Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Genius of the Phoenix Coyotes

- Dave Tippett

I don't think it's a stretch to say the Coyotes have the best evaluation system in all of hockey, right now. 

But before people start yelling "MONEY PUCK," you need to think again. As Tippett himself says, "Even with that rating system," Tippett tells us: "hockey is a game of feel and emotion and passion, and there are things that players bring to the ice that can't be put into stats."

Furthermore: "We had a player that was supposed to be a great, shut-down defenseman. He was supposedly the be-all, end-all of defensemen. But when you did a 10-game analysis of him, you found out he was defending all the time because he can't move the puck." Now, there's nothing in a number that tells us whether a player can or cannot pass, so he's not some advanced stat monger who simply looks at numbers and thinks he understands everything about hockey and what goes on during a game. 
Prior mustache aside, Tippett
has shown he is a fantastic
judge of talent.

Plus they evaluate players by scouting them, like Antoine Vermette. Says Tippett, "(Maloney) watched him a lot before we got him and thought he would be a great fit on our team, and he has been."

Clearly they've established a system in their organization that combines some sort of rating system after each 10-game segment (remember, a rating is different than simply throwing out a guys CORSI or FENWICK and saying "he's a good puck possession player"), along with conventionally scouting a player and plugging him into their roster.

Plus, as Tippett said in the Chicago series, "I look at things in realistic terms, not stats that I don't think you can quantify all the time."

All that aside, let's look at some of the trade payoffs this rating and evaluation system of Tippett's (and Maloney too of course) has produced:

1) Michal Rozsival for Wojtek Wolski (New York Rangers)
- Rozsival is currently playing the second most minutes of any Coyote this playoffs (OEL is first) so that technically makes him their number two defenceman. Wolski's been an enigma who has been traded since this move and is set to become a UFA where he'll probably move again. 

Rozsival doesn't even have a point yet this playoff and he's still playing that much. That just goes to show you how much they value his contributions without the puck and his ability to play reliable, steady minutes. In New York, Rozsival was mercilessly criticized for his play until he was finally traded.

2) Derek Morris for a conditional draft pick (Boston Bruins)
- In fairness, Morris wanted to move back to the desert. But even with that, they got him for essentially nothing. He's a top four defenceman (playing 22:15 a night during the playoffs so far) for a team heading to the Western Conference Finals. And they got him for a conditional draft pick. 

3) Antoine Vermette for a 2nd, a conditional 5th and Curtis McElhinney (Columbus Blue Jackets)
- Granted, I think Phoenix took advantage of a Columbus team that had a terrible year and had to move salary, but the Coyotes got a productive hockey player who is now leading their team in playoff scoring. And that's what they got him for. Chicago traded a 2nd and 3rd for Johnny Oduya. Think about that.

4) Rotislav Klesla and Dane Byers for Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto (Columbus Blue Jackets)
- Even though Klesla is averaging the least amount of ice-time per game for defencemen on the team, he is -extremely under the radar- tied for second on the team in points this playoffs with seven points in 10 games. Tippett also thought he was their most consistent player throughout round one. So why the low ice time totals? It doesn't actually represent his real ice time. He was hurt in one game in Chicago and played 9:09. He also had a 8:37 game against Nashville due to injury. So really, he's been a 20+ minute defenceman producing points. And they got him for two players who are no longer on Columbus. 

5) Radim Vrbata for David Hale and Todd Fedoruk (Tampa Bay Lightning) 
- Not even sure I need to say anything here. Vrbata just had a 35 goal season. Neither of the players they traded for him are even NHL regulars. 

6) Lauri Korpikowski for Enver Lisin
- Korpikowski is one of Phoenix's primary penalty killers, has blazing speed and can chip in offense. Tippett leans on him a lot to provide steady two-way hockey and a spark of energy, and Phoenix got him for a guy whose no longer in the league.

So, are steals like this -among others- simply the product of a rating system and some scouting? No. It's the entire system in Phoenix. It's how they play "their game." Four solid lines, as Tippett says: "If you look at it, we don't really have match-ups. Everybody plays against everybody and everybody's expected to do the job and those guys have done a heck of a job for us. Not just giving us quality minutes; they're creating chances."

Now before everyone jumps to say "this is the model teams should follow!" It's worth noting that this happens every year. When Carolina won the Cup everyone said free-flowing offense was the way to go. Then the Ducks won and everyone said toughness is back. When Chicago-Philadelphia were in the Cup final the mantra was you no longer needed a good goalie. Now we see that regardless of if LA or Phoenix advances, one amazing goalie will be leading his team to the Cup. 

Thus, we can generally say the most successful organizations are the ones who understand exactly what they want and evaluate players who fit what they want to do, regardless of the general consensus. The best teams stick to their beliefs and play within them, Phoenix might be one of the best current examples of that.

In other words, the Coyotes have simply created a formula and system that has helped them to succeed and find the kind of players they believe they need to win. Clearly it's working. Maloney became GM of the Coyotes in 2007, and there are only three players on the team that he didn't bring in: Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, Martin Hanzal. 

There are hundreds of hockey philosophies, and Phoenix has added another. 


  1. Great read and summary of the moves. Phoenix has done an awesome job building a contender on a shoestring budget. Sometimes I wonder if teams with lots of money get sloppy because of it.

  2. Thanks for the comment!
    I think a ton of teams definitely get money happy. You have to justify every cent you spend if you have an internal budget of say, $45million. But if you can spend to the cap, that's a lot of extra room to maneuver and bring in guys who then get overpaid for one reason or another. Would Phoenix give a guy who could do well in their system like Joel Ward the $3million/year Washington did? Not a chance.