Sunny forecasts are as common to Phoenix as cacti and AARP cards.
They are far less common for the hometown hockey team, over which
storm clouds seem to hang perpetually. Since last year's trading
deadline the Coyotes have said goodbye to 13 players, two of them
All-Star Game regulars, and hello to 14 others, 10 of them 25 or
younger. But third-year coach Bob Francis isn't one to let those
facts darken his outlook. "We've got a lot of young players who
are going to be given an opportunity for a lot more
responsibility," says Francis, who, despite falling short of the
playoffs in 2000-01, guided the franchise to its second-highest
point total (90). "I'm expecting some real positive results."
The Phoenix front office took a small but important step toward
stability last month when it signed Francis to a contract
extension through 2002-03. Still, a trip to the postseason is
unlikely without center Jeremy Roenick (who signed as a free
agent with the Flyers in July) and left wing Keith Tkachuk (who
was traded to the Blues last March); together they accounted for
more than a quarter of the Coyotes' goals in '00-01.
That bodes ill for a franchise that scored two goals or fewer in
48 games. The scoring burden will fall to right wing Shane Doan,
24, who had 26 goals and 37 assists last season, and left wing
Sergei Berezin, 29, who has averaged more than 25 goals over his
last five seasons. Berezin, however, will miss at least the first
two weeks of the season with a sprained right knee.
To help compensate for the lack of offensive punch, the front
office has stockpiled hard-hitting young defensemen, such as Paul
Mara, 22, Ossi Vaananen, 21, and Danny Markov, 26. "I love our
defensemen," says co-owner Wayne Gretzky. "We've got an awesome
group right now, and they're only going to get better."
Even so, Phoenix will again rely heavily upon goaltender Sean
Burke, who had a career year in '00-01, finishing with 25 wins
and a .922 save percentage (third best in the NHL) while being
peppered with more shots than all but four goalies. With such a
callow supporting cast, the team's forecast calls for more of the
same: a torrent of pucks raining on Burke and no end in sight to
the franchise's playoff drought.
--Kristin Green Morse
Last season the Coyotes became the second NHL team to fail to
qualify for the playoffs despite getting 90 or more points (the
'69-70 Canadiens were the other).
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 29 Berezin, Doan need to raise their game
DEFENSE 24 Numminen best of a no-name unit
GOALTENDING 24 Burke, solid most of last year, faltered down
SPECIAL TEAMS 25 Power play should struggle because it lacks
MANAGEMENT 22 First-year G.M. Barnett is unproven