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12 PHOENIX Coyotes
Brian Cazeneuve
October 04, 1999
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.
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October 04, 1999

12 Phoenix Coyotes

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INSIDER

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

OFFENSE

17

Centers Briere, Green are keys up front

DEFENSE

11

This unit needs to be much more physical

GOALTENDING

6

Khabibulin is one of the league's elite

SPECIAL TEAMS

19

Penalty killers Sullivan and Ylonen are unsung forces

COACHING

24

Can rookie Francis turn around some selfish players?

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." 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 November.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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