Franchise Best: Arizona Coyotes 2011-12 Season

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Coyotes 2011-12
GLENDALE, AZ - MAY 22: Ray Whitney #13 (C) of the Phoenix Coyotes waves to fans after being defeated by the Los Angeles Kings in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on May 22, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Franchise Best Series comes to you to dive into the all-time best single season for every organization. This, of course, includes post-season results. Join us for a look back at some of the most memorable moments in each franchise’s history. Here is the Arizona Coyotes best season.

Arizona Coyotes 2011-12 Season: Good Year Despite Searching for A Home

A young team, the Phoenix Coyotes have undergone much turmoil in their short existence. After a relocation from Winnipeg in 1996, the team had arena troubles. Following a 2009 bankruptcy filing, the team was owned by the NHL, and on seemingly borrowed time. With that hanging over their collective heads, the Coyotes skated into the 2011-2012 season with a palpable feeling of optimism coupled with some uncertainty and a handful of unanswered questions.

Coming off of a 43-win season and their second consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, albeit one which ended in a 4-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. The Coyotes were faced with some serious problems. The Coyotes first, finding a replacement for net-minder Ilya Bryzgalov. He departed during the off-season to the Philadelphia Flyers. Though that paled in comparison to their other puzzle. Where would they play their home games?

Glendale Comes Through

With rumours swirling that the Coyotes would relocate back to Winnipeg, coach Dave Tippett and general manager Don Maloney faced the challenge of keeping the team and organization focused on the on-ice product. An unenviable task with the bankrupt team left looking for a home and an owner.

The closure would finally arrive on May 10, 2011 courtesy of the Glendale City Council. In a 5-2 referendum, it was determined that the Coyotes would remain in Phoenix. With the home ice problem solved for the present, the team quietly went about the business of finding Bryzgalov’s replacement. The replacement arrived in the form of the relatively unknown Mike Smith. He would sign a modest two-year, $4 million contract to guard the Coyote cage.

Off-Season Moves

The team had few other minor offseason acquisitions.  Those made included the signings of Boyd Gordon and former Vancouver Canucks enforcer Raffi Torres, combined with the loss of Nolan Yonkman and franchise stalwart Ed Jovanovski. Both departing for the early bird specials and palm trees of Florida to play for the Florida Panthers.

A Streaky Team That Peaked at The Right Time

The regular season began with a series of fits and starts, and streaks and slumps. One of these found the Coyotes trailing 6-1 to the San Jose Sharks in the early stages of the 2nd period of the opening night. It was not the best of first impressions. The remainder of the first half of the season found the team not winning with any consistency.

The All-Star break arrived to find the Coyotes on the outside of the playoff race looking in. After that, they muddled through a mediocre January.  However, the team got hotter than a desert sun after that. Posting an 11-1-1 record over the course of February’s 28 days the team appeared to have found themselves. In the process, they were now firmly back in the playoff race. General manager Don Maloney acquired pivot man Antoine Vermette from the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 22. He would go on to fortify Phoenix’s presence down the middle of the ice with the NHL best faceoff win percentage (56%) twice during his stay in the desert.

The month of March brought more mediocre hockey. The team once again found itself skating on the cusp of the playoffs. A five-game winning streak at the tail-end of the season propelled them into the post-season. That streak came at the right time to secure the Pacific Division for the first time in franchise history. With that came the 3rd seed in the Western Conference.

First Round: Chicago Blackhawks

This series was memorable as it became the second playoff series in NHL history in which the first five games went into overtime. The last time that happened was 1951. Two of the games found that the Blackhawks tied the game in the last 15 second of regulation. The teams finished the regular season as evenly matched teams and it was reflected in the scores of this series.

It was also memorable for another reason. A less desirable reason. In Games 2 and 3 there were two hits that resulted in serious injury. In Game 2, Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw was ejected for hitting Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith in the head. Smith was out cold on the ice for five minutes. He did stay in the game. But in Game 3, Coyotes forward Torres took revenge and hit the Blackhawks Marian Hossa in the open ice. Hossa left the game on a stretcher. Hossa did not have the puck when Torres hit him, and Torres did not receive a penalty during the game. Torres was later out for 25 games the following season due to the hit.

Round Two: Nashville Predators

Phoenix then ran into the Predators for the first time in the postseason. The matchup was set to be a heavyweight fight, but the Coyotes dispatched Nashville with quick play and great goaltending. They jumped to a 2-0 series lead on the back of Smith. The only bright spot for Nashville was the Pekka Rinne shutout in Game 3. The Yotes came back in Game 4 with a Smith shutout and finished the series with a win in game five taking the series 4-1.

Suddenly the words Coyotes and Stanley Cup were appearing in the same sentence. Fueled in large part by the sizzling play of goaltender Smith and his 1.99 post-season goals against average as well as consistent goal scoring from the newly acquired Vermette and the always reliable Shane Doan. Both lit the lamp five times during the post-season.  It was during this playoff run that young defenseman Keith Yandle stepped into the spotlight and established himself as a premier offensive-minded blueliner, notching eight post-season assists. Many of them as quarterback of the lethal Phoenix power play.

Western Conference Final: Los Angeles Kings

It was in the Western Conference finals that the Coyotes would meet their Waterloo in the form of the impenetrable Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings. The Coyotes were easily outmatched by the hot Kings offence. That offence outshot the Yotes 48-27 in game one that they wone 4-2. Game 2 more of the same and zero offensive output by the Coyotes as the Kings won 4-0. The Coyotes were able to eke out a win in LA before falling 4-1 in the series to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Kings.

This was a season of streaks, tremendous goaltending and balanced scoring highlighted by Radim Vrbata and his 35 goals as well as Ray Whitney and 77 points that led the way.

The 2011-2012 Season would ultimately and ominously go on to serve as the team’s last in which late April hockey would make its way onto the menu. The team has failed to qualify for the postseason every year since that season. Posting a mere 94 victories over the last three regular seasons. The future looks better with young blue chip prospects such as center Barrett Hayton, defensemen Pierre-Olivier Joseph and right winger Nick Merkley poised to dig their skate heels into the desert sand. Perhaps an awakening is happening and the Phoenix will rise again and Arizona will again see the post-season soon.

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