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The Microscope- Phoenix: How Dave Tippett Resurrected A Franchise On Life Support

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Why Coyote Success Looks Like This

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Size:  4.5 KBDespite making it to the Western Conference Finals, the Phoenix Coyotes past failures are a big reason why they are the type of team they are today. Their failure to draft and make good decisions with prospects since moving to Phoenix from Winnipeg, has plagued them. Compounded with that fact comes the financial issues and constant branding of "failure" for most of the 2000s. It sounds strange to say it but this is what caused the Coyotes to create their own style to get to their current success.

Amid rumors of relocation and poor play on the ice, the Coyotes organization must have known that they couldn't attract high-end expensive free-agents. However, they needed to win to draw better attendance and better press. The increasingly difficult task of winning on a budget in modern sports was taken on when the organization hired Dave Tippett in 2009 to become their head coach.

Tippett's defensive strategy makes talented goalies into top goalies. He helps accomplishes this through the defenders and the on-ice system he puts in front of them. He surrounds them with quality underrated forwards who, at the very least do not hurt the team defensively and he hired a great goaltending coach in Sean Burke.

Ilya Bryzgalov was a talented but inconsistent goalie when he came to Phoenix from Anaheim. He did not start posting even above average numbers until Tippett's first full season, when suddenly Bryzgalov was posting top tier numbers among current goalies. He leaves for Philadelphia and suddenly he is back to being an average goalie. It is not too surprising that he has struggled since Philadelphia has a very different system and has a long line of floundering goalies in recent history.

Mike Smith came to Phoenix to be the replacement starter. Phoenix again resorting to the less impressive names in the free agent market for hope. Smith as a viable starter was considered a joke after he failed with the Tampa Bay Lightning alongside Dan Ellis. However, Smith has always had the raw talent to stand-out at any moment. However with those tools, good coaching and the right surrounding talent, he had a case to take his game and the Coyotes to places they had not been yet. Smith can steal games that Bryzgalov could not because he has harnessed consistency much like his predecessor did but, his talent is superior, which put him deep into the playoffs.

Win or lose in the playoffs it is to credit to Coyotes management to hire Tippett and believe in his system. However, it is one decision made from a situation that countless poor decisions led to his style as the only way to keep Coyotes in Arizona.

Mismanagement: Laying the Grounds for Tippett

It is well documented how the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Minnesota Wild and others have failed to select and develop many prospects through the draft. However, a case could be made that in the same span of time the Coyotes have been just as inept as Columbus; especially in developing their first round picks until recently.

The team's management decisions of who to keep in their system have hurt them with Kyle Turris and to a lesser extent Blake Wheeler leading the way among their recent prospects. However, except for a brief favorable 2011 playoff performance, Turris had undoubtedly stagnated in his development even when he was not holding out. It is hard to fault the Coyotes for dealing him given the circumstances but it is also damning that he seems to have found a home with the Ottawa Senators as a 2nd or 3rd line center. Turris is definitely not an anomaly. The team's struggles with development go all the way back to their first years in the desert after leaving Winnipeg.

Since the 1996 NHL Draft, the Coyotes have a short list of draft picks that "worked out" somewhere in the NHL at a notable level. There is one that is undeniably a product to be proud of in current Flyer and Phoenix's 24th overall selection in the first round of the 1996 draft, Daniel Briere. Other players that a case could be made for of all 84 players the Coyotes franchise drafted from 1996 to 2005 (although not as well as the one for Briere): Robert Esche (6th round, 1996), Ossi Vaananen (2nd round, 1998), Fredrik Sjostrom (1st round, 2001), Wheeler (1st round, 2004), Martin Hanzal (1st round, 2005), and Keith Yandle (4th round, 2005). In their first nine years of drafting, Phoenix produced seven at least somewhat notable players in my opinion. Even though the draft used to be longer, scouting was not as good and the 1999 draft class besides a handful of players amounted to much at the NHL level; that list is pretty dreadful as a whole. Many teams did fine drafting in that era and sometimes they had lower picks in the first round.

The Senators, the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings all drafted particularly well in the same span each year. Besides the Senators there were other teams that were new around the mid-1990s like the Lightning and San Jose Sharks that had much greater success than the Coyotes in the early 2000s because of good drafting and development.

From 2006 on, the notable Coyotes picks that have panned out or still are considered to have good potential to contribute at the NHL: Peter Mueller (1st round, 2006), Chris Summers (1st round, 2006), Turris (1st round, 2007), Brett MacLean (2nd round, 2007), Mikkel Boedker (1st round, 2008), Viktor Tikhonov (1st round, 2008), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (1st round, 2009), Chris Brown (2nd round, 2009), Brandon Gromley (1st round, 2010), Mark Visentin (1st round, 2010), Connor Murphy (1st round, 2011) and Alexander Ruuttu (2nd round, 2011). If you add-in 2005 picks, Yandle and Martin Hanzal to the recent development of prospects, it is an average group unless nearly all of the recent draftees develop to their full potential.

Boedker and MacLean have some talent and have produced at other levels but have failed to make a long-standing impact in a pretty generous amount of time to find a place in the NHL. Boedker may be slowly finding his way as he scored some clutch goals in the 2012 playoffs.

Tikhonov might not ever play again in the NHL.

Murphy was a risky pick and his injury-filled career started this season with another significant injury; reinforcing skepticism that he will ever physically be able to develop and play in the NHL with much durability because of these injuries.

Ekman-Larsson continues to improve and during the 2011-2012 season he has all the ingredients to make for a big breakout year in 2012-2013 (fantasy GMs take note). However patience has been needed here but it may show that perhaps management has learned from their past mistakes.

Hanzal is a very good defensive center and has a decent two-way game, yet on a team that struggles to score (especially once veterans Shane Doan and Ray Whitney move on in the near future) that skill set is not going to save them.

Yandle had a great 2010-2011 season and a rough start offensively to 2011-2012. He could turn out to be a very good selection but still needs to get back on track for awhile to safely say that about him.

With all this progress and success by sticking to a plan that many organizations shy away from (Nashville Predators are the only similar one in recent years), the Coyotes hope this is not a mirage in the sand but actually the oasis they have been searching for in the desert.


  1. Blogger Gesterling's Avatar
    And yet the Coyotes are still in trouble. It is a shame to be honest.