Pacific: Franchise turmoil doesn’t faze Coyotes

By Andrew Knoll

 

Photo: Phoenix Coyotes forwards Radim Vrbata (17) and Ray Whitney (13) fueled the team's limited offense, which was good enough for a division crown (courtesy of

Chris Pondy/Icon SMI)

Four teams in the NHL's Pacific Division provided some high drama as the 2011-12 season went down to the wire. Ultimately, three of the five division teams slipped into the postseason while the remaining two were left to look to the 2012 NHL Draft and next season.

With the end of the regular season, it is time to grade each team's performance during the the 2011-12 regular season.

Anaheim Ducks, 'C': The Ducks’ grade represents a composite of a first half F and a second half A-. Their early season stood as an exercise in Murphy’s law as their veteran defensemen sustained injuries, their inexperienced role players were sometimes liabilities and their core players in their prime seemed to practice synchronized slumping. Hiring Bruce Boudreau as head coach was the first step in their turnaround. With Randy Carlyle there was structure and discipline but there also existed a hierarchy that began to foster acrimony and dilute the team concept. Under Boudreau, the players bought in heavily and started really enjoying themselves. The Ducks should have a nice mix of promotions from the lower levels of the organization and veteran free agents to complement their explosive nucleus next season.

Dallas Stars, 'C+': Jamie Benn had a breakout season, Michael Ryder’s production effectively replaced that of Brad Richards, Glen Gulutzan proved himself a capable head coach and the new ownership group has committed to improving the Stars. Still, the Stars were relatively conservative in their acquisitions, even in the face of both need and opportunity to fill holes on their roster. More to the point, the Stars wound up with fewer points than they finished with last season and had a similar folding act with a playoff berth on the line. A new deal for Benn, a full recovery for Brenden Morrow and a couple of additions and the Stars may very well improve their mark next season.

Los Angeles Kings, 'B-': The Kings’ grade really should be an “incomplete,” since they may be judged most accurately by their playoff performance. As the Kings have shifted from a building organization to a results-based outfit, their bottom line has not changed. They appear on pace for their third straight first-round exit under similar circumstances as the past two seasons. That said, the front office’s aggressiveness has reached new levels and GM Dean Lombardi’s in-season moves—hiring coach Darryl Sutter, trading for Jeff Carter and promoting three promising rookies—have paid off famously. If the Kings can upend the Canucks, then their season would be more than salvaged. If they fizzle out, then their campaign has to be considered a mitigated failure at best.

Phoenix Coyotes, 'A-': The Coyotes won a division in which they were arguably the least talented team. They had difficulty with injuries to veteran defensemen and little help from the lower rungs of their organization but still managed to squeak out the hotly contested Pacific crown. They managed to win in a variety of ways as well, shedding their label of being purely a system team. Phoenix got tremendous mileage out of some veteran forwards who may or may not return next season, in fact they are at a roster-wide impasse with 10 potential free agents among their regulars. Their ownership, location and other issues loom, but it does not seem to daunt the players and coaches in the least.

San Jose Sharks, 'C+': The Sharks were on pace early in the season and they hastily put together a solid finish to book end their season with solid play. That said, they spent the middle of the season middling and often struggling inexplicably. The players and coaches seemed at a loss to explain an extended stretch where winning on the road and scoring at home seemed like foreign concepts to the Sharks. Overall, the Sharks gave the impression that their whole was less than the sum of its parts. However, like Los Angeles, San Jose has an opportunity to atone for a bumpy regular season with a smooth cruise through the playoffs. An upset of St. Louis would summarily erase doubts about the Sharks window of contention still being open.