Are the Phoenix Coyotes Cup material?

Which team will take the Western Conference crown? Should the Oilers give prospect Jordan Eberle a taste of the pros this season?'s senior hockey writers Tim Wharnsby and Jeff Marek give their take on these issues and more.
Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov prepares to freeze the puck during a game against the Carolina Hurricanes earlier this month. Bryzgalov's backstopping has the Coyotes near the top of the Western Conference standings this season. ((Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press))

Each week,'s senior hockey writers conduct (mostly) friendly banter on the latest hot-button issues in the NHL. Tim Wharnsby and Jeff Marek square off in this edition.

1. The Edmonton Oilers maintain that prospect Jordan Eberle will remain with the Springfield Falcons for the remainder of the season. Would you give him a look in the NHL at some point with 10 games remaining?  

MAREK: Not sure what the harm is in giving Eberle even a couple of games in the NHL with the Oilers. In the three games he's played with Springfield he's scored three times and added three helpers, so it's not as if he's even close to being overwhelmed at the pro level. I say give him a shot up top and more importantly give long-suffering Oilers fans a glimpse into the future.  

WHARNSBY: The harm, according to the Oilers management team, is that because the Edmonton fanatics view the 19-year-old offensive machine as the franchise saviour more pointless pressure would be heaped upon Eberle. I agree with the stance. Let him continue to demonstrate his prowess in the AHL and then he can continue to develop and take the next step with the Canadian team at the world championship in Germany next month.  

2. With three weeks to go, who do you like to win the West, the Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks or Vancouver Canucks?  

MAREK: Not loving the Sharks at all. The Coyotes have to cool off eventually, if even so-slightly. I have goalie concerns with the Hawks, so I'll take the Canucks to come out on top of the West.  The Canucks have balance through the lineup, one of the best tandems in the league with the Sedins and a goalie who can steal games. I think the West comes down to Vancouver and Chicago with the B.C. boys taking the Conference crown.  

WHARNSBY: My friend Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star likes to kid me about writing too many stories about underdogs, whether a fourth-line player or a Cinderella-like team. Hunter is correct. I do lean towards the underdog (that reminds me, I still haven't written about Buffalo's Matt Ellis since making the move to five-plus months ago). So how can I not predict that the Coyotes will prevail as best in the West after the regular season?  

3. With so many of the league's top teams faltering, who is the Stanley Cup favourite?  

MAREK: I don't really think there's a favourite at all this year as you could make a strong case for seven or eight squads.  But if forced to choose one I'll take the defending Cup champs. The Pittsburgh Penguins haven't taken a step back from last season and provided they all stay healthy (a big "if" in the league these days), they just have too many ways to hurt you.  

WHARNSBY: Excellent choice, Jeff. But I'm going to stick with the Coyotes. Why? Because, like you said, it will be a wide-open Stanley Cup tournament this spring. I like the Coyotes' goaltending, their balanced attack up front and the fact that they have lost more than two games in a row only once all season. Netminder Ilya Bryzgalov  is tied for first in wins (39) with Martin Brodeur, eighth in save percentage (.921) and fourth in goals against average (2.28). They don't have a player in the top-50 in league scoring, but Phoenix does have six players — if injured player Scottie Upshall is included — who have scored 15 or more goals this season. Petr Prucha is closing in, having scored 13 times so far.