So I get to do the first big post-mortem of this 2010-11 season. Needless to say, it's not something that makes me very happy or that I was very much looking forward to. In fact, I'd probably rather put my head in a vat of eels. But I was saved from detailing the more unpleasant, heartwrenching thoughts brought on by the outcome of this series by my colleague here at TCL, Jordan Kuhns.
No one knows what's going to happen now, and that thought is potentially more devastating than how the series ended. This was supposed to be the chance at revenge, it was supposed to be the exclamation point on the breakthroughs of last season, it was supposed to be the year people would stop asking who Keith Yandle was and give Bryz some of the respect he deserves. Instead, there are a handful of should haves and would haves, ending with the heartbreaker of a quote "Goalies have it two ways: to be a hero, to be a goat--I am goat."
Ilya Bryzgalov may have not had the greatest series, but he's no goat. He's the one that got them to that point. Unfortunately, that's not how he will be remembered at the end of the day. Such is the harsh reality of the playoffs.
There's almost nothing to say about a four-game sweep that can make it seem like it wasn't as bad as it really was. And I have tried. There was the jumpstart to Game 1, the near-comeback in Game 2, the backs-to-the-wall feeling in Game 4 that had the Coyotes come out with a bang, and the relentlessness of a captain to inspire and rally his teammates throughout...
But what always remains is the result. And now the questions pour out over on top of this fresh, open wound--more questions than available answers.
We can still look at what was:
Keith Yandle, 24, defenseman, #3: Eleven goals, forty eight assists. Third in the NHL in points from a blueliner. A first All-Star appearance of what may (and hopefully will) lead to many more such accolades.
David Schlemko, 23, defenseman, #6: He who just three seasons ago was playing for the Arizona Sundogs of the Central Hockey League had both growing pains and signs of promise in his duties replacing the injured Derek Morris in this series, with those neat little flip-passes from his own zone and all.
Martin Hanzal, 24, centre, #11: Big presence that was noticed most especially when injured. Five of his 16 goals in 61 games were game-winners. An exciting young talent (and I have a feeling I'm going to have to use this a lot in the names to come) that is in just the beginning stages of becoming a league-wide threat.
Paul Bissonnette, 26, left wing, #12: Fine, you can laugh and joke about Twitter being a worthy contribution to the success of a team. I will only retort that in his brief appearances he did provide a spark, with 122 hits in 48 games and, yes, even five blocked shots.
Ray Whitney, 38, left wing, #13: "The Wizard" held his own and came as just about everything he was advertised when signed in the offseason, just three points behind his captain for team lead in that category. His experience and "wizardry," if you will, provided ample room for the youngsters to grow around him.
Taylor Pyatt, 29, left wing, #14: If a big goal was needed, Pyatt was usually the one who got it. At first it was a (pleasant) surprise, but then it just became one of those things naturally associated to him. No complaints here.
Rostislav Klesla, 29, defenseman, #16: Klesla filled the void left by injured blueliners, often taking one for the team especially if "one" referred to a puck in the face, poor guy. His first experiment on a team other than the one he first evolved with in the NHL is a positive one (minus the blood) thus far.
Radim Vrbata, 29, right wing, #17: I remember in my earliest days of following the Coyotes, before practically my entire life was traded there, my little catch phrase of "Vrbata is ridiculous." In a good way, obviously. I think his being able to throw the kitchen sink at goaltenders (240 shots on net this year) in the niftiest ways possible, several of which ended up as nifty goals, had something to do with that.
Eric Belanger, 33, centre, #20: Another steady veteran presence that was much-needed and relied upon to guide this team in the right direction. Faceoff master (just over 55%) with a hunger to win, his 19 goals were tied for second place. Further proof of depth in numbers on this team.
Lee Stempniak, 28, right wing, #22: So we may have yelled at him more often than not this season, but it's only because it's generally understood what he's actually capable of. For what it's worth, opposing defensemen and forwards couldn't get lazy with him around, because more often than not he'd find some way to make them pay.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 19, defenseman, #23: The future is bright on the blueline for this team, as at just 19, Ekman-Larsson was there to step in and get his feet wet in the NHL, and for most of the time it seemed like he had been there just as long as anyone else.
Lauri Korpikoski, 24, left wing, #28: See end of Hanzal's description. Sometimes it's difficult to believe he's only 24 years of age, and then there's that realization that comes with it: there's going to be that many more seasons for us to be able to enjoy the "Korpedo" and his dazzling plays.
Michal Rozsival, 32, defenseman, #32: The 6'2'' blueliner had a few surprising offensive games after he joined the Coyotes, and like Klesla, he also helped the 'Yotes defense corps stay afloat during those crunch time moments leading up to the end of the regular season.
Adrian Aucoin, 37, defenseman, #33: Last year's "Closer", the shootout-ending thriller, took a step back from the spotlight this season and it suited him exceedingly well. His +18 rating was tops on the team and, while it remains just a number, is just one of the things that proved how reliable an asset Aucoin has become on the back end.
Vernon Fiddler, 30, centre, #38: Every time you see him play, you think he's been to hell and back. The gritty, undervalued Edmontonian was also one of those that was noticed most in his absence.
Derek Morris, 32, defenseman, #53: His return continues to pay dividends to Phoenix, and the goalies can thank him for the 136 shots he faced on their behalf this season. The season finale in San Jose caused him to miss these playoffs with a concussion.
Ed Jovanovski, 34, defenseman, #55: Pardon my French, but Jovo-cop, cage and all, is quite the badass. In a way I'm not quite sure can be measured. In an injury-shortened season (only 50 games played) he remained among the defensive leaders in all categories, maintaining an average of just over twenty minutes a game.
Kyle Turris, 21, centre, #91: One that was expected to falter and be sent back once again to San Antonio, Turris used this season to prove that he is coming along quite nicely, thank you very much. He even had his way during the brief playoff run with three points in four games.
Mikkel Boedker, Andrew Ebbett, Brett MacLean, Nolan Yonkman, etcetera: Still in their baby steps phases of being Coyotes, these guys each brought their respective brand of committed, hard play for the pack. It remains to be seen what their roles will become, but they cannot go un-noted here.
Ilya Bryzgalov, 30, goaltender, #30, and Jason LaBarbera, 31, goaltender, #1 (hell, let's even throw Matt Climie in here): The men charged with the most difficult task in the NHL in stopping all possible shooters and simultaneously defying the enormous stack of odds that playing in the Western Conference has to offer. They proved themselves rather handily, even over and beyond many expectations. Each year comes with its own set of obstacles during the season, and they were able to leap with flying colours over the ones that were within their control. The end proved more difficult to sustain that sort of momentum, but again, it's worth pondering about what the season would have been like without them.
Shane Doan, 34, right wing, #19: Insert one of the biggest writing pauses ever, because nothing seems to ever do the Phoenix Coyotes' captain and last remaining original member of the Jets justice. I've seen "salt of the earth" and "heart and soul" countless times and just shake my head. Seeing him after the end of Game 4 when all was said and done was like ripping my heart out and putting it back crooked. The victories and countless struggles of this team are written all over him and fans from all over the NHL felt every single one of them through him when the final buzzer sounded. That is not something you can put in any year-long summary.
I'm a Coyotes fan in Montreal, which sounds like an oxymoron because of how spoiled I've been in this city. I feel very singular in that respect, but no less attached to the Coyotes and their fans--friends I've made who live and die for their team in the same way that many Habs fans do. It's something I feel should be honoured, not detracted from. No one single person should be told they don't deserve a hockey team, and I'm not about to tell any of them that because it's not my right, my place or even a truth. But it's not in my hands, nor theirs, nor people living in Manitoba, who also don't need to be shelled with the backlash stemming from this mess. That's why those with the power had better find a timely and worthwhile solution--for all of us.