Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Coyotes Preview: Steve Sullivan Autographed Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Caveats: at this point, despite the season being set to start in Mid-January, several impact players haven't found a team yet and quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

It's pretty easy to cast the Arizona Coyotes as a write-off or even a joke, as a team that simply shouldn't exist because it always lies in some kind of limbo, usually financial but also via pyramid-scheme-like ownership struggles, criminal behaviour and having no city to call home. However, despite all this, year in and year out, 25 to 30 professional hockey players do their best most of the time, and sometimes they have results to show for it, such as making the playoffs last year. After years of building through analytics and a seemingly communist approach of "everyone gets a six-year, $5M dollar deal", GM John Chayka gambled one time too many with Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, then doubled down accepting a job with a competing organization while still under contract and was replaced... twice, in true Coyotes fashion.

What makes their odds look good:
Despite a sub-par season from Kessel (14 goals and 38 points in 70 games) and winning only 14 of 35 games after trading for Hall while giving up no roster player, Arizona managed to make it to the postseason. The goaltending duo of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta rivals that of any team in the NHL, even Stanley Cup finalists Dallas Stars, a hair behind the Boston Bruins. If you can keep the puck out of your net, half the work's already done.

Question marks:
Oliver Ekman-Larsson hasn't looked as passionate about playing in the Desert since they tacked the captain's "C" on his chest, ironically; there was even some trade drama during the entire offseason. Is Jakob Chychrun ready to take on a first-pair role? Which young players among Nick Schmaltz, Clayton Keller, Conor Garland, Christian Dvorak, and Lawson Crouse can take on a prominent, perennial-All-Star role to lead the team to a deep run?

Outlook:
There are a lot of promising prospects on the team, but there seems to be a general lack of direction and identity. Still, year in and year out, the Coyotes' skaters give the middle of the pack a run for their money.

Prediction:
Fourth in the West Division.

I mentionned earlier Chayka being replaced twice... the drama hit right as the Yotes were preparing to enter the Edmonton bubble last summer, and regardlesss whether he quit or was fired, he still had to be replaced, so former player Steve Sullivan, who was assistant-GM, took over the mantle... for a month. He was then replaced by St. Louis Blues assistant-GM Bill Armstrong, but stayed on as assistant afterwards.

Sullivan's used to having to work hard for recognition; in the Dead Puck Era, when 20-goal seasons were considered excellent, he reached that mark for eight seasons in a row and even hit 30 twice - his 34 being second only to Tony Amonte's 35 on the Chicago Blackhawks in 2000-01, as his 75 points were 11 more than Amonte's 64 and his +3 rating was miles ahead of Amonte's -22, and his 31 goals with the Nashville Predators tied Paul Kariya for the team lead in 2005-06, but was achieved in 13 fewer games - and yet Sullivan never played in an All-Star Game and only suited up for Team Canada at two World Championships (2010 and 2011) where the country didn't really have a shot at a medal. The knock on him was usually his size (5'9" and 165 pounds), but it never stopped him from being a productive forward even when 6'4" defensemen were allowed to clutch and grab to defend their zone. Lucky for him (and us fans), he has a lot of fight in him.

Here he is wearing the Hawks' black (alternate/third) uniform from 1996-2009 on card #19 from Upper Deck's 2000-01 SP Authentic set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in 2008-09 or 2009-10 while with the Preds, either during his Bill Masterton Trophy-winning season or fresh off having just won it.

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