffs was the special teams. Since the Coyotes didn’t clinch a playoff spot until game 81, it was a huge push that took a lot out of the players. Add to that the false story that the team had been sold and was moving to Winnipeg four hours before puck drop of game 1, the players were emotionally and physically spent. Coach then said that two hours before game 1, Bryz walked into the coaches office and said “Winnipeg, why the team going there?” Clearly you can see all the talk of moving and ownership problems did get into the heads of the team.
To end the questions, game night promotions were discussed. Continuing are buck bashes (beer, soda, hot dogs a dollar), military appreciation, and bobbleheads. Only this year, Alice Cooper and war hero John McCain are the subjects of the bobbleheads. The team is doing well with season tickets and partial plans, but it can always do better. New sponsors are on the dasher boards, but as Mike Nealy says, “Butts in the seats.”
Overall, it was a very positive meeting with hopefully the news of an ownership group to be announced in the near future.