The NHL’s marketing has been its biggest weakness over the last four decades. The last time the NHL had a player cross over into the mainstream consiousness was when ProStars aired.

At that point the Wayne Gretzky even rated an intro over two sport superstar Bo Jackson. Yes #99 was probably the greatest player ever, but that’s hardly the only reason people get famous. When you look at it there are lots of bigger, stronger, faster, better looking, more charitable guys who have come and gone since 1991. When you look at all the opportunities players, and the league have to advance themselves, it is rather amazing that the two best known hockey players for anything other than hockey are Sean Avery and Paul Bissionnette.

When the new Coyotes ownership took over, they started off by talking about their passion for marketing, I got hopeful. I knew that given the history of NHL marketing whose high point might just be the New York  Rangers ownership and NHL getting into a legal battle over the teams marketing, that i shouldn’t let my hopes get to high. When I ran into the first spot in the new marketing campaign, I almost didn’t watch it. I didn’t want to lose hope. I didn’t want to consign the Coyotes ownership to the ranks of the 20+ other ownership groups that can’t market to save their lives.

Then i watched. I still have hope. This is exactly the type of ad the team should be making. They focused on who the team really is, on what they’ve done, and what they’re aiming for. It’s simple, and it leverages the teams one enduring on ice icon. Other players have come and gone; Doan has endured.  Doan has been the rock and personality the team was built around through turnover among coaches, players, owners and fan interest. What the next ad will be, and where in the feild of treachery that is marketing their steps will land are worth watching and wating for.

The Phoenix Coyotes summer overshadowed the season. The single most important event to happen since the franchise landed in the deseret, owners took over who were committed to keeping the Coyotes in Glendale. The team’s season wasn’t what they wanted. Oliver Ekman-Larsson continued to grow and develop. Mike Smith was a cornerstone, and Keith Yandle led the Coyotes in scoring.

The draft and the summer were good for the team too. Max Domi is the biggest name on the prospect list, but Henrick Samuelsson, Connor Murphy and Andy Miele will try and steal some of the limelight and earn a spot on the roster. With a roster that so lacked in offense last year (21st), anyone who can play responsible two way hockey and put the puck in the net has a good chance of making the roster this year.

The Phoenix Coyotes will open the season at home, and then go on a road trip that crosses the continent. After hosting the New York Rangers at home, they will travel to face the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers. That’s four playoff teams, five cities and three timezones.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 5

Best opponent: Detroit Red Wings

Weakest opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Home games: 1

Projected points:  5

The future is now for the Coyotes, with five years to become a profitable, team and build a fanbase that will make future lean years both rare and survivable; the clock is ticking. They have draft some interesting talent, they have some All-Stars, and a good coach. Ownership should take the most important marketing measures and add one or two talented players through trade to put this team on the map locally, and internatiionally. The first week of the season will be tough, the month perhaps better a bit better with only has two back to back sets. Shane Doan, Mikkel Boedker, Zybnek Michalek and the rest of the teams most reliable players will need to step forward and hold the line for Coyotes to be playing in the third week of April.

Last night in a hotly contested, notably confused, and rancorous debate the Glendale city council voted to approve the RSE deal. The Coyotes will be staying in Glendale for five years or more. The NHL retains the 12th largest media market in America. The hockey media at large looses a side show storyline, the Glendale saga of rotating suitors, Goldman agitation, and players (UFA’s and others) being unwilling to go to a team that might fold or be uprooted at a moments notice.

What it means for

Players
Another stable market with growth potential. Arizona has more modest state taxes than many states, with a rate for high incomes lower than New York, New Jersey, California, Ohio or Virginia.

Advertisers
With the ownership group being led by someone who made their name in marketing, these owners will likely open their team, and possibly the league as a whole to better advertising campaigns. More importantly a large market with a stable owner can only be projected to bring more and more eyes, ears and wallets to consume advertisements.

The NHL
A blight on the NHL is on its way to being a historical footnote. With markets like Seattle and Quebec slavering for franchises of their own, expansion is something only slightly less certain than death and taxes. Two new franchises in “traditional hockey markets” (or elsewhere) would bring the NHL to a number on par with the National Football League that North American banner carrier for sports success. Adding any additional teams would give the league a number of franchises unsurpassed on the continent. A thirty four or thirty six team league will almost certainly draw in more of the top end talent in Europe and Asia. With that many more teams, the Premier series could even have games played in places like Seoul, Rio, Mexico City, Sydney, Johannesburg, and Tokyo as well as the standard European destinations.

Youth Hockey

With the Arizona stabilized for the coming years, the hockey tradition that has grown in Arizona since the Road Runners landed there can continue on unthreatened. Texas and California have produced first round draft picks, might we see Arizona produce a first overall selection in some future NHL draft? Will the USHL bring its expansion into the territory of the Arizona Coyotes? The rapidly expanding Western States Hockey League (WSHL) already has two teams in the state, what sort of expansion might they see?

In the long run, we don’t know what will happen to any hockey franchise. Montreal, Hartford, Seattle, Quebec City, and Ottawa are all failed hockey cities in what are called traditional hockey markets. Traditions do take time to grow, and they take a steady hand to bring it along. Arizona has had their NHL team for less than a generation, I’m not sure at what point, if any, there has been a leader for the franchise whose vision and purpose was to make hockey work. With this deal, I think they have it, and we have five years to see what growth can be made. To their advantage, they’ve seen all the mistakes that can be made, they’ve seen the results of systemic incompetence as well. Today they have a general manager and head coach who have worked wonders on a shoe string budget. Few franchises are lucky enough to have both a general manager and coach who can do so much with so little. With a bit more resources, and one voice guiding the ship, what might they do? Will Doan, Ekman-Larsson, Yandle, and Smith hoist the Cup under the hot Arizona sun?

The season was a long, long time coming and it seems amazing that we are one third of the way done. We know the Western Conference is never easy to predict. Today, we know which teams are better than we thought, which teams are worse, and which ones just don’t have a clue.

15: Columbus Blue Jackets: We know the more things change the more they stay the same. We know the team has a new General Manager. We know the new GM has a reputation as a great evaluator of draft-able talent.  We know that despite all the changes, the roster is still a lottery team.

14: Calgary Flames: We know this is one of the most hamstrung teams in the league in terms of farm system and with no movement and no trade clauses. We know Jarome Iginla isn’t getting any younger, and that this is the last year of his contract. We also know he might just be their best player at faceoffs, which would be great if he were a center and not one of their numerous grindline centers.

13: Edmonton Oilers: We know they still don’t have a defense. We know they probably have the assets to trade for defense. We know if they end up drafting first they probably won’t be smart enough to draft Seth Jones. We know from watching Oil Change that Daryl Katz is more interested in being seen as the owner of a hockey team than he is being seen as the owner of a winning hockey team. We know that sooner or later Ralph Krueger will be scapegoated so that Tambellini and Lowe can keep their jobs.

12: Colorado Avalanche: We know the AVS are still as a collective head cases.Their win two lose two, rinse and repeat record says their is more wrong with this team than questionable defense, and an offense that really should be better than it is. We know Sacco will likely get sacked because he ran out of gold stars and lollipops for his collection of kids.

11: Los Angeles Kings: We Know the Stanley Cup Hangover is only part of the problem. They still haven’t fixed their deficient offense.

10: Detroit Red Wings: We know they lost Lidstrom and Stuart. We know Datsyuk isn’t as good as he used to be. We know this team should be blown the hell up and rebuilt while no one in Detroit can afford to come to games anyway. We know two or three years of tanking and recreating the team with top talent is preferable to adding mediocre talent to a team that has possibly three above average players.

9: Dallas Stars: We know the Stars were a bubble team last year. We know they are a bubble team this year. We know that when you add Old Dudes, no matter how good they are simply because of how good they were in the 90s, you probably need to re-prioritize and figure out the real holes in your team.

8: Minnesota Wild: We know they added more salary and years to their roster than anyone else over the long, long offseason. We know they had a ton and a half of injuries last year. We know Josh Harding deserves a standing ovation before every game. We also know this team isn’t playing to their potential with that much talent on the roster.

7: Phoenix Coyotes: We know the NHL still hasn’t settled an owner into the corner office. We know the team will get to hold onto Shane Doan a while longer. We know that Oliver Ekman-Larsson is pretty damn good.

6: San Jose Sharks: We know they aren’t as good as their 7-0-0 start, nor as bad as the six game losing streak that followed. We know you can’t ignore the contributions on the backend or count this team out of the playoff hunt no matter how far they fell last season.

5: Saint Louis Blues: We know last year wasn’t a fluke. We know that Alex Pietrengelo needs to be accounted among the top five defensemen in the NHL. We know the team has a talent for identifying goalies about to hit the zone. We know that its unlikely anyone will ever think of the names of any forward other than Taresenko or Backes without prompting, no matter how many goals the team scores.

4: Nashville Predators: We know Weber is every bit as good as everyone said and that he was for more deserving of the last two Norris Trophy’s than either guy who collected them. We know the team is third best in goals against. We know that despite being 30th in goals for, they are still a damned dangerous team.

3: Vancouver Canucks: We know they are once again leading the weakest division in the NHL. We know Kesler is back from his yearly injury. We know it could be years before anyone knows who the real starter is in the crease. We know they aren’t all that impressive on the road.

2: Anaheim Ducks: We know Teemu is Forever. We know adding Bryan Allen to this team made their goaltenders job easier. We know Victor Fasth could steal Hiller’s job as the number one netminder. We know this team is a lot more like the squad we expect than last year’s  nearly identical roster.

1: Chicago Blackhawks: We know this team is incredible. We know the team is deep. We know the team isn’t playing 100% to their potential. We know they will never keep this pace up because guys are playing so far outside their normal range. We know they are incredibly fun to watch.

The end of the lockout brought more uncertainty than we are used to seeing at this time of year in the NHL. What we would get going into games was anyones guess. Sure a little more chaos than expected, but out of the swirl of bodies, we can already begin to extract some very important data.

  • There will be soft tissue tweaks: groin pulls, sprains and similar minor injuries galore.
  • Expect aggression. Expect it all the time. Players are in general healthier, stronger, and fitter than they have been in years. Guys like Doan, Hossa, Keith, Chara and other minute munchers who play big minutes have had three extra months to heal. Doan, St Louis, and Chara not only don’t have the drawn look they’ve shown in recent years they’re missing the circles under the eyes and are moving with a bounce and verve that you haven’t seen from them in four or five years.
  • Streaks will define seasons. With just forty eight games to be played, a six or seven game losing streak is all that it will take to fall behind permanently. A seven or eight game goal scoring streak will be enough to make a player’s season.
  • Save percentages will be lower than in recent league history. With so few of the NHL’s goalies having played at all since last April, or in some cases even before then, the first eight or ten games are really their training camp. Those first few games of practice will be much magnified in their season statistics.
  • Powerplay’s will be worse. Like tracking the puck, the systems teams use to make powerplays work will take time to get into sync. Obviously some teams have better shooters than others, but their teammates still have to recognize when shooters are open and get them the puck in time.
  • Bigger than expected seasons from guys injured late in the year, and in the playoffs should be expected. These guys had to work hard to rehab during the lockout, and most of them probably didn’t wind down even when it looked like we wouldn’t have a season.
  • You will see your team play 25-27 players minimum this season. Any minor injury that could be made worse will get a guy time off if the team thinks its a good idea. This extra evaluation for AHL guys could lead to a more active trade deadline.

Joe Thornton is the name of the day. For those who someone missed it, he’s still one of the best centers in the game. He’s got a 200 foot game, plays physically, and nearly as dirty as Sidney Crosby or Danny Briere at times. He skates well, is one of the three best passers of the last 30 years, and he’s never won a cup.

Some teams and how he’d fit in:

  • Boston: a full circle story with him going back almost certainly means a trade package like Krejci,  Spooner or Khoklachev, O’Gara, a 1st and likely another prospect or pick goes back. If the roster isn’t ripped up too much he’s likely the cure for what ails the teams powerplay. He’s done the major hockey market media before so the adjustment would be slight, and he likely still knows his way around the North end.
  • Nashville: This is almost the perfect landing spot for him. Even if half the fanbase hated him yesterday, him landing their tomorrow in the wake of the defection of Suter and the Weber scare means they have not just a high end player to fill out the roster but a face for the forwards and a tutor for the young prospects in the system.
  • Chicago: while their search has been for a  second line center, this might just fill the whole. Kane, Hossa, Sharp and the other wingers probably wouldn’t complain too much about second line minutes next to him. 
  • Calgary: Jarome Iginla has never had a legit top line center to play with. Joe Thornton would be that. The Flames may not have what is needed to ship back in return, but career years for both as a duo aren’t out of the realm of possibility. 
  • Phoenix: The desert dogs are so far under the cap floor they’ve probably got mushrooms growing on their heads. Even if they added Thornton without sending back a single roster player they would still be almost two and a half million under the floor. Throwing Thornton down as an inducement to keeping Doan would probably help a tiny bit. 
  • Florida: If there’s one thing we know about Dale Tallon it is that he is not afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade. The Panthers need a good center, they also have one of Thornton’s buddies, Bryan Campell who stayed at Thornton’s place after being traded out of Buffalo. 
Obviously the pending CBA negotiations are going to be a big factor, especially for teams paying closer to the cap floor than the ceiling, but it should not be forgotten that Joe Thornton does have a NTC/NMC. If Jumbo Joe does get moved, it will likely be the biggest trade of the offseason. Yes, bigger than the possible Bobby Ryan or the just elapsed shuffling of Nash to the Rangers. Both are younger than Thornton, and talented, but neither has the potential to impact the game at the same level. 
Whoever is going fishing in the shark tank should be dangling, forwards, draft picks, forwards and more forwards. The Sharks one strength in terms of prospects is on the backend. Their forward pool is nothing to brag about, and years of trading for established talent and playoff finishes have left them drafting in the bottom half of each round each year for about a decade.

The great injustice of the post season is that there are only two awards that count. The Stanley Cup for a team, and the Conn-Smyth for one individual. In most post seasons there are at least two people who could be given the latter. This season there are more. Given the dynamics of the post season, at least one of them will get to lift the Cup and the day I hear a NHL star say they’d rather have an individual award than a Stanley Cup, I’ll finally have seen a player I don’t even want to watch play any more.

Dan Girardi is a revelation this post season. He leads the post season scoring race among defensemen by two points. And he has done it with remarkably similar fashion to the quiet defense first style he plays with all season. Even more than Lundqvist the regular season and post season star of this team is Girardi.

Arguments for Ilya Kovalchuk to be on the Hart shortlist were met with scorn all season. This despite his leading the league in ice time for forwards by miles, having more short handed goals than anyone else in the top twenty point scorers, playing a lot of minutes on a top penalty killing unit, the post season hasn’t looked much less different. This despite his missing a game with an injury.

Dustin Brown has simply dominated the post season like no other forward. Skating, hitting, scoring drawing penalties and keeping coolly composed and not taking stupid penalties himself. He’s every bit the engine to his team that Toews is to the Blackhawks, Doan is to the Coyotes. You can make arguments that the Kings would be in the same position as they are now without him, but you’ll excuse me if I laugh in your face while you do so.

Mike Smith, hands down the most skilled individual on his team. You could swap out the other three goalies left for any other above average goaltender and that team would be in about the same place. Agent Smith has faced more shots than any goalie this post season. Despite having played one less game than Brodeur he’s made 129 more saves, Quick who has played two less games has had to make 158 fewer saves.

If I were betting on things between now and the start of the Conference Finals:

  • I’d go with the Caps-Rangers series to go seven.
  • If anyone other than the Rangers wins the east, the Cup goes west for sure.
  • The Caps defense will cost them some games.
  • The Blues will rally hard in the next game.
  • Shane Doan does something inadvisable if the Coyotes come out flat.
  • there will be at least four shots of Laviolette staring into space and chewing gum in the next Devils-Flyers tilt.
  • At least two more overtime games in the second round..
  • One or more NHL coaches are removed before the start of the Conference finals.
  • At least five references to Marty Brodeur’s age per day by Liam Mchugh.
  • The Danny Briere playoff points count will continue, multiple times a period.
  • Whatever Barry Trotz does someone will question it.

Goaltending wins championships.  Both teams have championship worthy goaltenders this season. The difference will come from the rosters between the masked men in this matchup. The two teams are quite similar. Both are built from the back out with the blueline and net minders making up the highest profile players. No one should expect this series to end early.

The Coyotes find themselves in highly unfamiliar territory. Not just in the second round for the first time since the franchise made tracks out of the great white north. But they are hosting a playoff series for the second time. While doubting the nerve of Doan is probably not the smartest bet, you have to wonder if the pressure will begin telling on young gun Oliver Ekman-Larsson, or if Mike Smith’s phenomenal run will come to an end.

The Nashville Predators revamped their lineup and altered their team chemistry hugely around the deadline. They brought back a KHL escape artist, a well traveled defensive guru, and the brother of a player. They had a stumble or two, but managed to finish off the shaky road warrior Red Wings. The Predators hope Gabriel Bourque can continue making hunting down goals, but will need Erat and Fisher to not merely step onto the ice but take it.

The Predators have a bit more depth, but the two teams finished very close in goal differential on the season with the Coyotes getting the nod although both special teams categories belong to the Predators.  Fun series in the offing.