After an eight year absence from the postseason the Phoenix Coyotes shocked the hockey world by setting a franchise record for points in a season, 107, and locking in the fourth seed for the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the magic ended in the first round when the Coyotes drew the card very few teams wanted for their playoff match-up, the Detroit Red Wings, who knocked the Yotes out in a grueling seven game series.
Outside of the early playoff exit, there were no other gloomy aspects to the Coyotes season as the team played consistently strong hockey for an entire 82 games. Sure the attendance looked a little bleak for the first five months of the six and a half month season, but when March rolled around ‘the Job’ was bumping.
So lets take a look back at this glorious season and see who the key components of the success were and who and what this team could have done without in part one of the Phoenix Coyotes Season Awards Ceremony.
Team MVP: Ilya Bryzgalov
When a number of analysts and bloggers question Bryzgalov’s omission from the three Hart Trophy nominations, its pretty obvious who your team MVP is.
Ilya Bryzgalov did for the Coyotes exactly what they were looking for when they plucked him off of waivers from the Anaheim Ducks two years ago, he gave the team a chance to win night in and night out.
With new coach Dave Tippett introducing the team to a defensive style of play, the key ingredient for success was a strong goalie to be the last line of defense, and Bryz performed magnificently.
Bryzgalov set the Jets/Coyotes franchise record for wins with 42, tied the record for shut-outs with 8, was named 2nd star of the month, 3rd star of the month, 1st star of the week, and 2nd star of the week this year, got nominated for the Vezina award for top goaltender, and posted his career best Goals Against Average with 2.29.
Even in the playoffs Bryzgalov continued to be the backbone of the team, especially when captain Shane Doan went out in the third game of the series with injury, and showed that he would not be intimidated by the powerful Red Wings squad.
In the end the team relied too much on Bryz while providing him with insufficient help and allowed the Red Wings to finish them off in the seventh game by a disappointing score of 6-1.
Pretty sure no other player on the team can even come close to boasting as impressive of a resume as the one Bryzgalov had this season, and nobody was as heavily relied on to guide the team to victory, thus why Ilya Bryzgalov is a no-brainer choice for the MVP of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Runner Up: Keith Yandle
Anyone who has ever talked hockey with me knows just how difficult it was for me to write what I just wrote. Want to know why it was so long between this blog and my last blog I wrote? It was me trying to write that Keith Yandle was the runner-up for MVP for the Phoenix Coyotes this season.
At the beginning of the season the Coyotes suffered a lot of injuries in the back end with Ed Jovanovski missing 16 games, Zbynek Michalek missing 10 games, and Kurt Sauer missing the whole season, but Yandle was always up to the task of filling those voids and playing more minutes.
Honestly though, there was nobody on the Coyotes who was as important to the team as Bryzgalov was, therefore a runner-up is pretty hard to choose, but Yandle did show such strong leadership on the blue line and I really think it was a major influence on how the rest of the team played.
Top Defenseman: Keith Yandle
See? Again with writing Yandle as the Top Defenseman just takes a lot out of me and a sort of black out after each time I do it.
Yandle gets a lot praise from broadcasters for his ability to score from the blue-line and confidently skate the puck up the ice knowing that he is a strong enough skater to get back on defense once he rifles his shot head high, around the glass, and out of the zone.
Ok, so he may not get praised for the last part, but that is what I usually saw when I attended every game for the three seasons before this one, and I still saw a lot of it when I watched the games online from Toronto this season.
But Yandle had an incredible season this year and, as mentioned earlier, really stepped up big during the injuries the defense suffered, playing over 20 minutes in those games.
He set a career high in all major stat categories with 12 G, 29 A, and 41 pts (leading all defenseman on the Coyotes), a +16 rating (which led the whole team) and 45 PIM.
I really am starting to come around to Yandle, but he shows too many signs of a future Jovanovski, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it can be a pretty bad thing at certain times.
When I watch games in person I don’t necessarily watch the game itself, I watch certain players and critique them. Sure you’re probably asking ‘what does some kid from Arizona know about the skills needed to make a good hockey player’?
I am not saying that my vision is professional quality, but when I watched Keith Yandle play I see too many dumb passes up the middle, lazy penalties from trying too hard to be a tough guy, shots that could easily ‘Bryan Berard’ a fellow teammate, or just overall moronic plays that usually overshadow his strong plays.
This year, while watching his games on a screen instead of in person, I started to like how the young Yandle was maturing. The television aspect of the game may have taken away from my chance to actually watch him as closely as I did when I was actually at the games, but that now allows me to see what the analysts and broadcasters see in him.
He is a really strong player who has the ability to quarterback a power play, score a goal from the back-end if needed, and bring a sense of leadership to a younger Coyotes team for years to come.
Hopefully, Yandle continues to grow as a player, which I am sure he will, and can one day be the number one defenseman that he showed glimpses of this season.
Runner up: Adrian Aucoin
Known as the Big Oak or, more recently, The Closer, Adrian Aucoin was also instrumental in helping the injury-riddled Coyotes defense keep their form and help limit the number of scoring opportunities from the opposition.
He was signed to bring leadership to a young locker room and he did just that. With his great personality, Aucoin was able to lighten the room up during these confusing times of ownership debacle and dealing with the concept of actually winning hockey games consistently.
His experience was also key in the playoffs for a defensive corps that had three of their top six have zero playoff games under their belts.
Not to mention this guy was the clutchest of the clutch in the shootout after scoring 6 game-winning shootout goals.
Best Forward: Radim Vrbata
When the Coyotes traded for Vrbata this summer, I was as excited as a kid on Christmas. Vrbata put up his best season when he wore the Coyotes jersey two seasons ago and provided the team with that much needed goal-scoring ability that it lacked for the majority of last season.
Vrbata led the Coyotes in goals with 24 while playing on the Czech line with Martin Hanzal and Petr Prucha, who formed instant chemistry in the preseason probably because they are from the same country and that is just science. (please understand my sarcasm and not take the ‘reasoning for the chemistry’ comment too seriously).
In the end, the player who was usually the one floating from the end boards to the front of the net to score an important goal in the game was usually Radim Vrbata, and his offensive punch was just what the defensively minded Coyotes squad needed.
It was hard to justify Doan for this award after he put up his worst statistical season since he only posted 49 points in 2001-02 (surprisingly the last time the team made the playoffs) and failed to crack the 20-goal mark for the first time since before the new millennium (1998-99 season).
But Doan did lead the team in points and has done that for the past eight seasons, plus his ‘grind-it-out/hit-everything-that-moves’ style of hockey provided the Coyotes with plenty of open ice to help produce more goals, and that was why he garnered strong consideration for this ‘invisible’ award that I am sure he will sulk about for days upon hearing the news that he didn’t win it.
Runner Up: Lee Stempniak
If Stempniak had been with the team for the whole season, then his efforts in the month of March would have alone gotten him the Best Forward award, but he was in the desert for just under two months, so his contributions were great for the team, but Vrbata provided offense all year round.
Stempniak’s offensive output cannot go unnoticed in this awards ceremony as he was able to score the same amount of goals, 14, in 18 games with the Coyotes then he did during 62 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.
He earned himself the 1st Star of the Week after his first full week with the Coyotes and finished the month of March off by being selected as the number 1 Star of the Month by the National Hockey League. Unfortunately, Stempniak failed to score in the playoffs, a time where the lackluster Coyotes offense needed a go-to goal scorer to help advance, and he failed to be that guy for the team.
Regardless, his contributions to the Coyotes were more then anyone in the right minds would have thought possible after being run out of Toronto by the overly-critical Canadian media, and thus a great success and an inexpensive gamble by GM Don Maloney.
Tomorrow the awards will get a little different as I determine the biggest surprises and disappointments the Coyotes faced this season.
Now y’all come back reeeeeeeal soon, ya hear. Go Yotes!!
About the Author
Written by Matt Shott
22 year old hockey fan born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. Weird, huh? Entire family minus myself and my brother were born in Toronto, ON so thats how I became a fan of this great sport. I have worked at Ice rinks since I was 14 and spend all day reading hockey stories. I eat, sleep, coach, play, and basically LIVE hockey. I became a Red Wing fan thanks to EA Sports NHL '95 and haven't looked back since (Why would I?). Parents were Season Ticket holders for the Phoenix Coyotes since day 1 and when they moved to Portland 3 years ago, I picked up where they left off and have found a soft spot for them. I moved to Toronto in January '10 to attend Centennial College's Sports Journalism program, so I am becoming a Maple Leafs fan in the process. Its hard to do after 16 years of being a Red Wings fan. So to recap: Wings fan at heart, Leafs fan on the outside, and always carry a soft spot for the Coyotes.