Looking At The 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes

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How Will the 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes Look on Opening Night? 

The easiest way to start would be to reveal what we know.  As of today, the Coyotes have eleven forwards, six defencemen and two goalies signed on their NHL roster.  They also have a handful of players that have seen some time with the big club but are still on “entry level” contracts. 

Out:

1.  Mike Ribeiro (buyout)

2.  Radim Vrbata (UFA signed with Vancouver)

3.  Derek Morris (UFA)

4.  Paul Bissonette (UFA)

5.  Jeff Halpern (UFA)

6.  Thomas Greiss (UFA signed with Pittsburgh)

In:

1.  Sam Gagner (trade with Tampa Bay)

2.  B.J. Crombeen (trade with Tampa Bay) 

3.   Joe Vitale (UFA Pittsburgh)

4.  Devan Dubnyk (UFA Nashville)

Maybe/Maybe not?

1.  Brandon Gormley

2.  Max Domi

3.  Connor Murphy

4.  Lucas Lessio

5. Henrik Samuelsson

Where’s the scoring going to come from?

The good:

Mikkel Boedker is coming off a career year and should be trending upwards.  Antoine Vermette probably had his best season as a pro.  He is a decent second line center or the NHL’s best third line center!  It depends which way you want to look at it.  Martin Hanzal, if healthy, is a two-way center capable of 50 points per season.  Some will disagree but in my opinion, he is put into a lot of shut-down situations that hamper his offensive game.  Sam Gagner should help but where he fits in is yet to be determined.  After that, it’s all about Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle.  As they go the Arizona Coyotes offence goes.  There in lies the problem.

Arizona Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker

Mikkel Boedker needs to have a big year

The Bad: 

Mike Ribeiro’s buyout will probably benefit the team in the long run and his problems are already well documented so no need to pile on but anybody that’s not “all in” should be out the door.  Radim Vrbata received an offer from Vancouver that the Coyotes couldn’t afford.  That is a lot of points heading out the door that are not easily replaced.  Shane Doan isn’t getting any younger and can we expect Antoine Vermette to put together another career year like 2013-14?

The kids:

Sometimes in order to move forward, you may have to take a step backwards.  It might be time to start transitioning kids like Max Domi and Brandon Gormley to the big club and hope a couple of their AHL prospects or NHL Entry Draft prospects, with some offensive upside, can challenge for roster spots.  With youthful exuberance comes youthful mistakes but, it is a necessary evil.

The competition: 

The Western Conference is a beast!  No other way to describe it.  If I had to make a prediction right now, I think the Arizona Coyotes will probably have to finish in the top three in the Pacific Division to make the playoffs.  Based on this off-season so far, I believe the two wild-card spots will come out of the tough Central Division again.  Dallas and Minnesota  have improved their teams and they were in the playoffs last season.  Nashville has also improved.  Chicago and St. Louis will be one and two again.  The Colorado Avalanche could slip a bit because they are still a young team and I’m still not convinced their goaltending is as good as it was last year.

The defending Stanley Cup Champion, Los Angeles Kings, aren’t going anywhere and the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks should round out the top three in the Pacific Division.  The Coyotes definitely have a tough road ahead of them.

Prognosis: 

Can the Arizona Coyotes make the playoffs?  Sure they can.  They will need goaltender Mike Smith to be at the top of his game.  The Coyotes go as far as Mike Smith can take them.  They will need consistent scoring from their top two lines and the third and forth lines need to continue to contribute offensively as well as shut down the oppositions top lines.

Arizona Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith

 Mike Smith once again will be the key

The Coyotes defence, as currently constructed, is a very good possession, puck moving group that is a major contributor on the scoreboard.  The down side is this group is not very physical and at times have trouble getting possession especially when they play teams with a “heavy game”.

Coach Dave Tippett has a reputation of getting the most out of his players and in my opinion he will have to be at his best in 2014-15.  One intangible this team has is that they have a solid leadership group that has bought in to the “team concept”.

For the Arizona Coyotes to make the playoffs, they will probably have to beat out San Jose for third place in the Pacific Division.  Certainly doable if the they stay healthy and the stars align correctly.

It will be another interesting season in the valley.  See you at the rink.

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