Shuffling the Pack in the Desert

After a fantastic 2009-10 campaign, the Phoenix Coyotes are finding things a little more difficult this year. They are struggling for consistency and are crying out for someone to take the initiative up front and start putting up some serious points.

Shane Doan has had a decent month and a half and even Lee Stempniak has started scoring again, but, while there are several Coyotes who have reached the 10-goal mark, none of them have managed to get to 15. They are a team in the truest essence of the word but that hard work and pack mentality alone is not going to win them a Stanley Cup.

What can the Coyotes do during this window of opportunity to keep the team in the playoff hunt? Well first of all, it should be pointed out that since Matt Hulsizer took over as owner of the franchise, GM Don Maloney will have much more of a say, money-wise, during this trade window than the Coyotes had last year. Phoenix will not be struggling for cap space, that much is certain.

Maloney is going to want to look at his current players very carefully. Several of them are in the final year of their contracts and it will be up to Maloney to decide whether or not they are worth keeping around. Players such as Ed Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin (not in his final year), who have been great servants of the franchise but are coming rapidly towards the end of their careers could be moved to struggling teams for picks or young prospects. Petr Prucha and Andrew Ebbet will probably also leave.

Ilya Bryzgalov is also in his final year but he is one Coyote that should certainly be re-signed. Great goaltending is the first step towards a great team and, with Bryzgalov between the pipes, Phoenix undoubtedly have great goaltending. Vernon Fiddler should also be re-signed as players such as he, who bring 100-percent every game, are invaluable.

The Coyotes have already picked up Michal Rozsival from the Rangers in exchange for struggling forward, Wojtek Wolski, who has not been the player Maloney hoped he would have been when he signed for Phoenix in the latter half of last season from the Colorado Avalanche. Rozsival is a solid, if unspectacular, acquisition who will be a good addition to the Phoenix blueline.

Another younger defenseman for Phoenix in the mould of Zbynek Michalek (who the franchise let go last year for nothing) would be a great pick-up for this team. Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen would be a good choice, as would Kevin Bieksa, but he will no doubt be resigned in Vancouver. There are several more options available but what is definitely the case is that Phoenix need strengthening at the back.

A top centre should also be high on Maloney’s list. Let’s look at who Phoenix already have in that position. With Kyle Turris and Michal Hanzal, there is potential for the future. Turris, with his stick skills, speed and shot could become a great second or third line centre, whereas Hanzal’s size and strength on the puck make him a great candidate for the fourth line centre.

Fiddler brings a hard working and physical side of play to his game and could easily be shifted out to the wing on the fourth line. Eric Belanger, who has a great technical game, could also be moved out to the wing on the potential Turris line which would free up two spots to fill with players who have the ability to hit over 60 points a season.

Available to fill those slots are Tomas Fleischmann and Brad Richards, who are both coming to the end of their contracts. Richards is having another great season for Dallas and Fleichsmann, since his move from the Capitals to the Avalanche, has been putting up major points. David Backes should also be on the radar.

Maloney is going to have to work hard to acquire even one of those players mentioned, but things are looking far more positive down in Arizona than they have in recent years. The team is on the up and, with a new owner in place, the money issues are gone. The desert doesn’t seem like such a bad place to go anymore.

If Phoenix manages to get their targets, assuming Maloney’s targets are the same as the ones outlined here, then the desert dogs might find getting to the playoffs (and maybe past the first round) a little easier.

For more from James Tennant, check out his blog at yourarmchairpundit.blogspot.com

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