Thirteen months ago the Coyotes had an indifferent owner, had
lost five straight first-round playoff series and had a set of
financials that would make Kenneth Lay blush. Enter Steve Ellman
and Wayne Gretzky, who bought the franchise with brooms and
bulldozers at the ready and performed a sweeping transformation
in the Arizona desert.
"The last couple of years, there were ownership rumors, trade
rumors; it was chaotic," says defenseman Teppo Numminen, the
team captain and a 14-year veteran of the franchise, which moved
from Winnipeg to Phoenix before the 1996-97 season. "Now
everything's steady. Management has the money to stick with its
That plan--to exchange big-name players with big contracts for
low-profile talent raring to prove itself--has paid dividends
sooner than expected. Defying all predictions but their own, the
Coyotes (32-22-9-5 through Sunday) became the NHL's hottest team
in the last month. From Feb. 12 through Sunday, Phoenix had gone
8-0-2-1, outscored opponents 35-18 and vaulted from 10th to
sixth in the Western Conference. "From the start, we told
ourselves we were a playoff team, and now we're in the hunt,"
says 24-year-old center Daniel Briere, who led the club with 27
goals. "We're young and hungry, and we have no superstars."
Gretzky & Co. have lopped off $22 million in player salaries
since buying the team from Richard Burke. The Coyotes shipped
out winger Keith Tkachuk, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and
defenseman Jyrki Lumme, among others, and allowed center Jeremy
Roenick to walk as a free agent. In their place, Phoenix
imported a crew of castoffs, prospects and unproven commodities,
many of whom have blossomed.
No unit better exemplifies that than the top line of center
Daymond Langkow, 25, and wings Mike Johnson, 27, and Ladislav
Nagy, 22. Since being put together on Feb. 8, the trio had
combined for 20 goals, 26 assists and a +44 rating in 13 games.
All three were acquired after Ellman and Gretzky purchased the
club; none had previously shown top-line ability. Says general
manager Mike Barnett, "There isn't a player on this roster who
hasn't been thrust into a more demanding role and relished the
The top line's recent success notwithstanding, third-year coach
Bobby Francis has the Coyotes playing a physical, defense-first
game, the backbone of which is veteran goalie Sean Burke, who's
enjoying a Vezina-caliber season (26-17-6, with a .922 save
percentage and 2.24 goals-against average). Savvy trades have
also brought blue line help for Numminen. Four of Phoenix's
seven defensemen--including 25-year-old bruiser Danny Markov,
who's found a home on the power play and had a team-high 29
assists--have arrived since last March.
Although Ellman and Gretzky have taken strides toward securing
the long-term health of the organization--they're negotiating
for a publicly financed, $180 million arena, for instance--the
Coyotes want to prove their doubters wrong in the short term as
Bruins Brawler P.J. Stock
Fighting to Be a Hero in the Hub
Christmas mornings at P.J. Stock's childhood home in Montreal
brought one gift anticipated above all others: Don Cherry's Rock
'Em, Sock 'Em, the videotape of vicious fights put out annually
by the Hockey Night in Canada personality and former Bruins
coach. "I never had aspirations of making the NHL," says Stock,
Boston's fourth-line center and No. 1 pugilist. "I just wanted
to make Don Cherry's tape."
Since the Bruins claimed the well-traveled 26-year-old from the
Rangers in September's waiver draft, Stock has been making a
convincing case for his inclusion in that video. Despite being
only 5'10" and 190 pounds, he had 15 fighting majors and 103
penalty minutes in 46 games through Sunday, and his postfight
signature--an exaggerated wave to the FleetCenter crowd as he
skates to the penalty box (he sometimes does it on the road,
too)--is making him a Beantown cult figure. "I don't know where
I got it," Stock says of the wave, which he first used after his
Dec. 8 bout with the Sabres' Eric Boulton. "Too many punches to
the head, I guess."
Stock is no offensive threat--at week's end he had four goals in
151 career NHL games and just one assist this season--but he
isn't above laughing about it. "I'm being shadowed every night,"
Last fall he and goalies Byron Dafoe and John Grahame started a
contest to see which number would be bigger this season: Stock's
points or the netminders' combined penalty minutes. Dafoe,
however, put the race out of reach when he tussled with Senators
goalie Patrick Lalime on Jan. 17 and earned 17 penalty minutes.
Dafoe then did a takeoff on Stock's postbrawl wave.
"We had to change the contest to my shots against their points,"
says Stock. "I'm still losing. Byron's also trying to steal the
wave, but he's got the rotation of the shoulder all wrong."
Pavel Bure Trade
Rangers Pull Off Steal of a Deal
New York general manager Glen Sather is shrewd, but the trade he
swung on Monday to land the Panthers' preternatural goal scorer
Pavel Bure could have been negotiated by the Rangers' stick boy.
As Florida coach Mike Keenan put it, "A good deal for New York?
They got the best scorer in the league and didn't give up a
player on their roster."
To get Bure, who led the NHL in goals the last two seasons, plus
a second-round draft pick, the Rangers surrendered middling
defenseman Igor Ulanov (sent to the minors on March 1), blue
line prospect Filip Novak and three draft picks, including a
first-rounder in June. New York also opened its vault, taking on
Bure's $10 million-a-year contract, which runs through 2003-04
and was too costly for a woeful Panthers team that needs to
Bure, 30, could goose the mediocre Rangers, who were one point
out of the final playoff berth in the East, into the postseason.
In his second year as New York's G.M., Sather is learning that
no matter what Annie says, there is no tomorrow on Broadway.
Whom Would You rather have?
The 22-year-old Muscovite had 34 points and a career-high 20
goals through Sunday. In three NHL seasons the 6-foot
195-pounder had averaged .50 points per game.
The 25-year-old Muscovite had 39 points and a career-high 17
goals at week's end. In five NHL seasons the 6'1" 196-pounder
had averaged .40 points per game.
THE VERDICT: Afinogenov is a natural goal scorer and is maturing
faster than Morozov is. That makes him our pick.