Thursday, July 2, 2009


The NHL draft and free agency have not been the buzz builders that the Phoenix Coyotes had hoped for.

Aside from dealing for a couple of minor league prospects, the only NHL player acquired at the draft was defenseman Jim Vandermeer who came over from the Calgary Flames. Now one day into free agency the Yotes’ have added journeyman (don’t you just love that word) goaltender Jason LaBarbera and utility (another cool adjective) forward Vernon Fiddler as free agents.

I didn’t even write a free agent preview because I wasn’t expecting much out of the Coyotes. Everyone assumed GM Don Maloney would be shopping in the bargain aisle this summer. So far, it feels like the clearance bin at the dollar store.

Fiddler is a nice 3rd/4th line player. He works hard, kills penalties, wins face-offs and was a crowd favorite in Nashville. He will fill the Steve Reinprecht role on the team.

LaBarbera is an enigma. Like most goaltenders he is streaky. But boy is he ever streaky. He can be very good one night and very bad the next. In parts of 5 NHL seasons, it’s been more bad (2.97 GAA) than good.

Maloney has history with the lanky goaltender. When GMDM was in New York, LaBarbera was a Ranger draftee and farmhand.

Here’s a great story about Jason’s roller coaster career…

LaBarbera was signed to push Ilya Bryzgalov but in reality he won’t be doing that. He’ll battle another form Ranger, Al Montoya, for the backup position.

But there is still hope for a shot of electricity that the franchise desperately needs. The silver lining here is that even with the three acquisitions made to date, the Coyotes are still below the NHL salary cap floor. I’ll do the math later today but it looks that even with reasonable qualifying offer allowances for players like Keith Yandle and Scott Upshall, the team still has enough money to buy another player or two.

So now what? The team still needs help on defense. Preferably a right hand shot. Derek Morris is still out there but there’s a certain ‘been there, done that’ quality to any potential resigning. And let’s not forget that Morris was awful for much of 2008-09.

And there’s a real need for a proven goal scorer to take some pressure off the young guns. The Coyotes were 29th in the NHL in scoring last year. While there is a lot of hope for internal improvement, there’s still a long way to go. There will be a lot of pressure on the kids to produce if this is the team we go to war with.

As other teams sign shiny new free agents, there may be some salary dumps available. And there’s always the player who won’t have a seat when the music stops playing who may just decide Phoenix in January sounds pretty damn good.

Until there is new ownership in place, Phoenix will simply not have the money or will to compete for premium free agents. There’s no money to take on big contracts from other teams. There is however a need to create news and excitement around the team and the next few days will go a long way to seeing what rabbits GMDM might be able to pull out of the hat.

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