If you look at the faces of this Phoenix Coyotes team, they were clearly upset by last night's outcome. This rag-tag bunch of veterans, journeymen, and a few choice young players capable of playing in such a demanding system, were all forced to pack their bags and start their offseason.
The group of players currently assembled, we can only assume, will not all stay with Phoenix next season. Do the Coyotes, as an organization, have a proper core to build around? Moreover, can that core attempt to replicate this season's success?
With the Coyotes, the core starts with head coach Dave Tippett. Many predicted his team would not clinch a postseason berth, or even defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. However, Tippett found a way to not only win the division, but come within three games of the Stanley Cup Finals. As we explained before the playoffs began, this Coyotes club wins on the strength of their system, and Tippett's system is iron clad.
In order to build on this impressive season, my suggestion would be to lock Tippett into a lifetime contract. But in all seriousness, the ending result is nothing to take for granted. Tippett got his team to work hard in every game and, to simply outwork their opponent. A staunch work ethic coupled with heightened hockey intelligence allowed the Coyotes to shock the league-- something Tippett seems capable of doing year after year.
"I think the amount that this team gave to get us to this spot I don't think should be taken lightly or forgotten easily," Tippett said in his post-game press conference. "This is an incredible group. How hard they worked to get here should be well recognized."
Several times this Coyotes team showed their resiliency. Their postseason began early as they had to fight for both their postseason berth and the Pacific Division down the stretch. And after finishing the season with five consecutive wins, the Coyotes took the division, by only two points, for the first time in franchise history.
But their quest did not end there. They defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in six games with their only two losses coming in overtime. The Coyotes then followed their impressive first round win by defeating the heavily favored Nashville Predators in five games. As our fearless leader explained, the Coyotes deserved to advance.
Regardless, this unlikely competitor fell short to the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings dominated most of the postseason and, because of the Coyotes, almost lost consecutive games for the first time since April 5th, making the Coyotes' defeat a bit easier to swallow.
"There will be some frustration for a few days," Tippett added. "But ultimately I think our players should look back and feel good about a lot of the things that they accomplished this year."
Nearly every veteran skater is an unrestricted free agent during this upcoming offseason. Guys like Shane Doan, Taylor Pyatt, Michal Rozsival, Adrian Aucoin, Daymond Langkow, and Ray Whitney can all choose to remain in the desert, or take their talents elsewhere in an attempt to exploit a weak free agent market. And if these veterans choose the latter option, the Coyotes would still roster a pretty decent core of young skaters.
"We have a lot of young players that this experience has been unbelievable for," Tippett explained. "Players Boedker, Ekman-Larsson, that this will help them grow, continue to strengthen our organization."
Both Boedker and Ekman-Larsson took significant strides in their game this season. They join Keith Yandle, Mike Smith, Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and inevitably Shane Doan as the team's core to build around. And when you supplement those players with solid skaters like Lauri Korpikoski, Antoine Vermette, Boyd Gordon, and Rostislav Klesla, next year's team shouldn't be too much of a downgrade.
Making the Western Conference Finals is a feat in its own right. For the Coyotes to replicate their success of this season, they will need to maintain their hard-working attitude for yet another season. With this thought process in mind, we might not have seen the best of this Coyotes group.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.