Hockey hacks are scratching their heads in efforts to figure out why the Phoenix Coyotes suddenly seem respectable, and one of the conclusions is that the Toronto Maple Leafs have helped them significantly.
See, the Leafs traded goaltender Mikael Tellqvist to the Coyotes on Nov. 28, receiving virtually nothing in return—unless you would like to count a guy named Tyson Nash and a fourth-round choice in the next draft.
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And, while the Leafs have suffered since that deal with inconsistent and unspectacular netminding from Andrew Raycroft and Jean-Sebastien Aubin, both of whose goals-against-averages exceed 3.00, the Coyotes have been streaking and entered Thursday night with eight victories in their past 10 games, including five wins in a row on the road.
Tellqvist, a 28-year-old Swede, went into this week with a .910 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against-average as a Coyote. He's been howling with delight since escaping from Toronto's doghouse. What's more, first-string goalie Curtis Joseph has responded to the Tellqvist acquisition with improved play himself, as well as a couple of shutouts.
Among the full-time NHL followers who credit the Leafs at least partly for Phoenix's emergence from the ashes is Darren Elliot of SI.com, who writes: "Streaks of the Coyotes' kind may be explainable by a move the team made. . .Adding Mikael Tellqvist in goal seems to be that moment. He has come in and played extremely well, giving (coach) Wayne Gretzky a viable option to an often overextended Curtis Joseph. The team is now receiving quality goaltending each night, and confidence—and thus the final result—has soared."
At Christmas, the Coyotes were seven games under .500. Before last night, they were at .500. And they're only a stone's throw away from a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Tellqvist isn't the only ex-Leaf who has contributed to the Coyotes' improvement, though. Yanic Perreault is another. The Coyotes signed him as a free agent on Oct. 29, and he now leads the team in goals, having scored 13 before last night.
All of which has returned Gretzky from the unfamiliar surroundings of uncertainty to his usual, lofty status.
And the Leafs, meanwhile, have fewer victories than any NHL team in Canada.
•The Tampa Bay Lightning have let it be known that, for the right package, they will be willing to deal one of their top four players— Vincent Lacavalier, Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards or Dan Boyle.
By no means, however, have they given up on playoff hopes. They headed into last night with 44 ponts in 44 games.
•The Lightning miss captain Tim Taylor, who faces the strong likelihood of serious hip surgery at the end of the season.
His 12-year career is in serious jeopardy.
•As Neil Sedaka used to sing—in both fast and slow versions—breaking up is hard to do.
The Ottawa Senators, however, have split up Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza as linemates while the Pittsburgh Penguins have broken up Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
•Rumblings persist that the Philadelphia Flyers will trade defenceman Joni Pitkanen, although reports that he was going to Edmonton for Joffrey Lupul and Raffi Torres have been vehemently denied by the Oilers.
Don't be surprised if Philly works out a deal with the Senators.
•What started as a playful altercation between Scott Thornton and Sean Avery of Los Angeles ended with Thornton suffering a broken left wrist on Dec. 29, sources close to the Kings have divulged.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the two were "horsing around" when Avery kicked a workout ball at Thornton, who then punched Avery in the back, resulting in the injury. The sources said the incident was not an angry confrontation.
Somehow, though, Avery always seems to be in hot water.
•And, strange but true:
Maple Leafs centre Kyle Wellwood doesn't own a television and gets visibly upset with himself when he watches TV in his hotel rooms on the road.