After an offseason in which changes in the front office and the actions of an assistant coach made bigger headlines than the team’s personnel moves, the Coyotes can finally get back to hockey.
Players and coaches will be on the ice today as an organized group for the first time since April as the Coyotes open their 2007-08 training camp at Jobing.com Arena.
Phoenix will field one of the NHL’s youngest teams – of the players expected to make the team, only four are at least 30 – and is entering the first full season of its rebuilding plan, so expectations aren’t high. Still there are a few intriguing story lines to follow as the Coyotes prepares for their 11th season in the Valley.
Paramount is who will be the club’s No. 1 goalie.
Gone is Curtis Joseph, who more often than not was the team’s savior the past two seasons. In his place are three goaltenders who finished 2006-07 as backups, David Aebischer, Alex Auld and Mikael Tellqvist.
Aebischer and Auld started last season as No. 1s, and Tellqvist played like one for the Coyotes for two months, but none was able to hold onto the position. All three have a lot to prove in camp and in a short time. Preseason games start Sunday.
“What you want to see is a guy come out and shine right out of the gate,” goaltending coach Grant Fuhr said. “In a selfish way, I’m happy we have two days of camp and are right into games because the best way for me to evaluate a goalie is to watch him play in a game.”
Exactly how good are rookies Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal?
Lauded as the team’s next stars for more than a year now, the Coyotes’ top draft picks from 2006 and ’05, respectively, will get their first chance to live up to the hype. Both have been penciled into the lineup and are expected to receive a ton of ice time.
“The NHL, this is a different game from other leagues, so camp will be a good indication (of what to expect),” defenseman Ed Jovanovski said.
Mueller, 19 and a preseason Calder Trophy candidate, and Hanzal, 20, tore up the Western Hockey League last year, combining for 163 points. If they can produce half as much at the NHL level, it will be a sign of good things to come.
“What they’re capable of doing is exciting,” captain Shane Doan said.
Other than Doan and Steven Reinprecht, where will the team’s scoring come from?
Doan led the Coyotes in goals, assists and points last season and Reinprecht averaged a point every 1 1/2 games. Of Phoenix’s other returning forwards, none reached the 25-point mark.
That means newcomers Radim Vrbata (14 goals, 41 points with Chicago last season), Mike York (10 goals, 21 points with Philadelphia and the New York Islanders), Mueller and Hanzal will be looked upon to provide a bulk of the support. Fredrik Sjostrom (9 goals, 18 points) is also on that list and with this being his contract year, the pressure is on to have a breakout season.
Who will be coach Wayne Gretzky’s second assistant coach?
Since assistant Barry Smith left for Russia after last season, Gretzky has kept open that position on his staff in hopes of bringing back Rick Tocchet.
Tocchet, on a league-approved leave of absence since February 2006, pleaded guilty in the offseason to running a sports gambling ring and received two years of probation.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has yet to decide whether he will let Tocchet back behind a bench, but multiple team sources said Thursday Gretzky continues to hold out hope his good friend will return.
With the season less than three weeks away, the clock is ticking for Bettman and Gretzky to make a decision.