2014/15 Season Preview – Arizona Coyotes
2013/14 Season Record – 9th in Western Conference, 4th in Pacific Division
2013/14 Season Recap
It’s hard to judge last season as either a success or a failure for the Yotes, what with their on-ice performance being overshadowed by the final (for now) twist in the tortuous tale of their ownership and location. Glendale City Council and Renaissance Sports & Entertainment agreed terms that kept the team in Arizona (although with a five-year escape clause for the new owners) and announced that this would be their final season competing as the “Phoenix” Coyotes.
That relief for their long-suffering fanbase seemed to effect the team, too: at the turn of the year, the Yotes were firmly in contention for a Wild Card slot out of the extremely competitive Pacific Division. They were, unusually for a Dave Tippet team, scoring a lot of goals. However, they stuttered badly down the stretch and eventually missed out on the final Wild Card place to the Dallas Stars by two points, a dismal 3-4-3 record in their last 10 games ensuring that, for the second year running, there would be no playoff hockey in Arizona.
That said, considering the calibre of the teams not only in their Division, but also in the Central, that’s by no means a huge indictment.
|Mikael Boeddker||Antoine Vermette||Shane Doan|
|Lauri Korpikoski||Martin Hanzal||Martin Erat|
|Brandon McMillan||Sam Gagner||BJ Crombeen|
|Rob Klinkhammer||Joe Vitale||David Moss|
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson||Keith Yandle|
|Zybnek Michalek||David Schlemko|
|Michael Stone||Connor Murphy|
Top Call-Up Options
1. Brandon Gormley
2. Max Domi
3. Henrik Samuelsson
Martin Erat , Sam Gagner, Devan Dubnyk
Mike Ribeiro (buyout), Radim Vrbata, Derek Morris
Captain Shane Doan ended up missing 13 games due to contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, but his points production remained more-or-less in line with recent years. However, those years have been ones of steady decline. Doan is now 37, so I wouldn’t hold my breath that he’ll buck that trend.
Antoine Vermette built on an excellent 2013 season to score a team-leading 24 goals and had his highest points haul since 2011. Martin Hanzal also performed extremely well. New arrivals Sam Gagner and Martin Erat will need to fill the gap left by the bought-out Mike Ribeiro and Radim Vrbata. The Yotes have a decent, but not earth-shaking top-6.
Below them, they’ve improved by subtraction in letting useless face-puncher Paul Bissonette go UFA. The rest are as big a bunch of “Other Guys” as you’ll see.. Kyle Chipchura, Lauri Korpikoski, Rob Klinkhammer. But this is a Dave Tippett team, so they’ll be disciplined and difficult to play against. They are deep at Center, which is always going to be an advantage.
In Defense, Keith Yandle led the team in points with 53, good for 6th among NHL Defensemen (and equal to PK Subban). Oliver Ekman-Larsson had some defensive struggles, but still scored 44 points. He’s only 23 and is an outstanding talent, so look for him to take more steps forward this year. Zybnek Michalek is not very good, but solid enough. Prospect Connor Murphy may get a full season with the big team this year and Brandon Gormley is knocking on the door. The Yotes gave up 231 goals last year, their highest since 2009, so look for Coach Tippett to attempt to address that.
In goal, it’s all about Mike Smith. His Sv% of .915 was 23rd in the League. He has a new backup in Devan Dubnyk who was 79th in the NHL with a .891 Sv%, admittedly playing on porous Edmonton and Nashville teams. He’ll need to improve on that unless the Coyotes plan to play Smith for 82 games this year.
Mike Smith is the man that it all rests on. Since signing his new contract he has posted .910 and .915 Sv%. If the Yotes are to compete in the West, they need him to get closer to the .930 of 2012. As we have seen, when Arizona play their smart, defensively responsible, hockey they are a tough nut to crack. With Smith at the top of his game, they become even harder. Smith has been a streaky player, seasons-wise, throughout his NHL career. If he snaps back into top gear, look for the Coyotes to make some impact in the Pacific this time out.
This is a hard one to pin down. The Coyotes are in the same boat as a lot of other teams in the West: they’re not a bad side at all, but they’re going up against an awful lot of very, very good teams. As ever, they’ve not spent a lot of money: they have the 26th lowest payroll in the NHL.
It’s hard to see any of the Californians slipping out of the top-3 in the Pacific, so Arizona will likely be scrapping with Vancouver, Minnesota, Dallas and Colorado for one of the two Wild Cards. After two years devoid of post-season hockey, the relieved Coyotes fanbase would likely accept that as a successful year.
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