This may be the toughest one for Coyotes' fans. The Ducks are a division opponent and one of Arizona's biggest rivals. The only player with Yotes ties on their roster is former backup netminder Jason LaBarbera who might not even play in the series if John Gibson is healthy.
The Jets have two former Coyotes, well sort of. Blake Wheeler was a draft pick, but never signed with the team. This fact still doesn't make some members of the fanbase happy. The other Jet with desert ties is someone who most Arizona fans remember fondly, forward Lee Stempniak. One rather large issue for Valley folks may be the frustration people felt during the bankruptcy/ownership crisis as plenty of folks up North spent hours upon hours trolling Coyotes fans.
I'm not sure Arizona fans want anything more than both clubs to exit the playoffs as quickly as possible.
This series has five former Coyote players in it. Four of them play for the team from the Second City. It's Antoine Vermette, Michal Rozsival, David Rundblad, Daniel Carcillo versus Mike "The Buyout" Ribiero. Normally, most non-Midwestern Coyotes fans would likely be pulling for the Preds, but this year I'd imagine a significant contingent will be swayed by the Desert Dog heavy Hawks roster and/or their unhappiness with Ribiero.
Plus, the Yotes have done well against the Hawks in recent years, so there isn't the animosity there is like with the Red Wings. Still, Preds fans have always been classy towards the Yotes. Hawks fans have been more of a mixed bag.
Players vs. Franchise. You decide.
In the battle of two former Coyotes' Assistant General Managers it's Laurence Gilman versus Brad Treliving. Treliving probably gets the nod as the team performed better during his time in the Valley. In the player category we've got the Canucks' Radim Vrbata versus the Flames' David Schlemko. Schlemko gets extra marks for his time up in Prescott Valley as a Sundog, but on the other hand he's a depth defensemen and may play very little in the series.
Vrbata on the other hand was one the Coyotes' star players during his two stops in Arizona. Plus, we'd give him the nod for his patented Vrby move alone. I don't believe Schlemko's shootout move, while successful, really stacks up. Normally at this point we'd go to the division tiebreaker but since both are Pacific Division clubs, it's of no help.
Coyotes fans likely care about who wins this series about as much as everyone else outside Western Canada does.
We've got all three major positions covered in this one. It's forward Olli Jokinen and defensemen Zbynek Michalek versus goaltender Devan Dubnyk. It's two on one, but working in Dubnyk's favor is that his stellar play was one of the few highlights this season for Yotes fans.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention former Coyote Keith Ballard. He's currently on injured reserve for the Wild after sustaining what might end up being a career ending hit this past December.
This one seems pretty clear cut. If you like former Desert Dogs you go with the Blues.
Ottawa Senators vs. Montreal Canadians
The Senators have former Coyote Kyle Turris - who didn't leave town on the best of terms - so safe to say for some fans he's not a big plus for choosing Ottawa. On the other hand Michael Stone's brother Mark, who may have put his name into contention for the Calder trophy with his late season goal scoring tear, and Zbynek Michalek's brother Milan both play for the squad from Canada's capital city.
As for the top team in the Atlantic, there are no connections to Arizona. I'd say an even bigger knock would be all the banners they already have in the rafters. Pulling for the Habs is like pulling for the Yankees.
Just say no to Montreal.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Wings Dan Cleary played for the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2003-04 season. That's about it.
The Bolts don't have any players who played in the Valley, but they do have an executive who spent more than a decade with the Coyotes organization, Tom Kurvers. Kurvers is now an assistant GM in Tampa.
Given the animosity between the Wings, mainly their fans, and Coyotes Nation I think it's safe to say most of the Valley will be pulling for the non-traditional hockey market squad in this match-up.
Earlier this season Keith Yandle and Chris Summers were patrolling the blueline in Glendale. Now their beat is the World's Most Famous Arena. Two of their coaches, Ulf Samuelsson & Benoit Allaire, should be familiar to Yotes fans. Samuelsson is a former NHLer who was an assistant coach for the Coyotes and is the father of current prospects Henrik and Phillip Samuelsson. Allaire was the Yotes goalie coach prior to joining the Rangers.
Add in the fact Glen Sather is Coyotes GM Don Maloney's favorite trading partner and this one looks like a landslide for the Blueshirts. The Pens have Daniel Winnik and Thomas Greiss. Also, they did a terrible job of utilizing Zbynek Michalek's talents led him back to the desert, so maybe that is a plus too?
Looks like a landslide for the Rangers unless you are a huge fan of underrated depth wingers or German netminders.
The Islanders and Caps have no on ice ties to the desert, but do have one a piece off the ice. The boys from Nassau have former Coyote penalty killer Bob Corkum on their bench. He's in his first year as an assistant coach for the club. D.C.'s puck franchise has former Coyotes media relations guru and Valley native, Sergey Kocharov, who is their Senior Director of Communications.
This is not as close as it appears. Everyone should be pulling for the Caps. Why? They've got man's best friend (Jay Beagle), a fighter jet (Eric Fehr), a tire changer (Brooks Laich), and the greatest goal scorer on the planet (Alex Ovechkin). Plus, I've spent 30+ years pulling for them. Time for others to feel my yearly heartbreak.
(Editor's Note: the above-mentioned reasons to pull for the Capitals are the explicit opinions of the author. The author is also an Oakland Raiders/Los Angeles Clippers/Baltimore Orioles fan, so keep that in mind when deciding on this match-up)