With potential moves to Seattle, Quebec and practically anywhere outside of Arizona finally quashed, the Phoenix Coyotes can finally focus on hockey. Granted they still need to find a way to make the citizens of Phoenix focus on them.
The Desert Dogs tied for the Western Conference lead with nine overtime losses. That dubious mark doomed them to narrowly miss the playoffs. Just four points shy of their fourth straight postseason bid, the Coyotes were mediocre in all three zones. They were especially bad on the road, with a 7-10-7 record.
Phoenix’s 15th ranked offense relied heavily on defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson for points, which cost the team in its’ own end. Though they are still hardly lethal, the Coyotes should benefit from the arrival of a true number one center in Mike Ribeiro.
The 33-year-old Ribeiro is coming off his best season since 2007-08. He should be a significant upgrade over Martin Hanzal, who will slide down the depth chart. Ribeiro’s 49 point 2013 season was heavily reliant on MVP Alex Ovechkin‘s illustrious talents, but his four-year, $22 million contract was actually one of the more conservative pacts of the summer. He is the early favorite to steal Yandle’s title as the team points leader.
23-year-old Mikkel Boedker is Shane Doan‘s heir-apparent on the wing. The Danish winger earned a two-year, $5.1 million extension with a 26 point season. Drafted eighth overall back in 2008, Boedker could be on the brink of reaching his potential as a top-notch two-way winger.
Of course, Doan will be back once again. The original Coyote has been with the team since before their 1996 move from Winnipeg. The 36-year-old led the Coyotes with 13 goals last season. However, his 18th season might be his last in Phoenix. Doan’s situation mirrors Jarome Iginla‘s from a year ago.
Iginla opted for a mid-season trade away from the Calgary Flames in search of the Stanley Cup. Doan might begin to consider the same thing with championship contention unlikely in Arizona. He would be a welcome presence on an elite team. If he opts to stay in Phoenix he is likely doomed to retire without a ring, much like retired Phoenix superstars Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick.
The Coyotes aren’t necessarily a bad team. Mike Smith‘s solid goaltending should keep them competitive. However, a lack of talent on the left side of the offense and limited depth make the team’s championship hopes bleak. David Moss simply doesn’t fit in the top-six on a playoff team, and he could quite easily find himself in such a spot once again for the Coyotes.
Top prospects Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy give the Coyotes a bright future on defense. However, neither player will necessarily crack the lineup this season. The team is somewhat less wealthy in terms of offensive prospects. 2013 12th overall pick Max Domi is a super-skilled centerman, unlike his enforcer father Tie, but his debut won’t come this season.
With their young talent not yet ready to arrive, the Coyotes are in a bit of a holding pattern. They are strong enough to be ok, but they might be better served to look forward. Keith Yandle has drawn trade interest for years, and it might just be time for him to be dealt. Doan could also yield a decent return at the deadline. The Coyotes might need to play some games before realizing that they are short on upside, but they should become sellers eventually.
Realignment hit the Coyotes hard, bringing the perennially elite Vancouver Canucks and hyper-talented Edmonton Oilers into the fold. The Coyotes will easily stay ahead of the Calgary Flames this season, but they will have a very hard time edging anyone else in the division.
Though Mike Ribeiro’s arrival helps some, the Coyotes will have a very hard time sneaking into the playoffs. Expect changes to be made when the team inevitably falls short.