Now that an agreement has been reached, all that needs to happen is for the agreement to be ratified by the players. Once that happens, training camps will open for practice. The unrestricted free agents will either be swamped with calls from teams looking for that missing piece or the only call they will receive will be from their previous squad. With the short training camp of one week, there won’t be much time to look for chemistry and lines to gel. Either the players fits right away, or you don’t have the right pieces in place. There is not the summertime for you to get to know the players, the coaching philosophy, how they can fit together into a cohesive unit.
For the coaches and general managers, you cannot afford to “take a chance” on the player who may fit but is not exactly what you are missing. GM Don Maloney has been incredible at finding the right player at the right price to plug into the lineup. You know he and the coaches have been scouting the unrestricted free agents as well as minor league players in anticipation of the lockout ending. Having five or six days to get the team on the ice in an organized and league sanctioned practice is fast. Some players are overseas. Some are with minor league teams in the US. Some are in Canada, either playing minor leagues or working out on their own. Some are here in Phoenix, skating daily in unorganized sessions at the Ice Den. And Paul Bissonnette is playing in England. Just getting the players to the rink is an arduous project. Now you have to put together practice plans with the players you have under contract and quickly make offers to those you want to bring in (unrestricted free agents) or call up your NHL ready AHL players. Having six or seven days from that point to the start of the season is daft if you are changing systems or key personnel. You have to go with what you have and who you know, and the players need to know their role immediately.
With a season comprising 48 games, a losing streak of 3 or 4 games can move you from top eight to bottom 4 and chasing to get into the playoff hunt. A fast start is key to building a division lead. The one good thing about the shortened season is that you are playing division and conference games every night. Two points gained by beating a Western Conference opponent can really make a difference vs. a win over Florida while San Jose is beating Toronto. You won, but gained no ground if you are looking up at the 8th spot or making a move for a second division title.
Yesterday, Roc and Manuch (AM 1060) had General Manager Don Maloney on to talk about the team. GMDM is always candid about the state of affairs and what he sees as the remedy. The Coyotes are stocked at the goalie position. Mike Smith is expected (and we are hoping) he has the same season as he did last year. The Coyotes are counting on it. Then GMDM talked about Mark Visentin and his outstanding performance with the Portland Pirates of the AHL. Mike Lee, top American goalie prospect playing for ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators as the future goaltending tandem. The goalie cupboard is stocked. The only player missing from the conversation was Jason LaBarbera.
The blue line out is how the Coyotes are built, according to GMDM. OEL and Zbynek Michalek, DMO and All-Star Keith Yandle, Rusty Klesla are the given top five dmen. For the last two roster spots, it will be a great battle. Mike Stone, Chris Summers, David Schlemko, David Rundblad, Maxim Goncharov, and Brandon Gormley are all capable of making the jump on a permanent basis. Having that many players who have NHL experience and even more importantly, NHL playoff experience, means the Coyotes have options.
One of those options are to address a glaring need of the team. Front line scoring. With Ray Whitney taking his talents to Dallas, the production line of Vrbata and Hanzal need someone to move the puck. Steve Sullivan is expected to play that role. However, there is only 1 Wizard. Scoring by committee will be the way the Coyotes win. We know they play the defensive system. Pucks in the back of the net have been the Achilles heel. Especially on the power play. Mikkel Boedker and Lauri Korpikoski will have to lead the power play and contribute even more on offense. New players like Dave Moss and Nick Johnson will be expected to fit in immediately.
So where can we get some offense? Current Portland Pirate leading scorers Alexandre Bolduc and Andy Miele can be brought into training camp and fit with the Coyote system immediately. Daymond Langkow can be brought back at a reduced price. Unrestricted Free Agents who are proven offensive players and can fit the Coyote system are Jason Arnott (St. Louis) or Jochen Hecht (Buffalo). Both can come in relatively cheap and produce points. Jason Arnott is a locker room favorite and even at age 38 has alot left in the tank. Jochen Hecht is age 35 and has produced well for the Sabres, whom no one confuses for an offensive juggernaut.
New Owner Greg Jamison will spend, but spend smartly, to put a quality team on the ice and do what he can to put fans in the building. In Shane We Trust.