In their 37th NHL season, the Arizona Coyotes finished with a 35-39-8 record. That pinned them at fourth in the Pacific Division, 20 points behind the third-place San Jose Sharks and one point ahead of the stumbling Calgary Flames. The Coyotes scored 209 goals and allowed 245 goals, making them one of the most porous teams in the Western Conference. Only the Flames allowed more goals.
Things may have cooled off the ice between the Coyotes and Glendale, but on the ice there’s a great deal of work to do. Arizona started to address some of their many woes with the hiring of general manager John Chayka, an analytics dude who became the youngest GM in league history when he was tapped to run the show on May 5.
And Chayka got straight to work, landing defenceman Alex Goligoski in a trade with the Dallas Stars and tidying up some business with new contracts for players like Shane Doan, Michael Stone and Connor Murphy. They also locked in defenceman Luke Schenn and inked winger Jamie McGinn to a three-year deal worth $10 million.
Last season, the Coyotes entered the fray in full rebuild mode. It’s hard to argue much has changed since Don “Slip” Maloney put the wheels in motion and Chayka certainly has his work cut out for him. Up front, Doan is still an impact player at 39. He managed 47 points last season and led them team with 28 goals. He’ll still slip in at the top of the depth chart and his presence should help Max Domi blossom.
Domi’s 52 points were tops among Arizona’s forwards, with 18 goals in 81 games. The 21-year-old from Winnipeg is probably the brightest spot on the roster in terms of offence and his versatility lets him slot in at any forward position. He averaged 16:22 of ice time and seems in line for an upgrade.
Winger Anthony Duclair is also set to break out. The 20-year-old put up 44 points, including 20 goals. That put him third among rookies with at least 80 games-played last season. He spent most of his time with centre Martin Hanzal, but he didn’t exactly light fires with his shots on goal. If Duclair puts the puck on target more in 2016-2017, he’ll light the lamp with some serious regularity. That’s how good he is.
Hanzal, who had 41 points in 64 games, continues to anchor the top line down the middle. 19-year-old Dylan Strome should be ready to break out into a top role with the Coyotes and that could put pressure on Hanzal in the top spot, especially after the former spent last year in Erie and produced some serious offensive numbers.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the best player on the team. Period. The 25-year-old defenceman from Sweden had 55 points in 75 games last season, including 21 goals. He averaged 24:46 a game and is an effortlessly smooth skater. He’s also a top-tier power play quarterback and he should step up his game with Arizona’s crop of young players expecting the biscuit on the man-advantage.
New hire Goligoski had 37 points last season in Dallas and that put him in a fairly elite group of blueliners, with a plus-21 rating proving his offensive prowess. The argument here is that the Coyotes’ system isn’t the Stars’ system and that could cost him, especially when it comes to puck management. While the Stars gave him an offensive boost, his role in the desert could be more defensive in nature.
Murphy, the 23-year-old, had 17 points last season and averaged over 20 minutes a game. He’s a sturdy skater with a big frame and that means the ‘Yotes should find a great deal of use for him. Stone, who’s expected back in the game by October, also gives them options. He had 36 points last season and boasts a good point shot.
It’s up to Mike Smith to bounce back this season. The 34-year-old from Kingston missed three months last season, but he put up good numbers in 2015-2016 and managed a 15-13-2 record. He posted a .916 save percentage and a 2.63 goals against average, with three shutouts. Smith is a big goalie and he covers a lot of the net, plus his puck-handling abilities can help the Coyotes get out of trouble.
24-year-old Louis Domingue is a natural at stopping the puck, but he has a lot of room for improvement. He’s not the most adept at handling a major workload and went 15-18-5 last season with a .912 save percentage. He’ll have to prove he can tackle more time in the crease.
With Strome set to break out, the focus shifts to the prospect pool. In Arizona, that pool has a nice blend of talent at most positions. Defensively, things look a little weak. But in terms of forwards, Christian Dvorak is at the top of the list. The 20-year-old captained the Memorial Cup-winning London Knights last season and led the team in scoring with 121 points in 59 games. Arizona wants him down the middle.
Winger Christian Fischer should also get a look. The 19-year-old has a projectable frame and surprised many at development camp. He should be NHL-ready this season and is a composed player with solid positioning. He may not have the highest offensive upside in the world, but the Coyotes are hoping his responsibility and quick release will put him in their good books.
The Path Ahead
This year will be the proving ground for Chayka and his management style. Arizona will likely give him a lot of room to move, especially as he hammers out his defensive plans. The off-season could still see some movement along the blueline, especially with what Chayka refers to as a “logjam” heading into the 2016-2017 season.