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McConnell's Blog: Coyotes Stressing Character, Accountability While Crafting Roster This Summer

Monday, 07.21.2014 / 1:23 AM / McConnell's Blog
By Matt McConnell

GLENDALE -- Last April, roughly 48 hours after the then Phoenix Coyotes ended their regular season with a win against the Dallas Stars, General Manager Don Maloney conducted his season-ending press conference.

The normally upbeat leader of the team's hockey operations group wasn't happy.

That's because the off-season had just begun. The Coyotes missed the playoffs by just two points. The wounds of a missed playoff bid were gaping and raw. As Maloney contemplated the future direction of the team, players packed their bags a mere 50 feet down the hallway.

Matt McConnell

Change was on its way.

That day, Maloney talked about a need to change the mix of the team. He felt the squad needed to get faster. He felt it was time to give some of the younger prospects in the organization a chance to make the Valley their permanent home come fall.

But one also has to wonder if the word accountability was in the back of the GM's mind as well. Deep analysis began for Maloney long before the final horn to the season sounded and a clear plan was about to be implemented.

And now, deep into the off-season and just two months until training camp, changes to the Coyotes roster are taking shape. And while the team appears ready to open up roster spots for some of its prospects of recent years, it's also apparent the team is committed to a subtle transformation in chemistry.

Call it a reset. It was needed.

Beginning with the buyout of Mike Ribeiro, the Coyotes have spent the last several weeks recalibrating their roster. Highly skilled pro and top six forward Sam Gagner is a major upgrade over Ribeiro. He's also an option on the wing.

Heart and soul winger BJ Crombeen arrives from Tampa Bay. Crombeen is a tough, physical forward who will add grit and character to the lineup. Joe Vitale, known for his prowess in the face-off circle, comes in via free agency from Pittsburgh to help anchor the center position in the team's bottom six grouping. He replaces Jeff Halpern, who played well for the Coyotes but is nearly 10 years the senior to Vitale. The former Penguin can fly, serving Maloney's mandate for improved team speed.

Photo by Norm Hall.

Back with the team are veteran wingers Dave Moss and Brandon McMillan. Both players understand the culture and its all-in philosophy. Moss is a steady veteran who boosted the penalty kill a season ago and gives quality minutes, while McMillan has proven in stretches he's ready for full-time work with his intelligent play and fore-checking ability.

All appear to have the pre-requisites necessary to thrive in the style of play constructed by Dave Tippett. During his run as head coach, the Coyotes have branded their game. They win with work ethic, compete and smarts. Sure, it's not a squad long on marquee names, but a team that evens the playing field by grinding its opponents’ will 200 feet at a time.

It's who they are. It's their evolution. It's why they've been successful.

It’s also why young players like Max Domi, Henrik Samuelson and Tyler Gaudet (to name a few) will get long looks in September to make the team. It’s by design, as indicated by Maloney throughout the off-season.

So while training camp headlines will be all about the team's young kids looking to crack the lineup, don't forget about the subtle changes made inside the dressing room.

Accountability is paramount for success at the pro sports level.

The Coyotes will be ready to go in that department.

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