It’d be easy to chalk up the Phoenix Coyotes’ rise from the ashes in 2009-10 as a one-year wonder.
Shane Doan, however, doesn’t hesitate when asked how his team can be even better.
No easy task when you consider the Desert Dogs went 50-25-7 and finished fourth in the Western Conference with the NHL’s fourth-best point total of 107.
“Really, other than (goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov), nobody really had a career year. A bunch of guys were pretty good, but no one was great,” said Doan. “I think there’s room for myself and a lot of the forwards to improve.
“We’ve got some young guys that I think have made some big steps. Keith Yandle is, I think, about to become one of the best defencemen in the league, and I think that’s gonna be huge.
“Obviously we need Bryzie to be good as he was. And Jason LaBarbera, too. Our goaltending was so great last year.”
None of the Coyotes finished the season with more than Doan’s 55 points. Radim Vrbata was the team leader with 24 goals. And head coach Dave Tippett had everyone buying into the idea of backchecking and being accountable to their teammates.
“Pack mentality,” said defenceman Adrian Aucoin, who led the league with six shootout winners on a team that claimed 14 victories in the showdown. “It showed in our play. We have different guys stepping up every night.”
Game-winning goals of the regulation or overtime variety came from 20 different Coyotes.
Doan, Vrbata and Scottie Upshall each had four, Taylor Pyatt had three, and Yandle, Aucoin, Petr Prucha, Matthew Lombardi and Ed Jovanovski all had two apiece.
Another 11 guys managed to pot at least one big tally.
And they added a couple of skilled veterans to the team in the off-season in winger Ray Whitney and centre Eric Belanger.
“I think we’re a little deeper up front,” said Yandle, one of the few Yotes who actually posted career highs last season. “I think we’re going to be better than last year.”
Other teams are expecting that now, and Upshall knows that will make their task of matching what seems like a fairy-tale season more difficult.
“In one way, we’re not gonna catch anyone by surprise. We’re going to be a team that people look forward to playing against,” said Upshall, who had 18 goals in just 49 games last season before season-ending knee surgery followed a game against the Flames in late-January.
“I think we’re a team that can really roll with everyone with all of our firepower, and be a threat every night to win close games, to score big goals. I think everyone’s going to be a contributor.”
And with a core still there after Tippett took over and simplified their system as his first season at the helm began a year ago, the Coyotes should be an even more well-oiled machine.
“We have a group that knows what to do now. I think last year even early on we were learning a little bit,” said Aucoin. “We obviously have set the bar higher. When you up your standards, you’re gonna work harder.
“I don’t see any reason we can’t do better.”