25 Elements to a Fresh Start
A healthy Sean Burke can put this team on his back and carry it, if he gets a little help. His .920 save percentage over the past four seasons in the best in the NHL. Brian Boucher might be gone soon, so Zac Bierk must prove he is a capable understudy.
2 Capable defense
The biggest perceived weakness on the team is the inexperience among the defensemen, of whom four of the top six are 24 or younger. Be patient, but the forwards will have to help out more than ever before in their own end for this to work.
3 20/20 vision
What the Coyotes lack in star power up front, they make up for with enough potential 20-goal scorers. Ten forwards have either hit the mark before or come close, and balanced scoring will lead to victories.
4 Power play
It hasn't been very good since the club's first season in Phoenix in 1996-97, when its 65 goals ranked sixth in the league. Part of the problem has been finding a consistent heavy shot from the point, and forward Shane Doan is being asked to provide it. Our advice: Everyone shoot first, ask questions later.
Nobody took more minor penalties in the NHL last season or gave up more power-play goals (77). Initiate instead of react, fellas. Pick your battles and try drawing penalties instead of planning your nightly parade route to the box.
Ever see the Red Wings come out flat and look absolutely lifeless? It happens too much with the Coyotes. They swear they will maintain their aggressiveness this time around, finish their checks and knock people off pucks. It will be their mantra.
7 Oh, Laddy
Many forwards will have to step up their production this season, but one the team thoroughly expects to shine is left wing Ladislav Nagy. With a little luck, he's capable of enjoying a breakout year in the 30- to 40-goal range.
8 The schedule
They play 34 games before moving into the new building in Glendale, and 21 of those games are on the road. It's imperative they play at or around .500 away from home during this tough stretch, or they could be out of it and the grand opening will lose much of its luster.
9 Penalty kill
Taking fewer penalties will help, but improving this portion of special teams is paramount. Again, it could depend on the strength of the defensemen, who must clear out the front of the crease and disrupt the passing lanes down low.
Phoenix suffered 462 man-games lost a year ago, the second most in the NHL, and it derailed everything. The only regular presently sidelined is versatile fourth-line center Mike Sillinger (hernia surgery), but his absence will be noticeable right away.
This area should be improved greatly now that the Coyotes are stronger down the middle than ever before. Daymond Langkow finally gets some help with a full year from fellow draw specialists Chris Gratton, Jan Hrdina and Sillinger, when he returns in early November.
They only posted three last season, the fewest in Phoenix history. Burke and his backups will be forced to steal more games to help a developing defense and counter any lack of scoring productivity.
There better be enough already after the way this bunch bungled things last season, injuries notwithstanding. Getting picked to finish last in the West by almost every preseason publication should light a fire and stoke pride.
For reasons that still escape the holdovers and the coaching staff
, the Coyotes forgot their assignments and situational matchups against too many opponents, even though it was hammered into their heads during morning skates and pregame meetings.
15 The budget
General Manager Mike Barnett is hamstrung by a dwindling payroll mandated by ownership, but if he loses a key player to a significant injury, he must act swiftly and shrewdly to find a suitable replacement. Ditto if the experiment on the young blue line fails. He has depth and youth to deal.
16 Captain Coyote
New captain Shane Doan has teased the NHL with his potential; now it is his time to bump up his game and become a smaller version of mammoth Vancouver power forward Todd Bertuzzi. Doan's passion for the game can take him there.
17 The Francis factor
This will be Bobby Francis' biggest challenge in his five seasons behind the Phoenix bench, but he always seems to deliver when the odds are stacked against him. He's a good tactician and delegates authority well, but if he fights authority (i.e. Barnett), authority always wins.
The locker room is looser this season and filled with strong character types.
19 Comeback kids
Forwards Krys Kolanos (concussions), Landon Wilson (eye surgery) and Brian Savage (multiple injuries) are healthy and eager to return to form. Any of them can win the Masterton Trophy with solid rebound years.
20 The G-Man
Managing Partner Wayne Gretzky is involved with the day-to-day operations of the club more than people are led to believe. But he needs to be seen and heard more often. His presence can only make a positive impact on this young group.
21 Shots on goal
The days of only getting two or three shots a period must end. Shots, off-target or not, lead to deflections and potential mistakes by the opposing goalie and defense.
22 The arena
If ever the Coyotes needed a home-ice advantage, this is the year. Glendale will glitter on Dec. 27. Will the Desert Dogs?
23 Bobby Orr?
With apologies to the greatest defenseman who ever lived, Phoenix believes it has two burgeoning offensive-minded D-men in youngsters Paul Mara and David Tanabe. They can skate, they can shoot, they can join the rush. Knowing when will be the key.
If they can't score three goals or more a game, the Coyotes must punish teams as often as possible. They have several feisty types, from 6-foot-5 enforcer Andrei Nazarov to the ultra-gritty 5-11 Tyson Nash.
25 The fans
Attendance has dwindled in this sports-saturated environment, but if the Coyotes deliver on their promise to put a hard-hitting, high-energy group on the ice that never quits, they can bring the crowds back even before they open the doors in Glendale.
- Bob McManaman