Dog days better because of ex-GM

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he flipped through the pages of The Hockey News, Michael Barnett's moments of peace at the Calgary airport are interrupted.

Barnett, the former Phoenix Coyotes general manager, is greeted by a blast from the past curious to find out what he's done to keep himself busy this season.

After all, Barnett hasn't been a staple at NHL arenas for the first time in a couple of decades.

"If you go to Flagstaff or go to Shattuck/St. Mary's, you'd see plenty of me," said Barnett, who's spent this season away from the game re-connecting with his children who keep active snowboarding or playing hockey. "I have five children, and this has been a really good chance to catch up with them."

Still, Barnett hasn't cut away from the game completely. The Calgary product, who graduated from St. Mary's high school before becoming a powerful agent and then GM of the Coyotes, keeps close tabs on the NHL scene.

He's kept especially close tabs on the Coyotes, who he guided for five seasons. Heading into last night's meeting with the Calgary Flames, the Desert Dogs were only one point back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

It's a big change for the squad that's been playing out the string at this point of the season in recent years. Seeing as he's built much of the team, Barnett would have the right to feel disappointed not being there as the team's turning the corner. Maybe even bitter.

"I'm anything but. We didn't win enough games," he said. "I'm happy for the players, happy for the owner and the staff and happy for the coaches. They went through tough times and are having success now.

"You want good people to look forward to going to the rink every day, and that's where they are now."

Don Maloney may now be stewarding the Coyotes ship, but much of the components in place were assembled by Barnett.

It was under his watch the team drafted young standouts Martin Hanzal, in the first round of 2005, and Peter Mueller, a year later, as well as unheralded rookies Daniel Winnik and Keith Yandle.

From a trading perspective, Barnett's acquisitions include: top-four defenceman Zbynek Michalek from the Washington Capitals for Eric Westrum; Steve Reinprecht from the Flames for the long-forgotten Brian Boucher and Mike Leclerc; rookie scoring agitator Daniel Carcillo from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Georges Laraque; Keith Ballard and Derek Morris from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Ossi Vaananen and Chris Gratton; and Nick Boynton from the Boston Bruins for Paul Mara.

Waiting in the wings are two highly touted youngsters, Blake Wheeler and Hobey Baker candidate Kevin Porter.

He also signed Ed Jova-novski as a free agent and re-signed captain Shane Doan to contracts below today's market prices.

The main addition since Barnett's firing is goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, and it was obvious he, too, was trying to find a netminder last season.

"In my opinion, he's in the top 10 in the entire league," Barnett said of Bryzgalov. "He puts forth confidence, and the players become confident in front of him."

As thrilled as Barnett is to see the steps the Coyotes have taken, he's just as ecstatic over the success of Wayne Gretzky as head coach.

"He's thriving," Barnett said.


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