GLENDALE, Ariz. - The lead-up to this season for the Phoenix Coyotes started in bankruptcy court, and the year ended with a crushing Game 7 defeat in the first round of the playoffs.
In between, the Coyotes unexpectedly put together the best season in their 30-year history.
"This year didn't start out obviously remotely the way that I would have liked it to and it hasn't finished the way I would have liked it to either, but as a group, it was an unbelievable time," captain Shane Doan said.
Along the way Phoenix set multiple franchise records, ended a playoff drought that stretched back to 2002 and revitalized its fan base.
The Coyotes' 50 wins and 107 points were both fourth best in the NHL. Phoenix took the two-time defending Western Conference champion Detroit Red Wings to seven games, and after playing in a half-empty home arena for much of the season, ended the year with eight straight sellouts.
Now the Coyotes are hoping they can turn their storybook run into the foundation for long-term success.
"I think we made strong steps that way this year," first-year coach Dave Tippett said.
Phoenix heads into the off-season again facing uncertainty?on and off the ice?but there is a high level of optimism and excitement surrounding this team that wasn't there before.
The first order of business will be finding a new owner. The NHL bought the team out of bankruptcy in November and is trying to work out a sale to a group headed by Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owns the NBA's Chicago Bulls and Major League Baseball's Chicago White Sox. That group has said it intends to keep the team in Glendale.
Once the ownership issue is settled, general manager Don Maloney can get to work attempting to re-sign the team's long list of potential unrestricted free agents, which includes half the team's defencemen and forwards Matthew Lombardi and Lee Stempniak. Lombardi was second on the team with 53 points, and Stempniak had 14 goals in 18 regular season games with Phoenix.
"We'll see what happens," Zbynek Michalek said. "There's a lot of guys without contracts. Hopefully they can keep this team together because we were playing so well. It would be a shame not to continue that."
Much of the Coyotes' surprising success was attributed to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and Tippett.
Bryzgalov, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (top goalie), won a franchise record 42 games, posted eight shutouts and was in the top 10 in both goals-against average and save percentage.
"He was unbelievable all year," Keith Yandle said.
Tippett, who joined the team just nine days before the season started, guided the Coyotes to an NHL-best 28-point improvement. Each player had a well-defined role in his defensive system, and on Wednesday he was named as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, given to the coach of the year.
"He gave us an incredible chance to win," Doan said.
"As a group we all played well together. What's probably made it so much fun is that we counted on every single guy."
Even the late additions. Maloney brought in five new players at the trade deadline, and the Coyotes responded by winning a season-high nine straight.
"It's phenomenal," said Tippett.
After several years of foundering in the desert, an oasis may be in sight for the Coyotes.
"I think what we did this year is going to attract more people to come here and guys to stay here," Yandle said. "With the coaching staff, with what Tippett has brought to the team, it's a great place to play, to live, to be."