Welcome back for the second part of 15-16 Season Primers. Today we’re going to take a look at the Arizona Coyotes. The team had a very disappointing season on a number of fronts. The season was plagued by losing and an arena controversy, and by the end of it all, they still didn’t get one of the two highly touted franchise centers in the draft, despite finishing in second last place. On December 31st, 2014, the NHL Board of Governors approved IceArizona’s sale of a 51% stake in the Coyotes to entrepreneur Andrew Barroway. Following the conclusion of the season, the Glendale City Council voted to terminate the arena lease agreement between them and the Coyotes. A legal dispute ensued, and on July 23rd, the city and team reached a new 2 year agreement. In a press release on the team’s website, co-owner, president, and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said that “we did not agree to a two-year agreement so we could relocate in the future. The simple truth is, if we wanted to leave we had the out to do so this summer. We didn’t take it. We fought as hard as we needed to because we believe in this market. We have never changed our opinion on that simple fact. Anyone who says otherwise has no idea what he or she is talking about.”
LeBlanc wants the Coyotes and the city to work out a long-term agreement, although I suspect the two sides have differing views on the long-term potential of the Coyotes in Glendale.
Key Additions: C Dylan Strome, C Antoine Vermette, C Brad Richardson, C Boyd Gordon, RW Steve Downie, LD Nicklas Grossman, RD Zbynek Michalek, G Anders Lindback
Key Subtractions: C Sam Gagner, C Mark Arcobello, LW Lauri Korpikoski, LW Tye McGinn, RW Martin Erat, RW David Moss, RW B.J. Crombeen, LD John Moore, LD Andrew Campbell
The Coyotes will come into this season with some familiar faces back on the roster in Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek. Michalek won’t provide much offense but he’s a very good defensive defenceman who has had success playing alongside Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Vermette will be a center in the top 6, but his value will more likely come as a veteran presence rather than through his playing abilities:
The Coyotes drafted Dylan Strome third overall, who will go back to juniors this season and be asked to prove that he can produce without McDavid. I could see him in the NHL for the 16-17 season, but not this season. With rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair almost certainly going to be in the lineup, and likely even in the top 6 for Arizona this season, they won’t want 3 rookie forwards playing key roles.
One trend I saw from the Coyotes this offseason was a replacement of skilled players with more “gritty” players. Sam Gagner, Mark Arcobello, Lauri Korpikoski, Martin Erat, and John Moore have been replaced with Brad Richardson, Boyd Gordon, Steve Downie, and Nicklas Grossman. If we compare players by the positions they will be taking, we have Brad Richardson taking Arcobello’s spot, Gordon taking Gagner’s, Downie replacing Erat, Grossman replacing Moore, and Korpikoski simply being replaced by a rookie. Let’s compare some of these players.
Richardson/Arcobello: I think Arcobello is clearly the better player here. Arcobello was very good in his limited time in Arizona, and I was surprised that they let him go. In the right role, Arcobello could excel, and with a lack of depth I think they could have given Arcobello an opportunity. Instead the team has decided to go with former Vancouver Canuck Brad Richardson. Richardson is an energy player that can produce some offense but he isn’t great defensively. Arcobello’s size may limit him in defensive situations, but he is a possession driver and I believe he should have been kept to create more competition in the top 6 for Arizona. Richardson will be better suited for a role on an energy line than Arcobello though, which explains the change.
Gordon/Gagner: The Coyotes sent Gagner to Philadelphia in the Nicklas Grossman trade. With Vermette and Hanzal in the top 6, Gagner was destined for a role in the bottom 6, which is more ideally taken by a better defensive forward. Boyd Gordon won’t produce the offense that Gagner would have, but he is significantly better defensively and will fit in better on Arizona’s 4th line.
Downie/Erat: Like Richardson replacing Arcobello, I’m not sure if Downie is an upgrade on Erat. Erat is definitely on the decline, but Downie is going to be asked to take on a top 6 role with the Coyotes.
The two players produce very similar offence, but Erat has the slight edge possession wise. Downie also had the advantage of spending some time with Sidney Crosby, which has likely boosted his totals somewhat. I give a slight edge to Erat here, but surely there is a reason he hasn’t been signed yet, no?
Grossman/Moore: Another surprising move by the Coyotes was not qualifying John Moore, who was acquired in the Keith Yandle trade. The team isn’t jammed full of waiver eligible defencemen, so much like Arcobello, keeping him around for the competition wouldn’t have hurt. Regardless, the team has again added a veteran presence, although Grossman seems like a clear downgrade here:
Moore seems like a very underrated player, New Jersey got a good deal there. Arizona feels that Grossman can be a good mentor for Klas Dahlbeck, a young defender acquired from Chicago whom they are very high on.
Examining these moves, I don’t think the Coyotes have done much in terms of upgrading their team, and they will be relying heavily on rookies to fill key roles. John Scott will clearly make them an instant cup contender though.
Projected Lines (All Players Healthy):
Mikkel Boedker – Antoine Vermette – Anthony Duclair
Max Domi – Martin Hanzal – Steve Downie
Tobias Rieder (Thanks Tambellini) – Brad Richardson – Shane Doan
Kyle Chipchura – Boyd Gordon – Joe Vitale
John Scott – Craig Cunningham
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Zbynek Michalek
Brandon Gormley – Michael Stone
Klas Dahlbeck – Nicklas Grossman
Roster Contenders: C Henrik Samuelsson, C Brendan Shinnimin, C Dustin Jeffrey, C Matthias Plachta, C Dylan Strome, LW Lucas Lessio, LW Jordan Martinook, LW Christian Dvorak, LW Brendan Perlini, RW Jordan Szwarz, LD Derek Smith, RD Connor Murphy, RD Dylan Reese, G Niklas Treutle
It will be interesting to see how Max Domi and Anthony Duclair do. Duclair was good in a short stint with the Rangers, while Domi has been tearing up the OHL for the last few seasons. If we use NHL equivalencies, we get 14-30-44 for Domi and 12-16-28 for Duclair, both over 82 games played. I think these are reasonable expectations for these players, I think Duclair could produce even more.
The center depth on this team isn’t great. Hanzal is an excellent player, but the rest may be better suited for bottom 6/depth roles. The depth on the wings is alright, assuming the rookies aren’t a disaster. Mikkel Boedker seems to be a lot like Antoine Vermette to me though:
Arizona’s defence is solid. It’s not spectacular, but there are good pieces here. Ekman-Larsson and Michalek will form a very good top pairing, while Gormley and Stone could be very good on the second pair. As mentioned, Grossman will act as a mentor for Dahlbeck, and those two work as a third pairing.
In the system, Arizona has several promising rookie forwards who will likely take on key roles for the team in the future, including Dylan Strome, Henrik Samuelsson, Brendan Perlini, and Christian Dvorak. The team lacks depth on defense and in goal though, and goes into this season with a tandem of Mike Smith and Anders Lindback, two players who struggled at times.
An interesting name amongst the roster contenders is Connor Murphy. Murphy spent the entirety of the 2014-15 season with the Coyotes. The Hockey News describes Murphy as a talented offensive defenceman, but he only put up 7 points in 73 games. Unless there is an injury on defence, I think he starts the season with Springfield, Arizona’s AHL affiliate, but is the first call-up when a defenceman is needed.
All in all, while Arizona has made some significant changes this offseason, there weren’t any moves that clearly upgraded the team from what they had last season. This again looks like a team that is destined for the basement, and maybe this year they will be able to get their franchise center in Auston Matthews.
Next time we’re going to jump over to the Eastern Conference and take a look at the Carolina Hurricanes. Thanks for reading!
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