Phoenix Coyotes: Band Aid Solutions
Bobby Smith is in deep trouble. With the imminent arrival of Wayne Gretzky as President of Hockey Operations, Smith is expected to be replaced by Gretzky’s agent Mike Barnett. In the meantime, Smith is beset by numerous personnel problems. His defense corps is in dire need of some physical presence. He’s in a two-year contract dispute with their number one netminder and second line center. To top this off, he has just lost several key free agents and a top line winger. The dam is about to burst for the Coyotes and Smith has attempted to cover up the damage with several short-term solutions.
In the last month, GM Bobby Smith has lost forwards Dallas Drake (expansion draft), Mikael Renberg (back to Sweden for personal reasons) and replaced them with Joe Juneau (trade for prospect Richard Wallin with the Minnesota Wild), and Brad May (trade with the Vancouver Canucks for a late pick in next years entry draft – most likely an 8th round pick). Juneau will be a welcome edition as a quarterback for the pathetic Coyotes power play. However, he is at best a Band-Aid replacement for Renberg. Renberg was a valued contributor for the Coyotes on their first line. Juneau has proved throughout his NHL career that he is at best a second line player.
Brad May brings aspects of his game that are very similar to Dallas Drake. However, he too cannot fill the void that the loss of Drake creates on the Coyotes offense. He’s a big physical player. Bigger in stature than Drake but without the skill that made Drake a contributor on the Coyotes first and second lines. May, when he wasn’t watching events from the press box, spent much of the season playing on Vancouver’s third and fourth lines. May is a good player to pick up for an 8th round pick but to expect him to suddenly have the ability to be a force on the Coyotes second line (as GM Smith is hoping), then GM Smith should really objectively analyze what it is he’s thinking.
Smith made the same mistake last season when he dealt for center Travis Green who he touted at the time as the Coyotes second line centerman. Green had Smith looking like a genius with a spectacular first half. However, by the end of the season it was quite clear to everyone that Green was not the solution to their problems on their second line. The Coyotes are still hoping either Green plays better this season or that Daniel Briere can finally contribute in the NHL on a consistent basis. Otherwise the Coyotes are in deep, deep trouble. One matter that has my interest but has yet to catch on with the popular media is the influence Gretzky may have in landing centerman Mark Messier. The Coyotes desperately need to make it past the first round of the playoffs and the leadership and stability that Mark Messier would bring to the Coyote dressing room is desperately needed. It is an interesting thought.
I had hoped that the Coyotes would have dealt with their two most notable free agents, Robert Reichel and Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin, is rumored to be on the way back into the Coyotes nest. From the coyote’s standpoint, this makes the most sense. Goalies have been going at a bargain basement price thus driving down Khabby’s market value. The Coyotes blew it by not dealing Riechel at the draft. It is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone (except Bobby Smith) that the Coyotes are not going to receive anything near market value for Reichel. He is a very talented player. However, he is also small by NHL standards (5’10”) and hasn’t played in the NHL for a year. This doesn’t increase his trade value. The last time Reichel pulled this stunt, his level of play decreased (from 18 goals in 48 games in the lockout shortened 94-95 season to 16 goals in 70 games in 96-97), forcing the Flames to deal him to the Islanders. Coupled with the new NHL economics, the potential market for Reichel is very small. The Coyotes want more than a first round pick for him but when you consider that most teams were unwilling to part with that during a “weak” draft year, will they be more willing to make the deal in what is supposedly the strongest draft in years? Not very likely. At this point, the Coyotes will be lucky to get a prospect in a trade. Their best bet is to bite the bullet and resign Reichel. He would actually fill their gaping hole for a second line center.
Speaking of gaping holes, the Coyotes have a huge void to fill on defense after losing their (only) physical defenseman Lyle Odelein. Defense has been a huge concern for the entire history of the franchise. Losing Odelein to Columbus (???) does not send a message to the league that the Coyotes are to be taken seriously. As it stands now, the Coyotes will more than likely have at least one rookie on their blueline next season. Ossi Vaananen and Karil Safronov could both make the NHL roster next season. Both players are well over 6 feet and 200 lbs. Safronov plays the more physical game but the Coyotes may be rushing him into their line-up at 20. He would be better served by spending some time with their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons. Hopefully the organization has learnt the lesson to be patient with their prospects after their experience with the slow development of Shane Doan and Oleg Tverdovsky. This could be a very long season for Phoenix fans.