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McConnell's Blog: Future is Bright for Coyotes

Tuesday, 05.29.2012 / 5:17 PM / McConnell's Blog
By Matt McConnell

Chaucer once quipped, “as tyme hem hurt, a tyme doth hem cure.”

No doubt time heals all wounds.

Chaucer never knew any of the members of this year’s Phoenix Coyotes. However, his words provide a great lesson and understanding for a franchise moving forward.

And his words also provide a great lesson for yours truly, part of the disappointed legion of Coyotes followers last Tuesday night. Game 5 started out exhilarating and thrilling before ending up as gut wrenching and disappointing.

Emotions are a big part of the game. That’s why I purposely waited a week to convey my thoughts on the season.

Matt McConnell

I truly believe as we collectively move into the off-season, the memories of Game 5’s disappointments will eventually fade while the memories of a record-setting season will live on strong in our minds, masking our emotions of the series outcome.

And it’s due to the eight-month storyline of a team that was tenacious, overachieving and successful like none other in franchise history.

There was the emergence of goaltender Mike Smith, who led the Coyotes with an MVP season. Smith was one of the best stories of the 2011-12 NHL campaign and finished the year as one of the game’s top netminders receiving Vezina Trophy consideration.

There were the veterans Shane Doan and Ray Whitney, providing timely scoring and leadership within the ranks that was beyond reproach.

There was the emergence of players like 35-goal scorer Radim Vrbata, the team’s regular season sniper and recipient of countless Whitney set-ups. In addition, there was Mikkel Boedker, who got hot late in the regular season and carried it into the playoffs with a pair of game-winners against Chicago, both on the road.

There was the poise and maturation of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who left fans wondering not if he’d win a Norris Trophy someday, but how many he’d win over the course of his career.

There was the WhiteOut, Phoenix’s annual hockey ritual, three seasons-in-a-row running, that lasted well into the month of May. Sellout crowds were the norm in Glendale, as Jobing.com Arena became one of the loudest places in the NHL. The success of the Coyotes galvanized the hockey faithful, restoring the beliefs of others while instilling local pride into new fans that discovered its excitement for the first time.

Mike Smith makes a save. Photo by Getty Images.

Think about this; when training camp began last August, not a single national hockey prognosticator picked the Coyotes to make the post-season, let alone make a run to the Western Conference Final and finish three wins shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

But General Manager Don Maloney, along with Head Coach Dave Tippett, had a plan. With little to no fanfare, they signed Smith to be the team’s starting goaltender. Tippett knew Smith from their time together with the Dallas Stars. Maloney saw the move as a good fit for a team.

The move couldn’t have worked out better for the team.

And there’s that word again.

Team.

Maloney added Boyd Gordon from Washington, Daymond Langkow from Calgary, and Raffi Torres from Vancouver. Michal Rozsival and Rusty Klesla helped anchor an underrated and unheralded blue line as they played their first full seasons in the Valley.

The culture was changing and the team concept was starting to bloom. The Coyotes were blossoming into the biggest story of the season in the NHL.

Under the radar the entire season, they accepted their newfound notoriety once the playoffs started, even though they thrived on anonymity. National media types were forced to read up on the forgotten squad. It was as if they were cramming for a college final without having opened the book the entire term.

The Coyotes took down Chicago in six, Nashville in five, and ultimately bowed to Los Angeles in five games. Their journey brought them to three wins shy of the Cup final, the longest post-season journey in franchise history.

Coyotes celebrate a goal. Photo by Getty Images.

Hockey has, and will always be, the ultimate team game. Teams built on a lone superstar often fall short of the ultimate goal since a team’s success and fortunes are tied to the success of all 20 individuals. But when a roster is built on the concept of horizontal integration, as was the case with the Coyotes, team success isn’t tied to the success of one or two players. It’s tied to the entire roster.

Hence, a team concept. Hence success.

Two seasons ago, the Chicago Blackhawks won it all with nine players recording at least 10 points in the post-season. Entering this season’s Stanley Cup Final, the New Jersey Devils have six players with 10-plus points in the post-season and 13 players with at least five points. The Los Angeles Kings have nine players with at least five points.

Balance and depth wins championships, which brings us back to the Coyotes and the fortunes of the franchise moving forward.

Players such as Michael Stone, Chris Summers, Brandon Gormley, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Mark Visentin are part of that depth. In a perfect world, they will follow the same development path and enjoy on-ice success like Ekman-Larsson, Boedker, Taylor Pyatt, Lauri Korpikoski and Vrbata have had.

If so, consider the 2011-12 season a preamble for what’s to come for this franchise.

Yes, May 22 was a tough night for Coyotes Nation.

But in the bigger picture, this season’s body of work and the team’s future is quite exciting.

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