What is your biggest concern with the Coyotes ownership remaining in limbo, besides the team possibly relocating?
Craig - The continued fiscal restraints it places on general manager Don Maloney. Don has proven repeatedly that he can find value in the free-agent and trade markets, the Coyotes clearly had enough firepower to advance to the Western Conference final last season and coach Dave Tippett will continue to wring every drop of potential out of his team. But I am not sold on the notion that last season's playoff success means the team is on an upward-trending arc. I still believe you need more offensive skill to take the next step in this league and with Matthew Lombardi's injury and Steve Sullivan already having been dinged, I have significant concerns about this team's scoring depth, even though it appears Lombardi is ahead of schedule on his road to recovery. If Mikkel Boedker, Lauri Korpikoski, Martin Hanzal and Oliver Ekman-Larsson continue to produce, that will help. The Coyotes are in the top half of the league in goals per game through 10 games but it would be a lot more comforting to add some more firepower up front. Unfortunately, Maloney has indicated that's not an option right now although he will continue to explore trade possibilities with the obvious bargaining chip being the Coyotes' defensive depth. If the ownership situation isn't resolved by the trade deadline, Maloney may be shopping at Walmart again.
Brendan - My biggest concern about the ownership fiasco dragging on is the attrition I think it's starting to have on some of the hardcore fans. Even though we've seen this before, Greg Jamison's failure to close the deal after getting so close was very hard to stomach. Four years is a long time for anyone to suffer through this nonsense; it'll be hard enough to rebuild the fanbase after years of neglect.
Carl - My biggest concern is having your two biggest free agents continuing to twist in the wind. I'm not talking about soon to be UFA Mike Smith and RFA Oliver Ekman-Larsson. I'm talking about General Manager Don Maloney and Head Coach Dave Tippett. If the ownership drama drags into another summer I fear another club will poach the architects of the Coyotes' recent success.
Was the insertion of Chad Johnson into the lineup the spark which may have turned the season around for the Coyotes or is improved play over the past week a result of other factors? If other factors, which ones do you feel have made the biggest difference?
Craig - I don't want to take anything away from Chad Johnson's play. He played well and made the saves he needed to make to give his team confidence and a chance to win. But he didn't face a lot of quality scoring opportunities (or shots overall) and that's a sign that the Coyotes are getting back to the tight-checking, defensively-responsible system that made them successful last season. Despite the notion floated by some that all those off-season workouts together would aid the Coyotes in the early-going, I think the opposite has proven true. This team is reliant on a finely tuned system for success. Without any structure or coaching in those workouts, they lost that while the skilled teams like Chicago and San Jose could rely on their free-wheeling style to get off to strong early starts. Fortunately for Phoenix, it appears they have found their mojo.
Brendan - I think it's more about the defense cleaning up its efforts. Johnson had a good game for sure, but Phoenix has not played that poorly on defense for long stretches of time under Dave Tippett's system. I think the turnaround was going to happen anyway.
Carl - The insertion of Johnson certainly appeared to help from a mental standpoint. The Yotes seemed more focused on making smart decisions with the puck in front of him, as opposed to what they had been doing in front of Barbs and Smith at the beginning of the season. It was another example of Heach Coach Dave Tippet's ability to flip the right switches when he needs to. In addition to the team getting mentally right, guys seemed to have finally gotten in game shape. The first week to ten days of the season a number of the Coyotes, as well as other players around the league, looked either slow or winded at times. Mental and physical mistakes are bound to occur when guys are tired and for a team which relies on discipline and structure it's murder.
For the past couple of years there has been talk about how the Coyotes have depth now on the blueline. With Rostislav Klesla having been on the shelf for a couple of weeks and now David Schlemko out injured the said depth is about to be tested. Is there a young player who you expect to take advantage of the injury situation?
Craig - That depth is absolutely being tested. Schlemko is going to be out awhile and Klesla's injury just seems to linger. This is, of course, why you build depth, but I think the fact that David Rundblad, Chris Summers and Michael Stone have been shuttling between Portland and Phoenix tells you that Tippett hasn't seen enough from any of them to settle on one yet as the guy who can step into the fold (you can also make the argument that the staff wants each of these guys to get more ice time in the AHL to develop). I know there is a lot of hype surrounding Stone, but I haven't seen the consistency from him on the ice and of particular concern has been his puck management and decision making, which were supposed to be strengths. All of these players are young and I would argue this position takes the longest of any to develop in the NHL, so there's time, but none of the young guns have stepped to the fore yet. If they don't by midseason, we might even get a peek at Maxim Goncharov or Brandon Gormley.
Brendan - I think we will see a rotation of Rundblad, Summers, and Stone to fill the gap. I think regardless of whomever they end up going with, that person will need consistent playing time to make an impact to the defensive system.
Carl - I suspect Chris Summers will be the main beneficiary of all the injuries. He was my choice even before he was recalled yesterday. He's steady defensive presence which is what the Yotes will need most in the absence of their normal 3rd pairing. They just need guys who can eat 12- 16 minutes a game, play smart positionally, and not turn the puck over. Stone, as Craig mentions, has been inconsistent. He still appears to struggle with decision making in terms of when to start the rush,pinch, or to make the safe play. In addition, he's gotten caught flat footed on a couple of occasions. Some of this is to be expected. He's a young, inexperienced D-man. The OEL's of the world are the exception, not the rule. Summers, in part because he's a stay at home guy, tends to make the simple, but effective plays more, at least he did last season.
With tomorrow's game being the first time Raffi Torres has been on the ice against Chicago since his hit on Marian Hossa in the playoffs, do you expect the Hawks to look for any on-ice retribution?
Craig - Nobody will say it publicly, but given how much vitriol was flowing from the Blackhawks' locker room last season after the play (not to mention the Chicago press, which mostly seemed to lose its objectivity in the days following the incident), and given the quiet smiles from several Hawks when they were asked about this in the first meeting here on Jan. 20, I would expect some form of retribution. The skill-based Hawks don't have a lot of enforcement options but Jamal Mayer, Brandon Bollig and Bryan Bickell are a few. Hopefully for both teams, this can be settled quickly and we can move on. To their credit, at least Tippett and Torres are no longer trying to pretend there was nothing wrong with the play. There was. It was reckless and it is exactly the kind of play the league needs to purge from the game. Hopefully for Torres, his recent talk about changing his game will be seen on the ice, without impacting what makes him effective.
Brendan - If Torres had been there for the home opener, I think sparks would have been flying. Now that they've played each other, I think the most we would see is a first period fight.
Carl - I don't expect much more than someone challenging Torres to a fight, as Brendan mentioned. True retribution would only hurt the Hawks as the league would likely come down hard on them.