Don Maloney has cobbled together quite the intriguing team out in the desert and, for his efforts, was the recipient of the first NHL General Manager of the Year Award back in June. It took him just three years after leaving the Rangers to take the job and be recognized as the top GM in the league; meanwhile fans organize Fire Sather rallies here in New York.
But we've come not to bury Glen but to celebrate Don. His team won 50 games last season and made it to the playoffs, where they lost in a thrilling seven-game series. Don has done it with a mish-mash of low-cost castoffs from other teams around the league - his first crop of self-drafted Coyotes will compete for spots this season in Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Brett MacLean, Viktor Tikhonov and maybe even Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Turris and Boedker both saw action two seasons back but Jack Adams winner Dave Tippett rightly sent them back to the farm for more development. This season should see them getting decent shots at making the roster.
Familiar Foes: They will have to work for it as the backbone of the 50 win team still remains. Shane Doan leads a group of young snipers that really stepped up last season - Lee Stempniak, Wojktek Wolski, Radim Vrbata. Taylor Pyatt, Scottie Upshall and Vernon Fiddler keep up the physical, two-way grind side of play up front. In the back, JovoCop, former Islander Adrian Aucoin and former Ranger Derek Morris make up the ancient anchor of the defensive corps. Kurt Sauer, Keith Yandle and Sami Lepisto fill out the unit but will be pushed by 2009 top pick Ekman-Larsson, who is simply a stud. Sauer, like his brother Mike here in NY, has battled injuries (he missed all but one game last season) and has plenty to prove. The crease is pretty much closed with Ilya Bryzgalov starting and former Rangers Jason Labarbera and Al Montoya left to pick up the scraps. They are two of six Blueshirts on the Coyotes depth chart: Morris, Petr Prucha, Lauri Korpikoski and Ryan Hollweg (so that's where he went...) are the others. Holly isn't likely to make the NHL as there are plenty of grinders and BizNasty (Paul Bissonnette) holds down the enforcer gig.
N00bz: Maloney went out and signed The Wizard this summer, Ray Whitney. Whitney is the Energizer Bunny of the NHL, he just keeps going and going ... he was the second-ever draft pick of the San Jose Sharks, selected 23rd overall in 1991. He has played 1,072 regular season games and racked up 869 points, 58 of which came last season (which would have tied Vinny Prospal for second on the Rangers). Other summer signings were Eric Belanger and Andrew Ebbett. If Belanger can put the controversy with Washington behind him, his two-way skills should really help solidify the third line. Ebbett played (poorly) for three different NHL teams last season but two years ago racked up 32 points (24 assists) in 48 games for the Quack Attack. If he can recapture those puck distribution skills, he will join Turris and Martin Hanzal in the battle for for second-line center duties.
Last Year: Monday, October 26th 5-2 Ranger win; and Saturday, january 30th 3-2 Phoenix victory.
This Year: Thursday, December 16th @ MSG.
What They Mean To Blue: Aside from a heavy sigh when you realize Maloney could/should/would have taken the helm of the Rangers, not too much. The Blueshirts play the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Versus the night before; the Coyotes are also playing that night but they will be at the Rock so their travel (and emotional letdown) will be minimal.