Season Preview: Arizona Coyotes
Will a new name bring a change in fortunes for the Coyotes?
After years of off ice issues over shadowing on ice events, the club seems to have some semblance of stability for the time being and can now focus its efforts on a return to the post season, after missing the cut in each of the past two seasons.
Arizona could have made the biggest steal of the summer – acquiring Sam Gagner and BJ Crombeen from Tampa Bay for a 6th round pick.
At just 25, Gagner has already played nearly 500 NHL games and is just 5 points shy of 300. But the Ontario native’s career had stalled in Edmonton, and with a no trade clause kicking in this summer, the Oilers hand was somewhat forced as he was traded to Tampa (in exchange for Teddy Purcell), who promptly flipped the centre to the Coyotes.
Whilst Gagner has had injury problems, he still has the potential to break the 20 goal and 50 point barriers – and on a team whose top scorer only registered 53 points last season, that’s a pretty useful addition.
With Radim Vrbata departing this summer, and the club cutting ties with Mike Ribeiro following a fractured first season in the desert, Gagner will almost certainly get the opportunity to play in key situations.
His arrival also helps provides the Coyotes with good depth down the middle, playing along side last seasons top goal scorer Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal. More importantly for Gagner perhaps is the change of scene and opportunity to play on a team that craves structure, after 7 seasons with the somewhat disorganised Oilers.
Out wide; Mikkel Boedker seems to have finally found his feet at NHL level, and the Coyotes will be hoping he can improve on his 19 goal, 51 point effort of last season. Club Captain Shane Doan also continues to be a key contributor, finishing second in goals behind Vermette last year despite missing 12 games through illness.
Bounce back years from Martin Erat and Lauri Korpikoski would also be welcome if the club is to get back in to the post season, as would further improvement from Rob Klinkhammer, while prospects Max Domi and Lucas Lessio will also get a look this year, with the former unlucky to miss out on a roster spot last term.
At The Back
In Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle, Arizona has two of the premier puck moving D men in the league.
27-year old Yandle has led the team in scoring for the past two seasons, whilst 23-year old Swede Ekman-Larsson has a growing reputation around the NHL – with many tipping him as a future Norris Trophy winner.
The ‘name recognition’ may drop off a little after that, but Arizona are a team defined more by their system than their personnel. Zbynek Michalek is a solid shut down D, but the team first defence Coach Dave Tippett has instilled in the club ensures this is a machine which can be considered greater than the sum of its parts.
Between The Pipes
Mike Smith remains the teams #1, providing a solid back bone for the clubs defensive system, but Devan Dubnyk’s arrival as an unrestricted free agent provides Smith with both support and competition in the crease.
Many pundits are still split on Dubnyk, but the opportunity to play behind a team far more responsible in their own end than Edmonton ever were gives the 28-year old a fighting chance at getting his NHL career back on track.
Behind The Bench
Since joining the franchise in 2009, Tippett has been the mastermind behind the clubs on ice success.
Taking the club to the post season in three of his five seasons at the helm, Tippett guided the Coyotes to their first Division title and the Conference Finals in 2012 and won the Jack Adams in 2010. After a disappointing finish to last year, losing seven of their last eight games, Tippett has already said he wants the team to be “a better team than just get to the playoffs” this year.
Biggest Addition – Sam Gagner
Gagner’s unique combination of experience and potential make him a tantalizing addition for the Coyotes. If he forms chemistry with someone like Boedker, the franchise could have a fine spearhead to lead their offence.
Biggest Loss – Radim Vrbata
The veteran Czech has been second in scoring for the Coyotes in each of the past three seasons. His points, and specifically his goals, may be hard to replace for a team regularly in the bottom half of the league scoring wise.
Key Man – Dave Tippett
Arizona’s roster remains unheralded for the most part; and in the competitive Pacific, Tippett’s tactical nous and ability to get the best from his players will be more valuable than ever if they are to put the disappointment of the past two seasons behind them.
This Seasons Chances…
Despite their disastrous finish to the season, just two points separated the Coyotes from the final wild card spot last season. But it’s hard to believe divisional rivals Vancouver will be as shambolic this season, whilst Dallas and Nashville should also be better this year.
It creates a tough environment for the Coyotes to succeed in, and a top three finish in the Division seems unlikely on the face of it. But a shot at a wild card spot is certainly not out of the question, providing the club sticks to what it does best and can do it consistently.
A franchise record nine wins in October counted for nothing in the end, as the team struggled to hold leads in the 3rd – if Arizona is going to make the grade, they need to recapture their ability to close out games again.
Posted on August 27, 2014, in Arizona Coyotes, Hockey, NHL, Season Previews 2014 and tagged Arizona Coyotes, Dave Tippett, NHL, Phoenix Coyotes, Sam Gagner, Season Preview. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.