Coyotes and Predators are Mirror Images
GLENDALE -- They have flirted with financial troubles and been rumored to be headed for relocation. They have relied on a strong work ethic, a shrewd front office, smart coaching and tremendous goaltending to fight and succeed against established organizations with high-priced skilled players.
They have tried to make their sport work in areas where frozen ponds only exist indoors and hockey talk often is a foreign language.
The Phoenix Coyotes? The Nashville Predators? Try both.
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Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith, Dave Tippett and Barry Trotz, the Grand Ole Opry and the Grand Canyon. Even the team logos are similar -- both feature a fierce and hungry mammal. And now two teams with so much in common can add Western Conference semifinalists to the list.
Their series opens Friday at Jobing.com Arena (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).
If Nashville GM David Poile and the Predators patterned their success after the Detroit Red Wings, Coyotes GM Don Maloney readily admits that Nashville provided the blueprint for his path when he arrived in Phoenix in 2007.
"Since I've been here, I've looked at them as a model for us," Maloney said. "Nashville managed their payroll well, they have a great coach much like ours, great goaltending and they got the most out of what they had.
"We really are mirror images of each other, quite frankly, when it comes to style, commitment and work ethic. You don't get a free night when you play Nashville, and we feel the same is true with the Coyotes. This should be a very interesting series."
Stable ownership and a profitable bottom line have allowed the Predators to take the next step this season. Instead of watching players like Tomas Vokoun, Scott Hartnell and Dan Hamhuis walk away as free agents, they now are able to keep their home-grown talent and add high-end players, as well.
They locked up Rinne with a seven-year, $49 million extension deal in November and hope to sign star defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to new contracts, as well. The Predators were buyers at the trade deadline, adding forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad and defenseman Hal Gill to an already deep roster. The topper came in late March when dynamic Russian Alexander Radulov returned to Nashville after spending four seasons in the KHL.
The Coyotes aren't at that level yet. They can't afford the hired guns that would allow them to match up with the marquee teams. But with impressive young players like defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, forwards Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal and a productive farm system promising more on the way, the foundation is being laid.
"They have hard-working talent, they are four lines deep, they have two of the best defensemen in the League on the blue line and they have a world-class goaltender,” Maloney said of the Predators. "I think it will be a quick [paced} series, I think it will be a hard-played series and it will be a test of will."
The Coyotes had good success limiting the time and space of Chicago stars Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews in a six-game victory against the Blackhawks in the first round. They'll try to lead in puck possession against the Predators, but still will rely on their system and Smith -- the star of the opening round -- to keep the ice from tilting in Nashville's favor.
"We don't have the luxury of having those highly talented players," Smith said. "But we have a good group of players and everyone is on board with what we're being taught, what we're being coached. I think the biggest thing about winning in the playoffs is playing as a group and believing in what we're doing to get us through hockey games. I think that's what's made us successful all season."
After coming off a six-game series with Chicago that featured five overtime games, the Coyotes are expecting more nip-and-tuck hockey against Nashville.
"I think they're pretty much a similar team to us," Hanzal said. "I think it's going to be a long series and it's going to be a tough one. It's going to be one-goal games, I think. We're going to do everything to win it."