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The Five For Howling Roundtable: Halfway Point

Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans. In this week's edition of the Roundtable we give out marks for the first half of the season. Joining us this week is Fox Sports Arizona's Tyson Nash. Nash is in his third year as the color analyst on Coyotes TV broadcasts. The former left winger played in a total of 374 NHL games for the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes. In addition to watching him on television you can also follow him on Twitter.

Who was the team's most valuable player?

Tyson: Most valuable player has been Whitney. So consistent offensively. Makes everyone around him better. See Vrbata with 19 goals. Whitney probably assisted on 90% of those and he has 14 goals to go along with his assists.

Jordan: Martin Hanzal. The whole unit of him, Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney have been exceptional through the first half of the season, even if Hanzal's offensive numbers pale in comparison to the other two. The reason Hanzal gets my vote is the difference in the team when he's been out of the lineup. The whole center position becomes pretty screwed up. Here's your top defensive center that gets significant ice time against the other team's top unit, kills penalties, stands in front of the goalie on the power play and puts in the garbage. Everything goes downhill with him out of the lineup. Honorable mention for Oliver Ekman-Larsson who has been simply amazing as well.

The Dude: Radim Vrbata. He's the teams top goal scorer (19, which puts him 8th in the NHL), tied for third in assists on the team (14), and has scored 5 game winning goals (rated 3rd in the NHL). He is also one of the three Coyotes with over 100 shots on goal which proves that he isn't afraid to shoot the puck.

Carl: I counted seven players I could make a legitimate case for, but in the end the person I kept coming back to was Ray Whitney. Whitney has been the driver of the team's offense from the start of the campaign. He started the season on Shane Doan's line and Doan, a notorious slow starter, scored three goals in the first three games. Coach Tippett then moved the veteran winger to Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata's line and since then Vrbata has been on a tear. The Coyotes have only won three games so far this season in which the 39 year old Canadian hasn't scored a goal or registered an assist.

Jonathan: With all due respect to Radim Vrbata, who leads the Coyotes in scoring with 19 goals, this team lives and dies on the back of goaltender Mike Smith. Replacing a stud and fan favorite like Bryz was never going to be a perfect situation, but Smith has performed admirably under this unique type of pressure and has thrived when the 'Yotes needed him most. Smitty's .922 save percentage is all the more impressive when you consider the sheer amount of rubber he has faced this season. Ranked among the top-ten NHL goalies when it comes to shots against, Smith has seen a staggering 928 shots and turned away 856 of them. This dominance in the face of 30+ shot games has been displayed in only 31 games, by far the fewest played among the top-ten, and the Coyotes have needed Smith to stand tall when their defense has faltered. Finally, the team's precipitous plunge in the standings during December coincided directly with Smith's six games on the shelf, proving that his presence in net has become truly valuable.

Travis: I'd have to say Radim Vrbata. I Know Mike Smith will get votes here too, but on a team that has been struggling to create goals Vrbata has luckily been on a hot streak through the first half of the season and that's been great to see. He should never play anywhere else though as it doesn't seem to work in other locales.

What was the biggest surprise?

Tyson: Ekman-Larsson has been the biggest surprise - turning into the player they hoped he would. A real steady puck moving d-man with a ton of offensive upside. 7 goals now on the season. And very reliable defensively.

Jordan:The phenomenal start of Mike Smith, especially combined with the lackluster play from Ilya Bryzgalov in Philly. Ilya who? While he has regressed a bit and dealt with the first of what I fear may be more than one injury given his his number of starts, I've been very impressed by his ability to control the pace of play with his puck moving abilities. When he is controlling his rebounds, he is very good; when he is not, the team has struggled - I'd expect Sean Burke to keep emphasizing this throughout the second half.

The Dude: Mike Smith. I wasn't sure how good he was going to be during the beginning of the season and I am pleasantly surprised at how well he is performing with the team, with two shoot outs so far and a .922 save percentage. He is definitely one of the most valuable players on the team.

Carl: Mike Smith. he was my second place vote for M.V.P. I expected him to have a GAA of around .908 and instead he's got one 14 percentage points higher. He's been spectacular at times and most of the the 15 games he's played in that the team has lost were not his fault. The lack of power play chances/conversions and lack of goal scoring overall by his squad also has put more pressure on him and he seems unfazed by it.

Jonathan: The revitalization of Ray Whitney. The Wizard has lived up to his moniker all year, dazzling opposing D-men with the speed and puckhandling ability of a player half his age. With 14 goals and 22 assists, Whitney is right on pace to surpass his totals (17G and 40A) from last year, his first campaign in the desert. In addition to the sorely needed offensive firepower, Whitney has held his own when it comes to backchecking and his +11 rating is tied for tops on the team, along with fellow sniper Vrbata.

Travis: Oliver Ekman-Larsson making the jump to full time NHL defenseman so quickly. I think we all knew he was going to be a big part of this team, but I don't think anyone thought it would happen so soon. With 7 goals on the year and having nights where he's near or at the top in terms of ice time he's gotten a big leap from a coach that generally doesn't like relying on young guys.

What was the biggest disappointment?

Jordan: Derek Morris. When one of the highest paid d-men is spending nights in the press box, you have to be disappointed in it. I'd love nothing more than for DMo to find his game and get things moving in the right direction again, but with all the prospects we have in the system, I'm happy to give them a shot as well.

The Dude: The month of December. 6-9-1 with games that seemed like they would be easy wins. The infamous loss in less than .1 seconds to the Rangers. Injuries to Mike Smith, Martin Hanzal, and Boyd Gordon. Hopefully January will be better.

Carl: The power play. I had expected the power play to be improved this season. My expectations weren't outrageous. I was expecting a conversion rate around 17% which still wouldn't put them in the top half of the league, but would be an improvement over the last several years. Instead the Coyotes sit in second to last place in the entire league with a conversion rate of barely above 13%. The last time the team was in the top half of the league on the power play was the 2001-2002 season, so maybe I should have expected less.

Jonathan: The demise of defenseman Derek Morris. Registering a -10 in his time on the ice, Morris has consistently been victimized by fleet footed forwards and bullied off the spot by bigger men. To compound his reduced efficiency on the blue line, Morris has failed to chip in even a single goal this year on only 41 shots. For a team like the Coyotes, who base their offense on simplicity and efficiency, a key point man contributing just 7 assists at the midway point of the year is inexcusable. Coyotes management has worked tirelessly to assemble a top notch defensive squad, and unless Morris can ramp his play up significantly he may be the odd man out next season.

Travis: Ugh! Derek Morris. When you're making as much is he is and now seeing regular press box time that's a bad sign. He was supposed to be a veteran presence to lead the young guys and while he's a great guy in general head in the room, he's just not getting it done on the ice. His play was never all star material, but used to be solid but this season he just looks slow and is constantly out of position. I wouldn't be surprised to learn there's some sort of injury there, but either way his play has been uninspired.

Which is more fashionable, a Nippon Paper Cranes jersey or Tyson's Jacket?

Tyson: Nothing touches the jacket. It's 14-1 in the last 2 years since purchased and it has its own Twitter account.

Jordan: Those Paper Cranes jerseys are pretty sharp, but can they help create Shane Doan hat tricks...I think not. We need to see more of Tyson's Jacket the rest of this season. It has mysterious powers.

The Dude: Don't ask me about fashion. I would be the one to wear Tyson's Jacket over the Cranes jersey.

Carl: No contest for me. The jersey is more fashionable. However, if the question was which is more magical, it is the jacket hands down.

Jonathan: Tyson's jacket is legendary, plain and simple. It's a special occasion in Coyoteland when Nashty breaks out the lucky charm.

Travis: After what happened on Saturday? Tyson's Jacket every time.