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Sports Illustrated Ranking: 12
By Brian Cazeneuve
The Coyotes' locker room had become such a haven for malcontents
last month that the sight of a black snake was only fitting. When
it slithered into the equipment room one morning during training
camp, right wing Shane Doan was especially wary. "Watch out,"
warned Doan, whose upbringing on an Alberta farm taught him how
to coax the serpent into a box. "That thing's deadly."
| 1998-99 Leaders |
Ice time (F)
Ice time (D)
That's unfortunately not the only poisonous influence the Coyotes
have had to contend with. An unremitting string of playoff
failures have cast gloom over this franchise, which has lost nine
straight postseason series and 11 straight series-clinching games
and has never advanced past the second round in its 20-year
history (the first 16 as the Winnipeg Jets). Phoenix wasted last
year's 90-point regular season by blowing a 3-1 first-round
series lead against St. Louis.
Restricted free-agent goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who was
among the league's top five last year in wins (32), save
percentage (.923) and shutouts (8), demanded an upgraded
multiyear deal and sat out the preseason when he didn't get it.
Forward Robert Reichel, a late-season acquisition who finished
with 69 points, couldn't come to terms on a contract and left to
play in the Czech Republic. The team's future may hinge on a Nov.
2 referendum to fund a new 18,000-seat arena that would feature
luxury boxes for 2,000 patrons. At worst a no vote would
eventually push the franchise out of Phoenix; at best it would
soon force ownership to dump high-salaried veterans such as Rick
Tocchet, Jeremy Roenick, Teppo Numminen and captain Keith
Tkachuk, who is due to earn $8.3 million in 2000-01.
Even with that expensive firepower last season the Coyotes' power
play was inexplicably the league's second-worst (12%). With
playmaking defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky gone in an off-season trade
to Anaheim, those numbers could get worse. New coach Bob Francis
says he may consider playing Tkachuk, Roenick and Tocchet on
separate lines, perhaps giving hungry youngsters Tavis Hansen,
Trevor Letowski and Juha Ylonen a chance to earn time with
established All-Stars. Francis, who played in just 14 NHL games,
has shown both a willingness to experiment and a penchant for
tension-melting self-deprecation. "I wasn't an elite player," he
says. "I was small and ugly, and I had bad breath."
The Coyotes haven't enjoyed such levity since last November, when
they went 10-0-1. Unfortunately you don't count your Cups in
Issue date: October 4, 1999
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Defenseman Teppo Numminen, who has been with the franchise his entire 12-year career, has played in 297 consecutive games, second only to Rod Brind'Amour (484).
The Washington Capitals went to the Stanley Cup finals the year after they dumped Jim Schoenfeld.
There's some competition building for the No. 3 center position between Daniel Briere and Trevor Letowski. "They should know it, and if they don't, they will know," said coach Bobby Francis.
If G Nikolai Khabibulin won't sign, Coyotes have Mikhail Shtalenkov and Bob Essensa in net.|
Second-line center Robert Reichel won't be back.
Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk played nice last year, but will they make it through a second season on the same line?
If the team can't afford Khabibulin, free-agents-to-be Teppo Numminen and Rick Tocchet also could wind up as trade bait.
People, Places and Things
GM: Bobby Smith
Coach: Bob Francis 1st season; 1st overall
Assistants: Rick Bowness; Wayne Fleming
Captain: Keith Tkachuk
Last year: 39-31-12 (10th overall)
Playoffs: Lost to St. Louis 4-3 in first round
PP: 26th (12.0%)
PK: 5th (87.1%)
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Sat., Oct. 2: Call it Game 8 as the Coyotes open the season in St. Louis after losing to the Blues in seven games in the conference quarterfinals.
Tue., Oct. 5: Home opener vs. Anaheim . . . to whom the Coyotes lost in the first round in 1998.
Fri., Nov. 5: Jeremy Roenick has a few things he'd like to say to Derian Hatcher when the Stars come to the America West Arena.
5: Father-son combinations who have played and coached in the NHL. Emile and Bob Francis join Lester and Lynn Patrick; Lester and Muzz Patrick; Lynn Patrick and Craig Patrick; and Larry and Ron Wilson.