Good afternoon, Coyotes fans. Welcome to the first edition of the Roundtable. We expect this to be a regular feature here at Five For Howling (FFH). In this opening volume, the FFH staff discuss what the team may be lacking, which players are performing well, what needs to be done to get the word out about the best team in town, and grades are handed out based on the first 25 games of the season.
What concerns you more, the Coyotes poor power play or the lack of an elite scoring forward on the team?
Jordan: The power play. While it would be nice to have that "big name" guy, in the end teams can key off on a player like that and negate his effectiveness. Or he can go on a big slump like Kovalchuk has done in NJ. There are some very good teams (Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit) that see a lot of players scoring a decent number of goals without a truly elite scoring forward. The power play is something that just takes discipline to work on and it's frustrating that it hasn't happened quite yet. I do like the new lines and the focus on having Yandle quarterback it, because he is very good in that role. I'd like to see him continue to work on keeping pucks in the zone that are cleared up the boards. Watching film of guys like Brian Leetch and Nick Lidstrom should be mandatory.
Travis: I'm more concerned with the PK unit of all the special teams. Typically strong, they average success rate is in the bottom third of the league and that's not a good sign for a team that doesn't have the biggest offensive production.
Carl: My biggest concern is the lack of an elite scoring forward. The Coyotes have struggled mightily at times for most of the past decade to score goals. While these past two seasons the Pack mentality has certainly helped the team be more cohesive, the team still relies too much on their goaltenders to shoulder the majority of the burden most nights. I also believe an elite scoring forward would help the Coyotes power play just by being on the ice and drawing the attention of opposing penalty killers.
Who do you feel is the M.V.P. on the Coyotes so far this season?
Jordan: I'm going to go way off the board here and say Vernon Fiddler. He's playing tough minutes every game, killing penalties, taking on opponents' top lines and is thriving. He's never going to light up the scoreboard, but he does have that big hat trick against the Flames to his credit and as a guy that went undrafted, he's definitely found a big role on this team. I love his energy and willingness to stand up for players. Hanzal has also played big for the team thus far and is adding scoring punch, so he'd be my #2 guy, but he missed a few weeks, so I'll give it to Fiddy!
Travis: Ilya Bryzgalov. He's the key to this whole thing. While the system helps him out when it works right, Bryz has kept us in games early this season as the team tried to re discover the chemistry they had last season.
Carl: Bryz is the most obvious choice, but I'm going to go outside the box. My choice for M.V.P. at this point in the season is Lauri Korpikoski. In addition to his role as a penalty killer, he's added goal scorer to his resume this season having already set a career high with 7 goals. He's scoring more points per 60 minutes than anyone else on the team. While the goal scoring is nice, his defensive play is still where he truly stands out. He leads the team in plus/minus and his GF/ON (3.27) vs. GA/ON (2.18) differential is one of the best on the team. The rest of his game has finally caught up with his skating ability.
If you were in charge of marketing the team to the Valley what things would you do to capture people's attention?
Jordan: Place more emphasis on the physicality of the game and the ruggedness of the players. These are guys that are "average" sized generally that are getting hit as hard as folks on a football field with less padding...and they do it while skating. It's truly amazing how athletically gifted these players are. It's that combination of everything that folks enjoy about other sports that has to capture the fans. With the disappointing play from the Suns and Cardinals, the market is ready to be wowed, and the Coyotes should be able to cash in on that.
Travis: The team has done a good job of getting the word out with radio appearances much more than they have in the past. One thing that would be nice to see are commercials with a little more production behind them. While I think the current "Don't Blink" campaign could be a good one, the commercials I've seen have been of a production quality that left a lot to be desired. The sound and picture were off and while that seems nit-picky people pay attention to that stuff and a bright shiny ad would draw people in. Mostly I would just try and put Coyotes ads and gear around town more with Howler or players if possible make appearances around the valley as the team doesn't have much budget to do much else. Yet.
Carl: As Travis mentions the campaigns need to be more professional from a production quality standpoint. They need to look and feel like major league sport spots. In addition, ads need to be run more often and on a more diverse selection of channels. Members of the team and front office need to be all over town. Paul Bissonnette's appearances on KUPD are a perfect fit and I hope they continue. The team needs to promote the individual players more in general. Besides Shane Doan most people in Phoenix would be loathe to name another Coyotes player and that fact is a symptom of the marketing problem. I would specifically increase Bryz's profile. Bryz has a sarcastic sense of humor and comes across great in sit down interviews. In addition, he's the true star of the franchise at the moment.
What player not currently on the roster could still make an impact for the team this season?
Jordan: I'm going to say Oliver Ekman-Larsson. We've got a bunch of young defensemen that are going to keep getting shuffled around for a bit, but I think that OEL has shown enough in his time here that it is clear he's going to be a top 4 d-man sooner rather than later. He needs to adapt to the speed of the NHL game and the differing style from in Sweden, but I think he's already showing that he's grasping it at the AHL level. He reminds me a lot of a young Keith Yandle (from two or three seasons ago), but the Coyotes aren't rushed to bring him up right now. I think we'll see him back in the desert before the end of January though and he's going to stick.
Travis: Mikkel Boedker. The choice is more of a hope than anything based in fact. Petr Prucha won't be back since he'd have to clear re-entry waivers and that means Boedker or even Tikhonov or MacLean could see some time with the Coyotes should a forward be out for any real length of time. It's bound to happen at some point even if the Coyotes stay mostly healthy. Boedker has had his chances before, but he, along with MacLean, has done well in San Antonio.
Carl: OEL, Tikhonov, Boedker, and Prucha all bring skills to the table that could possibly help the Coyotes this season. However, none of those players brings to the table the one skill most lacking in the Coyotes lineup which is goal scoring. The one San Antonio player with the potential to have an impact scoring in the NHL is Brett MacLean.
How would you grade the team's performance so far this season using the standard A to F grading scale?
Jordan: I'll give them a B. I'm impressed with the offensive play (with the exception of the power play). They get demerits for some discipline issues that have led to too many penalties and a good, but not great, penalty kill. The defense is still evolving a bit, but it will only get better. This is a team that is going to make a real fight for the Pacific Division crown this year and should go deep. So it's a B for now, but there's potential to get it to an A pretty easily.
Travis: B - They've been above average, but haven't gotten away from the pack. To me the only way they get an A is if they can find a way to break away from the pack in the Pacific either on their own or battle out with one other team as they leave the others behind.
Carl: I'd give them a solid B right now. The team has been inconsistent, yet their play overall has been better than average as their record indicates. In order to get an A, they need to cut down on the amount of penalties they are taking and the number shots on goal they are giving up. In addition, they need to get their power play percentage above 20%.