Welcome back to Armchair GM series on this season’s greatest misses. In part 2 of We Can Rebuild It, we’ll be taking a look at the Wile E-est of the teams (see what I did there?), the Arizona Coyotes.
If you missed part 1, you can read about the Buffalo Sabres here.
Where They Are Now:
For all the flack the team gets for playing hockey in the desert, Arizona (formerly Phoenix) has had some impressive success in their history, making all the way to the Western Conference final in 2012, before losing to the LA Kings (who would go on to win the whole thing). In the 3 seasons since, they have failed to make the playoffs, though they were fighting for the last wildcard spot in 13/14 with our very own Dallas Stars. Suffice it to say, this season’s resounding failure was half orchestrated tank/half floundering goaltending (which we can all sympathize with).
X axis is their Corsi For % (a measure of Shots on Goal, Missed Shots, and Blocked Shots)
Y axis is their Goals For % (Goals For/Total Goals Scored)
Size is their Offensive Zone Start %
Color is their PDO (Shooting % + Save %, a measure of “puck luck”), with blue being more lucky and red being less lucky
All numbers are 5v5 and Score Adjusted.
At the beginning of the year, Arizona seemed like they wanted to push themselves to be a legitimate contender. In a roster of mostly no-name stars, they acquired Sam Gagner to bolster their offense in probably everyone’s favorite trade ever, and had Devan Dubnyk in the lineup challenging Mike Smith’s starting position. But they still didn’t have the consistency in goaltending to keep up with their lack of offensive production, and pretty quickly flipped the switch into Sell Mode, trading away a large chunk of their defense, and of course, Devan Dubnyk.
Here are all skaters with over 250 minutes 5v5 this season. All numbers are score adjusted. A red line under a player’s name means he’s no longer with the organization.
X Axis is Offensive Zone Start % Relative (relative to the rest of the team, more negative = more defensive zone time)
Y Axis is Goals For %
Color is Corsi For % Relative (relative to the rest of the team – remember, the team’s average is 47% this season). Blue is higher, red is lower.
Size is Time on Ice
Honestly, it’s a pretty decent group, possession wise, for the forwards. There’s a clear delineation between their offensive players (Arcobello, Gagner) and their defensive ones (Vitale, Chipchura). Unfortunately no one is putting up the kind of goals that can sustain a team, and they ended with 2.01 Goals/Game, beating out only Buffalo. On defense, the the main issue is a lot of the guys left post trade deadline have weak possession numbers. But on the other hand, the average age of their current D group is 23. As in years old. (Sound familiar, Stars Fans?)
Going into a rebuild, youth is only a good thing. In addition to that young defense lead by 23yr old Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who can be argued as Norris worthy, the Coyotes stocked up on some excellent forward prospects, like Max Domi (102 points in 57 OHL regular season games this year), and Anthony Duclair, who they received in a trade with the New York Rangers, and put up 8 points in 7 games to help Canada win gold at World Cup Juniors.
Combine this exciting offense with veteran leadership in the form of captain Shane Doan, and the well respected Head Coach Dave Tippett, and Arizona’s record could look very different next year.
In fact, despite the losing season, rumors have it that Dave Tippett might want to end his relationship with the Coyotes, not the other way around. With so many prime coaching jobs in larger, more lucrative, markets available (Toronto, Philly, San Jose, Boston), Tippett is probably one of the most job-secure coaches in the league right now.
Also helping out the Coyotes is their extremely good salary cap situation. Because of the Yandle trade and the amount of youth on the roster, Arizona is only sitting at a $57m cap this year. With the cap likely raising to $70-72, they’ll have plenty of space to pick up some point producing UFAs or trade for more veteran defensemen to shore things up.
Arizona was clearly hoping to pick either first or second, but because of the Oilers’ unbelievable luck, they will be picking third instead. Per the NHL Central Scouting guide, the 3rd best prospect available is Noah Hanifin, who we actually wrote about in one of our Mailbags.
Instead, I foresee the Coyotes picking Dylan Strome, to give them some flexibility at center (Hanzal, Gagner, Chipchurra*, Rieder and Domi are all centers), especially if Strome needs to spend another year in development before he reaches NHL readiness. Domi is ready to make the jump to the NHL next year, but Hanzal had to have season-ending back surgery this February, so depending on how his rehab goes, having the extra man in Strome could prove necessary.
Commitment to Change:
To be honest, it doesn’t sound like much is needed? Dave Tippett is reliable, they have a good group of prospects – so the GM and the scouting team have all done their jobs well, all that they need is the time for the pieces to come together. The team was just purchased this January by a new owner, Andrew Barroway, which brings me to our next section.
Potential Stumbling Blocks:
The Coyotes need time, but they don’t really have it. Andrew Barroway didn’t buy 51% the team because he’s passionate about growing hockey in the southwest.
You see, part of the reason that the Coyotes purposefully threw their hat in the ring in the “franchise player” McEichel draft is that they have a tiny fanbase, and have been losing money basically since forever. In 2011, the club’s operating income was -$24m, aka they lost twenty-four million dollars. Things have gotten better since, only losing 4.6m in 2014, but when they renewed their lease with the City of Glendale in 2013, the agreement was if the team loses 50m on aggregate in the next 5 years, the owners can elect to move the team. The rumors that put Dave Tippett looking at his options all stem from the questions around ownership’s commitment to keep Arizona winning, which would likely keep them in Glendale.
To keep the Coyotes from moving, they’ll have to grow those ticket sales, and one of the easiest ways to get a fanbase motivated and passionate again is with an exciting rookie to rally around, like Chicago did with Kane & Toews. Now that the Coyotes are unlikely to get either McDavid or Eichel, they’ll have to go with their next best option for marketing: Max Domi.
Aside from being cute as a button, Max has some famous parentage – he’s the son of the intimidating Tie Domi, and he has an excellent “human interest” story to boot. Max has Type 1 diabetes, and has been playing with an insulin pump to regulate his blood sugar. He also has a medical alert dog named Orion, so they’ve already got built in puppy photoshoots.
The other major issue that can hold the Coyotes back? That age-old goaltending question. Mike Smith has a Kari Lehtonen-like contract of around $6m per year, and it doesn’t end until 2019. Add on top of that a less than Lehtonen-like performance of 14 wins on 58 starts, and Arizona is stuck with a long term, expensive player they won’t be able to move without taking a huge loss. Even last year, when they were challenging the Stars for a playoff spot, he only posted 27 wins.
Prediction for Next Season:
Getting McDavid or Eichel would’ve been a huge coup, but there’s a lot to like about where they are right now. Even with the concerns in net, if the young guns play up to their potential, this Coyotes team could definitely be back where they were in 2013, pushing for a playoff spot. They have a lot of assets, good coaching, and are well positioned within the salary cap to get all the pieces they need to build a winning franchise.
*Easily one of my favorite names in hockey. It just rolls off the tongue: Kyle Chipchurra. Kyyyyyyyyyle Chipchuuuuuuuuuurra.