Why the Phoenix Coyotes can win the West.
Every year the Western Conference has one or two dominant teams that everyone talks about. The discussion usually includes teams like the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks as the favorites to represent the West in the Stanley Cup finals. This year the conversation revolves around the Sharks and the Chicago Blackhawks. Over the last decade, the one or two seed has made it to six of the last nine finals (there was no Stanley Cup final in 2005 because the season was canceled due to a lockout). It just goes to show that being a top seed usually pays off out West.
This year is different though. The Sharks need to prove that they can bounce back from a first round upset last season and the Blackhawks have very questionable goaltending. The weaknesses of the top contenders will open up a spot for a middle seeded team to rise to the challenge. This year, that team will be the Phoenix Coyotes
Phoenix is a good team that not many fans will pick to make a run at the Cup. They currently sit in the number four spot in the playoff race. They likely won’t have enough games to catch San Jose in their division and won’t be caught by the number five team. Fans can expect Phoenix to stick with the fourth seed.
And the fourth seed is no disappointment for them either. Last season the team finished tied for the second worst record in the West. Their owner declared bankruptcy. He tried to make a back door deal to sell the team and have them moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Quite the turn of events for the franchise considering where they are now.
There is no single answer for the Coyotes rise to the success this season. Many different factors have impacted their franchise and those factors are the same reasons why Phoenix can win the West.
The biggest move was replacing Wayne Gretzky as coach with Dave Tippet after Gretzky stepped down during training camp. Tippet is a veteran coach who brought over his defense structure with him. His experience includes 313 career wins. Tippet took his former team, the Dallas Stars, to the playoffs five out of his six seasons as coach. In Phoenix, it’s clear that his game plan is working. The Coyotes have given up the least amount of goals in the West.
Along with Tippet’s defensive system that the team has bought into, Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has been dominant in net. He will without a doubt be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. Bryzgalov is fourth in goals against average, ninth in save percentage, tied for second in wins, and he is first in shutouts. An argument can even be made that Bryzgalov should be in the running for league MVP.
To top it off, the Coyotes have strong veteran leadership. Shane Doan has spent his entire 14 year career with the Phoenix organization. He’s the type of player that can take command of a locker room and isn’t afraid to do the dirty work on the ice. He will grind it out and battle down in the corners and give up the body to block shots. He’s one of the top captains in the league.
When you have Tippet’s system plus Bryzgalov’s numbers and throw in a dash of Doan’s leadership, it becomes a recipe for playoff success. In the NHL playoffs, a team needs three main ingredients for success: 1) Defense, 2) a hot goaltender, and 3) leadership. The Phoenix Coyotes have all of those components to make a run for the Stanley Cup this summer. If Phoenix can make a run, it will be an amazing story. They have a chance to go from a team that was one of the worst in the league and about to move to Canada to a potential Stanley Cup Champion. The fan base in Phoenix will surely be howling.