Howl if you're ready for the playoffs

Who could've predicted this? The Phoenix Coyotes are being called the early winners of Trade Deadline Day 2010.

In a day that by no means went quickly, GM Don Maloney managed to make the most noise, acquiring the likes of Lee Stempniak, Derek Morris, Mathieu Schneider, Alexandre Picard, Petteri Nokelainen and Wojtek Wolski. At least three of those names were considered highly enough to be on the watch list as per network trade coverage, and just five picks and five players were shed in order to get them all. Only one of these, Peter Mueller, was on Phoenix's original roster (though after I wrote this, recent signing Anders Eriksson also disappeared in a minor deal.)

With moves like these, it shows there are serious plans in motion for the future of the Coyotes--as a franchise belonging to Phoenix and its fans. But really, it should come as no surprise figuring the trades of a year ago, where they were also quite busy:

  • Olli Jokinen, 2009/10 (conditional) 3rd rd. pick for Brandon Prust (later traded for Jim Vandermeer) and Matthew Lombardi
  • Daniel Carcillo for Scottie Upshall, 2011 2nd rd. pick
  • Derek Morris (welcome back) for Dmitri Kalinin (later signed in the KHL), Nigel Dawes (later waived and claimed by Calgary) and Petr Prucha

Shedding Jokinen's salary opened tons of room, and the grit they had for awhile in Prust was eventually filled in nicely by an equally gritty defenseman who could play a lot more minutes in Vandermeer. Lombardi and Upshall formed an instant chemistry the moment they were paired together and this season Prucha was the recipient of two young compatriot linemates that share his hybrid of North American and European game elements, Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal. It was like a collection of misunderstood youth all having struggled to make their mark on their respective teams coming together and making it work in Phoenix. This year's result acts a little like the glue that binds their mission together and says "look, we mean it."

Derek Morris' career highlight-reel could arguably best be resumed in Coyotes' clips, explaining why he was so sought after last season. Phoenix's blueline makes up the more experienced half of their skaters, and the addition of a familiar face who also happens to be a solid puck-moving defenseman like Morris further solidifies their capability to lead their pack into a post-season berth. Mathieu Schneider presents a similar upside despite spending much of his time benched or in the AHL, and the Habs among other teams have been witness to his power-play prowess (Phoenix currently sits 29th in that category). For his part, Lee Stempniak may be farther away from his near-30 goal scoring days than many would like, but the ex-NHL Young Star could prove to fit the same mold as his trade deadline predecessors from last year. Plus, he comes in already at sixth in points on Phoenix's roster.

The other deals are part of a key word that keeps coming back around today: depth. Both Nokelainen and Picard have had an ample amount of experience at the NHL level that can give them the edge over other young forwards in the farm system.

But the most interesting acquisition of the day was Avalanche forward Wojtek Wolski for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter. With the latter two's potential being overshadowed by their struggles this year, the Coyotes were in search for a place to find some much-needed offense. Wolski has only one less goal than Mueller has points. As in the case of Stempniak, the Coyotes are hoping he'll provide an injection of offense so that Ilya Bryzgalov (just maybe) can have less to worry about.

Overall, this trade deadline day was Phoenix's way of making a statement; they're not about to disappear.