Today, the countdown of the greatest to wear a certain number in Coyotes franchise history faces an interesting conundrum. What factors do you take into account to consider greatness? How do you measure the impact a certain player makes during his time with a team, particularly if a player is asked to have a different role than is usually considered great?
The case for the greatest number 17 in Coyotes history comes down to three men who provided three separate styles of play: the dedicated goal scorer, the slick passing playmaker, and the gritty tough third liner.
The part of the gritty tough third liner is one that Kris King played to aplomb during parts of 5 seasons for the Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes. The Jets acquired King along with enforcer Tie Domi from the New York Rangers for the talented Ed Olczyk on Dec 28, 1992. In 30 games with the Rangers, King only had three assists but upon arriving in Winnipeg, he was given more responsibility and owned up to it. In 48 games with the Jets the rest of the season, King scored 8 goals and 8 assists while providing toughness for a Jets team that was solely lacking in that department by earning 136 PIMs. King's next three seasons in Winnipeg would see much of the same, with respectable point production added with high penalty totals. The last season in Winnipeg was a special one for King as he was named team captain for the '95-'96 season and won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and humanitarian contribution as well. King would come to Phoenix along with the rest of the Jets for the '96-'97 season, and while he lost the captaincy to the original Captain Coyote, Keith Tkachuk, King's lockeroom leadership was essential that opening season. King would leave for Toronto in free agency following the Coyotes heartbreaking seven game loss in the first round to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. King still sits in fifth place on the team's all time penalty minute list.
Ladislav Nagy began his Coyote career in one of the toughest ways imaginable, being part of a trade that sent out one of the most beloved players in franchise history. Nagy was acquired along with Michal Hanzus at the 2001 trade deadline in the infamous Keith Tkachuk trade. Nagy made what was basically a cameo appearance the rest of that season, playing in only 6 games for the Yotes while wearing the number 24. Over, the next five seasons, he would make far more than a cameo. Nagy became a key offensive weapon for the Coyotes, especially on the powerplay as he would score 91 of his 249 points as a Coyote on the man advantage. The frustrating part about Nagy's time in the desert was time lost to injuries. He just wasn't able to stay on the ice. During his final three seasons as a Coyote, Nagy only played in 161 of a possible 219 games which is just under 75 percent. The frustration comes from the fact that in those 161 games, Nagy scored 149 points. Imagine what he could have done had he been injury free. The Coyotes would trade Nagy to Dallas on February 12, 2007 and he would only play 63 games the rest of his NHL career. The Coyotes definitely got the best of Nagy's hockey days and his 249 points as a Coyote are currently 19th on the franchise's all time list.
Few would argue that Radim Vrbata hasn't been one of the best pure goal scorers the Coyotes have ever featured. Originally drafted in the seventh round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by Colorado, Radim spent time with three different franchises in the league before the Coyotes acquired him in August of 2007 from Chicago. His career high in goals up to that point had been 18 in his rookie year of 2001 for Colorado, but Vrby would blow past that in his season in the desert potting 27 goals while adding 29 assists for a then career high 56 points. Unfortunately, the Yotes were fairly mediocre that season finishing with 83 points, good enough for 12th place in the competitive western conference. Vrbata would leave Phoenix and sign in Tampa Bay as a free agent the following summer, a decision that would never pay off for Radim or the Lightning. He played 18 games for Tampa before leaving for the Czech Republic to be closer to his wife who was having a complicated pregnancy. He stayed overseas for the remainder of the season before the Lightning traded his NHL rights back to the Coyotes on July 21, 2009. Vrbata would return to the NHL for the start of the 2009 season, and knew he had refound his home here in Phoenix. He has been a constant for the Coyotes and coach Dave Tippett ever since, including a tremendous 2011-'12 season when he set career highs in goals with 35 and points with 62. He also added 12 game-winning goals that year, tied for the league lead with a decent scorer by the name of Steven Stamkos. Expectations for the Coyotes are high entering the start of the 2013 season, and the goal scoring touch of Radim Vrbata is big reason why.
How does one choose the best when given three resumes like that? It's not easy and the overall numbers make it even harder. Check this out:
Kris King(1992-1997): 341 GP, 28 G, 40 A, 68 P, 762 PIMs, 4 STP, 4 GWG
Ladislav Nagy(2001-2007): 321 GP, 92 G, 157 A, 249 P, 312 PIMs, 93 STP, 21 GWG
Radim Vrbata(07-08, 09-13): 348 GP, 117 G, 120 A, 237 P, 96 PIMs, 83 STP, 24 GWG
(GP = game played, G = goals, A = assists, P = points, PIMs = penalty minutes, STP = special team points, GWG = game winning goals)
It's an insanely close race to call. One of the fascinating things to look at is the game winning goal category. King's percentage of game winning goals is 14.3%, really quite high for a non-scorer like he was. Nagy's percentage was 22.8 and Vrby's is currently at 20.5 which was helped by that insane 2012 season. At this point in time, this race could easily go in any direction. All three have a legitimate claim to be called the best number 17 in Coyote history. Vrbata has a slight edge in the fact that he will have at least one more season to improve upon his numbers, in theory. One thing is certain, the number 17 has been worn extremely well in Coyotes franchise history.
Who would you pick between the two Czechs and the checker? Vote below and post your feelings in the comments.