NHL lockout dampens high Coyote hopes for 2004

By Chris Amick

Even though all of the talk about the NHL’s off season has been about the looming player strike, the Phoenix Coyotes have quietly put together one of the best off-seasons in franchise history. Phoenix added veterans like Brett Hull, Peter Nedved and Mike Ricci during a flurry of signings this summer. Along with a young core of players like Lasidlov Nagy and David Tanabe, the Coyotes will be contenders for a playoff spot in 2004 if the player strike doesn’t interfere. A sub-par 2003 season has the Coyotes attempting to redesign their team and they are leaning on 18-year veteran Brett Hull to lead the way. Hull is the NHL’s current goal leader, and he only trails Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe in the all-time category. Michael Barnett, Coyotes’ general manager, expressed his delight about the signing in a recent press conference. “Brett Hull is one of the most talented goal scorers in NHL history,” said Barnett. “He is a dynamic player who creates excitement every time he enters the offensive zone.” Toping off the offensive overhaul, the Coyotes signed the 6-foot-3 center, Peter Nedved. The Czech Republic native who split last season with the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oiliers netted 19 goals and 27 assists in 2003. Nedved and Hull are expected to bring toughness to the offense along with center Mike Ricci. Ricci was snagged away from the San Jose Sharks this past off season. Ricci, a notorious NHL tough guy, will play with grit near the net and score tough goals for this year’s Coyotes. The best addition of them all came in-house though, with the re-signing of budding NHL star, Ladislav Nagy. Nagy averaged one point per game in 2003 and will be the centerpiece of the Coyotes’ future. Barnett has much riding on the performance of in the 25-year-old Nagy. “It will be fun for them to see him continue to develop into a possible League all-star,” added Barnett. “More importantly; he is going to contribute to us winning.” With the signing of Derek Morris for another year, the Coyotes finally secured the front line defenseman that they have been searching for since the departure of Teppo Numminen. Morris came to Phoenix last year at the trade deadline and will, along with Paul Mara, Cale Hulse and speedster David Tanabe, form an impressive defensive front. Goal-tending will also be solid for the 2004 Coyotes,whether it’s Brent Johnson, who was impressive in the eight games he played for Phoenix, or it’s Brian Boucher who posted an NHL record five-game shutout streak last year. NHL teams stayed put during the summer off-season, fearing the upcoming player strike. The Phoenix Coyotes picked up the scraps, and if t