Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 5/24/12
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As the Coyotes season concluded this week, the temptation was to declare this maiden Western Conference final voyage the beginning of sunnier days. Unfortunately, history isnt kind to that notion. Of the four teams that made the conference semifinals last year, Boston, Vancouver and San Jose all lost in the first round this year, while Tampa Bay didnt even make the postseason. Of the four semifinalists from 2010 -- Chicago, Philadelphia, San Jose and Montreal -- only San Jose made it past the second round the following year, while Montreal didnt make the postseason. Add to that the fact that all of those teams, as well as this years other semifinalists, have more money to spend than the Coyotes and the picture gets grim. When you dont have the cash, the odds of sustained success get lower. Nobody knows that better than Coyotes forward Ray Whitney, who won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, then missed the playoffs the following two years with the Hurricanes. To assume youre going to get there the next year? Whitney scoffed. Not likely. Its a big league. The organization took a step forward, and hopefully it builds some momentum with the area and the people, but to assume youre going to be in the conference finals next year -- its not going to be as easy as saying were going to get there because we got there this year. If the Coyotes are going to sustain success theyll have to address five key areas of the franchise this offseason, two of which are largely out of their hands. Heres a breakdown. OWNERSHIP The impact of not having an owner was well documented throughout the season. The Coyotes didnt have the marketing budget to promote the team as much as was needed, they didnt have the salary budget to acquire more skilled forwards and they didnt have the stability that convinces fans to jump on board. Whitney also noted that the lack of an owner left the Coyotes without an advocate. The scheduling we had earlier this year was the worst Ive seen in 20 years, he said of a brutal road schedule that ended in early January. Whos Donny (Maloney) going to complain to? (NHL deputy commissioner) Bill Daly? Hes the one whos sending it in. The lack of an advocate also hurt the team in terms of playoff officiating. If you have an owner thats not going to stand up for some of that reffing that you saw ..." Whitney said. Our owner gave the trophy out to the other team. Do you think he gives a (expletive)? If the clubs ownership status lingers deep into the summer, it will also have an impact on the clubs current free agents and free agents it hopes to sign, particularly the skilled forwards Maloney has noted are lacking on the current roster. I really hope it gets done and gets done quickly, said free-agent-to-be Shane Doan. Not just for me, but for our organization, so we have the ability to keep our group and add to it. The last three years, things have been tough on our management to have to try to convince people, 'Oh no, dont worry. Were going to be there next year.'" Until the Coyotes know their ownership fate, everything else remains up in the air. UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS The Coyotes have six of them: Doan, Whitney, Taylor Pyatt, Daymond Langkow, Michal Rozsival and Adrian Aucoin. Heres a look at each. Shane Doan: Maloney reiterated Thursday that re-signing Doan is priority No. 1. Doan is willing to wait a little longer than the other free agents. Hes a Coyote lifer, his family is grounded in the area and he has faith that the organization will do the right thing for a guy who has been the face of the franchise ever since it moved to Glendale in 2003. But if the ownership saga drags on, hell have to at least entertain other offers. This is where Ive been, Doan said. They know what my stance is. I know where theirs is. It would be nice not to have to entertain anything. Doan made 4.55 million last season. Ray Whitney: Whitney has played for seven NHL clubs. Hes a tested and wise veteran. If youre expecting loyalty after two seasons, think again. Whitney wants a multi-year deal. Ideally hed like three years, but he probably wont get more than two at age 40. Production-wise, they always say the older you get, youre going to fall off, he said. Eventually theyre going to be right, but they havent been. Ive been hearing that for the last five years. Its time that I got what was due to me instead of always taking less because you are getting older. I dont feel like I have to. I feel like Ive performed well enough for the last five years to warrant a contract thats deserving of it. If that concerns you, it should. If Whitney wants value commensurate with his team-leading 77 points, he may price himself right out of the Coyotes range. Whitney was a bargain last season at 3 million. Taylor Pyatt: Pyatt played well in the playoffs, where his size and speed were enormous assets, but he produced a six-year low in regular-season points with 19, so his negotiating chips arent plentiful. Pyatt would seem a key asset in a division where L.A.s size proved a key component in its Western Conference title. At 1 million, he was still a pretty good bargain last season. Daymond Langkow: Langkow turned in one of the best postseasons of any Coyote, doing a lot of the little things that dont show up on the score sheet. The death of his mother surely had an impact on his play during the regular season, but he made 4.5 million. Even with the Coyotes lack of depth at center, it would be tough to envision his return. The Coyotes could use a little more size and speed up the middle than the 5-foot-10, 34-year-old Langkow provides. Michal Rozsival: Rozsivals 5 million salary is too much for the Coyotes to afford next season if they want to add in other areas. He had a good season and provided the blue line with a healthy dose of grit, but GM Don Maloney wants to give more of his younger blueliners a chance. The key for Rozsival will be his asking price and the teams ability to add a veteran presence if it also loses Adrian Aucoin. Like the other free agents on this list outside of Doan, Rozsival wont likely wait much past July 1 to sign elsewhere if the Coyotes ownership situation is still in limbo. Adrian Aucoin: Aucoin will be 39 in July but wants to keep playing. He loves it in Phoenix. The Coyotes missed his veteran presence for much of the L.A. series, as he sat out with groin injuries. If the team cant re-sign Rozsival at a lower price, Aucoin might be a good fallback option for an even lower price. It wouldnt seem wise to let two veterans walk away from an otherwise young blue line unless the team has someone targeted in free agency. CONTRACT-YEAR PLAYERS Forwards Boyd Gordon and Raffi Torres both fall into this category, but the big name here is goalie Mike Smith, who turned in a Vezina Trophy-caliber season and has one year left on a two-year, 4 million deal. Heres what Maloney and Smith had to say. Maloney: That would be something that Id want to explore -- a long-term deal with Mike. He likes us. We like him. Hes a core piece for us, but its not something that has to be done in the next month or so. Thats something you can look at in July and August, and I also said to Mike that if we cant find a way to make something happen then well get into next season, continue your great play and well figure something out. Smith: Well deal with contract talk when it comes, but obviously its been a fun place to play hockey, and I couldnt ask for a better bunch of guys in this locker room. Smiths goalie coach, Sean Burke, is up for a new contract this year, and Smith admitted that Burke's status would play a role in his decision to sign a long-term deal. Hes made me a better goaltender, Smith said. I couldnt have done it without him, and I believe hes the best guy in the league at what he does. He shows confidence in me every game, whether Im at my best or not. It will be interesting to see what Maloney and Smiths agent feel the players worth is after one good season. More on this later this summer. LOCKING UP THE BRASS Speaking of guys in contract years, the Coyotes have two who are vital to their long-term success: Maloney and coach Dave Tippett. Nothing will happen on this front before the ownership situation is resolved, and it may not happen until next season, but this should be Greg Jamisons top priority whenif he takes over. This is, without question, the best tandem this franchise has ever had. Theyre respected by the players, theyre liked by the players and, best of all, theyve got top-shelf ability. Lock them up. MORE FANS Assuming the sale of the club goes through, the Coyotes will enter the 2012-13 season coming off three successive playoff appearances and a berth in the conference final. The test of whether the Valley really can be a hockey market is at hand. Whatever deal Jamison signs, there will surely be some sort of out clause for relocation. If the Coyotes keep up their winning ways and the fans dont show up in greater numbers, the franchise will have every right to find a better home. COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT The current CBA expires in September, and the NHL has informed the NHL Players Association of its desire to renegotiate the agreement. Talks are expected to begin in late June. This may come as a shock to you, but money, specifically each sides share of it, will be the main sticking point. Nothing would kill the Coyotes momentum -- or the leagues revenue and ratings -- quite like a lockout.
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