Tuesday, August 30, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Yotesgurl & the Phoenix Coyotes

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 11 of 30: the Phoenix Coyotes


When your best-known player is a 3rd/4th-line player who's better known for his Twitter skills than his puck handling, it's just one sign of many issues plaguing your team.

Nor does it help to have the vultures circling to pluck up your carcass and waiting deliver it to the far side of the the continent. (We see you, Nordiques fans.) The ongoing saga between the Coyotes and the city of Glendale is not only a thorn in the NHL's side, but you have to wonder what kind of toll that takes on the players from day to day. Will the team still be in Phoenix next year? Will bringing home a Cup make a difference to the team's future? Can the team put together a product on the ice that has the collective talent to win a Cup?

Last season, the 'Yotes carved out 99 points in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division, where last season 4 of the 5 teams went to the playoffs (the fifth, Dallas, missed out with a loss in game #82). 

Players say it all the time: it's far more fun to play in a full building than an empty one. And while the Coyotes have gone to the playoffs for the past two years (Dave Tippett has posted a winning season all three years he's coached the team),  there's still often more visiting fans in the stands than local ones.

Phoenix's strongest man for the past couple of years has been Ilyz Bryzgalov. But this summer, the team traded his rights to Philadelphia (where he consequently signed), and the Coyotes had already traded away Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto to Columbus.

The Coyotes have a diamond in the rough with Keith Yandle, the team's lone All-Star candidate. Yandle was third in the league among defensemen for scoring last season; the team signed him to a new 5-year contract. It's good they did; with the departure of Bryzgalov in combination of longtime Coyotes Ed Jovanovski, there are going to be some glaring holes on the back end.

Mike Smith has not had a particularly remarkable career with Tampa Bay, but now he will be expected to provide top-notch goaltending; he'll be the #1 over the team's other summer acquisition, Curtis McElhinney, who split the 2010-11 season between St. Louis and Ottawa; and Jason LaBarbera, who was Bryz's backup for the past two seasons. If Smith falters, expect there to be some fierce competition between these two.

The Coyotes added grit and physicality (Torres, Chipchura, Gordon) to a team that has some nice young talent in the making. Keep an eye out for Martin Hanzal, Lauri Korpikoski, Andy Miele, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Taylor Pyatt to continue to develop. 

Just announced in the past few days: in an end-of-summer trade, the Coyotes sent winger Lee Stempniak to the Flames and got back center Daymond Langkow in return. Langkow missed last season after a neck injury that happened late in the 2009-10 season; he reports feeling "100% healthy" and ready to go for the season.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Boyd Gordon (WSH), Curtis McElhinney (OTT), Mike Smith (TBL), Raffi Torres (VAN), Kyle Chipchura (ANA)

Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Eric Belanger (EDM), Dane Byers (CBJ), Ilya Bryzgalov (PHL), Vernon Fiddler (DAL),Ed Jovanovski (FLA), Nolan Yonkman (FLA)

Can the Coyotes work their magic this season and make the playoffs once again? Can they be more than just a thorn in the side of their division? Can they be more than simply the "Cinderella story in the desert"? Can they make hockey relevant - and wanted - in a market that has long-favored football, baseball and basketball? Will the Coyotes still be in Phoenix when the puck drops on the 2012-13 season?

We'll find out starting in a few short weeks.

* * *

For our 30 Fans in 30 Days, we interviewed Yotesgurl, who writes a hockey-dedicated blog at The Good, The Bad, And The Coyotes.

Let's talk about your fandom a bit first; you've been following the Coyotes for about 4 years now.

I am the biggest Phx Coyotes fan that I know, and I think I know most of the crazy ones. Last year I traveled to Prague to see the Coyotes open the season against the Bruins. Two seasons ago I was the team's season ticket holder of the year. I have also spoken at about 8 Glendale City Council meetings to try to keep the team in Arizona. I haven't missed a game in two and a half years and plan my life around the schedule. I also have a pretty sick hockey room with custom Coyotes paint.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

While he is low-key, I am totally stoked to get Boyd Gordon. He's a PK and faceoff warrior and I love the blue collar guys.

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

Breakups are hard, especially when your main man leaves you because he wants someone with more money. It didn’t take the Coyotes long after kissing Bryzgalov goodbye to move on to their rebound man. Mike Smith, who is already comfortable operating in Tippett’s system, will likely be the man that Phoenix lives and dies with. Jason LaBarbara also looks to increase his playing time in a more tandem-like system, as opposed to gathering rust on the bench. Both goalies are big and athletic, much like goalie coach Sean Burke and fans are hoping that goalie coach Sean Burke can work similar magic with them that he did with Bryzgalov.

The defensive core for the Coyotes will look very similar to last season. The only loss was Ed Jovanovski to the Shady Pines pre-retirement center in Florida. The regular playing spot will be battled for between David Schlemko and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. While Schlemko picked up his play significantly at the end of the season, OEL’s offensive upside is DESPERATELY needed. Derek Morris, Adrian Aucoin, Rostislav Klesla, and Michal Rozsival aren’t exactly known for their offensive prowess and Keith Yandle needs someone else on the blue line to share the point burden with. On the downside, Coach Tippett doesn’t have a strong history of giving young players much ice time. OEL may have to play without mistakes and to the level that will simply not allow Tippett to bench him, which is a lot to ask from a second year pro.

Who cares about goalies and defense when you have the most potent offense in the entire NHL? Wait, sorry, I had a minor stroke there....... OMG, WHERE WILL THE GOALS COME FROM?!?!?! It’s likely that many prayers will be uttered to the hockey gods for scoring. Phoenix saved themselves from being utterly screwed by re-signing Radim Vrbata, who has the “shoot first” mentality on a team of passers. Lee Stempniak and Ray Whitney will also be looked to to provide some offense. The “Kid Line” of Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, and Brett MacLean will be counted on to greatly increase their contributions.

A youth movement? Crap, they’ll be killed in the corners! Cue the Coyotes signing Raffi Torres, who hopefully keep the other teams a bit more honest with the kids. While he is a known d**********, Torres also brings the ability to score and it remains to be seen how he will impact the ice time of BizNasty [Paul Bissonnette]. Hanzal and Korpikoski significantly increased their goals last year and maintaining those points in addition to their defensive contribution would be greatly welcomed. Boyd Gordon, PK and faceoff warrior will fill the empty skates of Vern Fiddler and be a bit of an upgrade.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

8th in the Western Conference

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

Opening the season in Prague was amazing for our three Czech players. My absolute favorite moment was when Radim Vrbata scored in that first game and the crowd just went wild. It was so cool for him to play and score in his homeland and I'll admit, I got a little misty-eyed. I'll never forget it.

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