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By Matt Canamucio, NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - Wayne Gretzky would love to just forget about his first season as an NHL head coach. Unfortunately for him things aren't that easy in life.

There was the early-season retirement of Brett Hull, the whole Rick Tocchet fiasco and the deaths of his mother and grandmother. Oh, and his team's performance didn't help either.

The Coyotes finished 12th in the Western Conference with 81 points, and were never a factor. The team couldn't score and couldn't stop the opposition, so entering this offseason it was evident that something big had to happen.

Well, it happened early. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski was signed to provide a bona fide anchor presence. The moves continued with Jeremy Roenick, Georges Laraque and Owen Nolan entering the fold, and general manager Michael Barnett traded Paul Mara to Boston for defenseman Nick Boynton.

The team also returns with veteran Curtis Joseph between the pipes, and a few decent offensive weapons in Shane Doan, Ladislav Nagy and Mike Comrie.

Gretzky inked a new five-year deal to keep on coaching, so he has some time to get this thing completely right. Some solid progress, however, would be a nice place to begin.

FORWARDS - Nagy is the team's top returning offensive weapon, and he hopes to come back strong after having his season cut short due to a serious knee injury. Nagy was on his way to a career season before getting hurt, tallying 15 goals and 41 assists in only 51 games.

Doan provided balance to Nagy's flash on the top line by playing a strong power game. Last season he led the club with 66 points (30g, 36a). Diminutive center Mike Comrie, meanwhile, was the poster child for failed potential before last season, but tallied 30 goals and 30 assists.

In terms of offseason acquisitions the Coyotes brought in a couple guys with things to prove. Roenick looked old last season for Los Angeles, while Nolan hasn't played since 2003-04 because he wasn't 100 percent after 2005 knee surgery. If either or both players can come close to what they were, the boost would be immeasurable.

Steve Reinprecht, who was obtained from Calgary last winter, is a steady 20- goal guy who has a Cup ring on his finger, while Dave Scatchard is a checking center who throws in the odd goal here and there.

The club also features a respectable group of fourth liners, with Laraque and Mike Ricci leading the pack.

DEFENSE - Jovanovski, one of the top blueliners on this summer's free agent list, hopes to put an injury-plagued 05-06 campaign behind him. He is one of the "prototype" defensemen in the NHL, as he can do everything. He has an intimidating frame that he uses often and he has offensive skills that are utilized at even strength and on the power play.

Boynton, meanwhile, is also a physical guy, while hoping to rebound from a down year offensively. He managed only five goals and seven assists in 54 games for a bad Bruins team last year.

Derek Morris and Keith Ballard were both obtained from Colorado in the Chris Gratton trade a few years ago, and both players are mainstays on the Coyote blueline. Ballard is a terrific offensive contributor, but with a full NHL season under his belt he needs to improve on his actions as a "defense" man.

Dennis Seidenberg and Zbynek Michalek should provide the depth, giving the Coyotes a blueline that is on the stronger side. The addition of Jovanovski allows everyone else to slide down into more suitable roles, which can only be a benefit.

GOALTENDING - Joseph went 32-21-3 with a 2.91 goals-against average and .902 save percentage in 60 appearances. Nice solid numbers, but it's that last part that is an issue. Joseph is now 39-years-old, and 60 games is a little much to ask for, especially if this team somehow earns a playoff spot.

This means that we will need to see solid efforts from his backup, which will likely be either Mike Morrison or David LeNeveau. LeNeveau is the guy this organization will look to in the future, so there are two options with him -- keep him up with limited playing time or send him down to be the AHL starter.

Last season, LeNeveau went 3-8-2 with a 3.24 goals-against average in 15 appearances with the big club.

http://146.145.120.3/default.asp?c=hockeynews&page=nhl/news/adn4042356.htm
 
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