Kukla's Korner

Gretzky, Maloney, and One Fan’s Perspective

Just a quick follow up to this post, here’s a transcript of my email Q&A with Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky, GM Don Maloney, and Coyotes blogger Paul Becker of One Fan’s Perspective

Phoenix Coach Wayne Gretzky
Q: Once you got Ilya Bryzgalov, did you approach your team’s defensive
scheme differently?

A: “With the acquisition of Bryzgalov, we didn’t really change our defensive philosophy.  But his play certainly gave his teammates confidence to play at the best of their abilities.”

Q: Now that Keith Ballard is gone, how will Zbynek Michalek’s role change?
A: “With the departure of Ballard and Boynton, no one player’s role will change.  We will need solid contributions from all six defensemen to continue our solid play defensively.”

Q: What qualities are looking forward to Jokinen bringing to both the
ice and the locker room?

A: “Olli Jokinen brings a big, strong presence to the middle of the ice for us.  He works hard and is very skilled, and I’m really looking forward to what he can bring to us at both ends of the ice.”

Q: What will you do personally to help a highly touted rookie like Kyle
Turris have a smooth transition and successful career?
A: “For all of our young players - Kyle included - we will just try to not put too much pressure on them too soon.  The game is hard enough to play without pressure, and we will simply try to bring them along at their own pace.”

Phoenix GM Don Maloney

Q: When you picked up Ilya Bryzgalov, what did you think the immediate impact would be on this team? What specific qualities did he bring that your previous goalies didn’t?

A: Ilya had shown flashes of brilliance with the Ducks yet was saddled behind a top goaltender (Giguere) and never had his chance to be the number one goaltender in Anaheim.  He is big, quick and athletic in the net.  Coming off a Stanley Cup victory with Anaheim, Ilya brought an upbeat, confident, positive attitude to our team.

Q: Since you’ve been in Phoenix, how would you evaluate it as a hockey market and how it’s trending?

A: Phoenix is like any other ‘non-traditional’ hockey market - in order to attract big crowds on a consistent basis, your team needs to get to the playoffs and win in the playoffs.  Recent Stanley Cup winners - Tampa, Carolina and Anaheim - are true testaments to this.  If you build a winner, people will support your team.  We have a very loyal fan base here in Phoenix, our season ticket base is ahead of where we were last year so we are trending in a positive direction.

Q: Looking back now, how do you feel about having to move Keith Ballard?

A: In order to acquire a first line, All-star caliber player in Ollie Jokinen, you have to give up something.  I am very confident new defenseman Kurt Sauer and David Hale will replace Keith’s minutes. In addition, I expect Keith Yandle will play an important role for us this season and he needs more icetime to develop.

Q: Your young players form a strong team core. Where do you see this team two years from now when Mueller, Turris, and Michalek have had more time to mature?

A: I am tremendously excited about the future of this franchise.  We have a top goaltender in Bryzgalov and improved depth in that position throughout our organization.  Our leadership group - Doan, Morris, Jovanovski, Jokinen - are all world class players.  We have exciting young players on the way - Mueller, Boedker, Tikhonov, Porter, Hanzal, Carcillo, etc and have addressed a need that every winning team needs - toughness.  With Todd Fedoruk and Brian McGratton, we have become a much tougher team to play against.  Great things are coming to the desert!

Coyotes blogger Paul Becker

Q: Can you summarize how you feel the Phoenix area is for a hockey market? How have you seen things change since the team first arrived in 1996?

A: Hockey in Phoenix is a very different market as many of us have transplanted here from someplace else.  So I see two types of fans here in the Valley.  The die hards who have supported the franchise through all levels of growth and decline, through celebration and pain, and the casual fan who has difficulty temporarily suspending loyalties from his or her previous residence because it’s always better elsewhere.

In addition, for those that live in the East Valley, they say it’s more difficult getting to Glendale (which is in the West Valley) than downtown Phoenix where the team played from 1996 - 2003.  To me, we’re talking only 10 - 20 extra minutes, but for some that’s substantial.  So the decision to put the team in Glendale changed the market somewhat and I think that’s one factor of making it difficult for the weekday games to fill up.

The other factor is that no one really knows the team, and to me, it’s not the franchise’s fault - they are doing everything possible.  But what I still don’t get is that Wayne Gretzky, one of the greatest players ever, is behind the bench.  I enjoy seeing him coach when I get to a game and it’s a shame many more choose to not get out to see a game while he’s still here.

Q: As a fan, you’ve seen this franchise go through many ups and downs. What was the feeling of fans as the roster changed and performance declined?

A: Again, it depends on who you talk to.  Many of the casual fans view the current roster as nothing more than an AHL team not worthy of any support.  Some go so far as to say that General Manager Don Maloney is too cheap to spend money to bring in the higher priced talent for the Coyotes to win now.  The passionate, die hard fans, want the team to grow in the right way and are patient to let that happen.  They saw that the model of hiring players at the tail end of their careers didn’t work so well.

The constant though between both fan groups is that they are tired of seeing the Coyotes lose and last year was a nice respite.  They want to see this franchise qualify for the playoffs and winning certainly will help change the mindset.

Q: Do you see the products of grassroots marketing efforts (more kids playing hockey, etc.) in the overall acceptance of the Coyotes as part of the area?

A: The Coyotes are doing their best to focus their efforts on Youth Hockey.  The marketing team won awards for their work last year in advertising the programs and the product.  They and their Media Partner FSN Arizona, have partnered up with local community programs like the Boys and Girls clubs, to introduce hockey to the next generation.

David Spina is a Mesa, Arizona resident in the Coyotes’ organization playing for the San Antonio Rampage (and who has a shot of making the Coyotes), Curtis Kelner is from Peoria (which is right outside of Glendale) and plays in the WHL for the Spokane Chiefs (and won a championship with the team), and Brian Esner who is from Paradise Valley (near Scottsdale) who has played in the ECHL was invited to rookie camp last summer.  Also, there is Lynndy Smith from Glendale who wants to achieve success in the USA Women’s hockey program.  It’s catching on, and when the kids who get introduced to the sport of hockey (both as fans and as participants) grow up and stay here, the fan base will grow accordingly.

Q: How do you feel this current team differs from the Roenick/Tkachuk teams of the late 1990s? Does it feel better or worse, and do you think Maloney has built a solid foundation for a strong future?

A: You could add Daniel Briere along with Roenick and Tkachuk…To me, it feels better as it’s not just limited to two or three guys, the nucleus is larger with Kyle Turris, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker, and Viktor Tikhonov.  Due to the poor performance of the team, they had the chance to draft real quality players with a huge upside.  There are some sleeper players like Kevin Porter, who won the Hobey Baker award when he was with the University of Michigan that could see some great development and make an impact.

There is no question that the Roenick/Tkachuk tandem of the late 90s was Phoenix Coyotes hockey, but I see more depth here with this group.  However, the only way I could determine that this core is better than the previous campaigns, is how they compete in March and April fighting for that playoff spot and time will tell the true story.  Roenick/Tkachuk knew how to win and this team is still learining.

I’ve been truly impressed with Maloney’s committment to growing the team the right way.  He will not mortgage the future for short-term success.  It’s what he said he would do when he came here, and he’s lived up to his promise.  I had question marks at the beginning of his tenure, but he’s doing this the right way and that is refreshing.  Dynasties are not built in a year - the Red Wings are a great example of that, and Maloney is setting the solid foundation now for multiple runs at the Stanley Cup.  Building a system with the right players at the right positions at all levels from the CHL, to the AHL, and obviously to the Coyotes in the NHL, is the key to winning for a long time.

Filed in: NHL, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: marketing, phoenix+coyotes, wayne+gretzky

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