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The news that Dave King has joined the Phoenix Coyotes as an assistant coach is interesting on many levels - and a sign the beleaguered NHL team is trying to get it right on the ice, if not in the boardroom or bankruptcy court.

King ran yesterday's practice before the Coyotes boarded a flight for Everett, Wash., and the continuation of their NHL exhibition season.

In a year of incredible uncertainty for the franchise, and particularly their young emerging players, King, 61, is just what the Coyotes need at this stage: a teacher, first and foremost, someone who will help players such as Peter Mueller and Mikkel Boedker get better.

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It is just a smart business decision, no matter where the franchise might happen to land, no matter who may end up owning the team.

For Phoenix, the one happy byproduct of all those years at the bottom of the Western Conference is it has landed a nice young nucleus of talent. But as anyone who's followed the NHL long enough knows, talent can wither on the vine.

Talent, without direction, often fails to meet its considerable potential. There is no end to the list of high draft picks who, for whatever reason, fall along the wayside, unable to meet the promise of their teen years.

In order to retain whatever value there is in the team, that is the thing the Coyotes most need desperately to guard against - seeing their prospects go off the rails because of all the off-ice distractions.

This may well turn out to be a lost season for the Coyotes, even if general manager Don Maloney believes a siege mentality could develop and draw the team closer together. That's possible, maybe. The St. Louis Blues, under Harry Ornest's ownership, once had just that kind of season, back in the Brian Sutter years.

But even if it doesn't happen, and all the Coyotes manage to do this year is to keep the development curve inching slowly upward, they could be one of those teams that turns the corner in a hurry as soon as stability returns to the ownership group.

With head coach Wayne Gretzky still in limbo, assistant Ulf Samuelsson is the nominal boss in Phoenix, with Doug Sulliman as the only other remaining returning member of the coaching staff. Sean Burke, who played for King on a handful of Canadian national teams, was added as goaltender coach yesterday, replacing Grant Fuhr.

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King and Burke have a history that dates back more than 20 years, and should be a good fit on a staff led by Samuelsson, who is privately getting good notices for his coaching acumen.

For King, who has a winter home in Phoenix, this is the perfect soft landing after coaching in Germany and Russia these past few years. King's NHL résumé includes head coaching jobs with the Calgary Flames (1992-95) and Columbus Blue Jackets (2000-02). He also coached the Canadian men at the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics.

For an NHL franchise operating on a shoe string, with no real sense of what happens next, King's veteran presence lends an aura stability, just when the Coyotes need it most.

Plus, he may even get to coach the grandson of his long-time rival, Viktor Tikhonov. What could be sweeter than that?

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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