As the latest team to be run by a analytic wunderkind, every hockey fan who’d like to see the game move forward in any way, there is some investment in the success of the Arizona Coyotes. With some smart summer moves (not necessarily Hjalmarsson), the Yotes are going to be some people’s pick to surprise. They’re not there yet, or at least don’t look it, but they’re finally trending up. Whether they can get anyone to care in the desert is a question that’s gone on far too long and will never die.
’16-’17 Record: 30-42-10 70 points (6th in Pacific)
Team Stats 5v5: 45.0 CF% (30th) 44.9 SF% (30th) 42.6 SCF% (30th) 7.2 SH% (20th) .924 SV% (12th)
Special Teams: 16.1 PP% (26th) 77.3 PK% (27th)
Goalies: While it was fun to laugh at Mike Smith last year, and we would always encourage you to do that, one is free to question just how much better anyone could have done. As you can see by the stats above, both he and Louis Domingue were basically under siege every game last year, facing not only a ton of shots but a ton of good ones. Smith is gone now, and in his place is Antti Raanta. Raanta was really good filling in for King Henrik last year on Broadway, with a pretty stunning .936 SV% at evens. The defense in New York wasn’t great either, and with a couple moves the Coyotes defense might not be as bad. Still, Raanta has never taken a #1 role and no one can be sure how he’ll do. He’s not the biggest, which is a problem in the NHL and especially in that division where every team has a legion of crease-crashers. Domingue is something of an adequate backup, but he’s almost certainly not going to threaten Raanta’s status. So if Raanta isn’t up to it, and “up to it” in Arizona is still going to be borderline performing miracles, the Yotes are going to be up the track again by some distance.
Defense: How you judge this blue line is probably hinging on what you think of Niklas Hjalmarsson and where he is on his decline. Those of us here in Chicago saw a pretty rough second-half of the season last year and a woeful playoffs. After a full summer off (again) Hammer is almost certainly going to start the season strongly. But how long does that last? Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a wonderful player, and yet even with his skills the Coyotes have sucked and he wasn’t able to lift Connor Murphy above the status of “hot prospect.” We’ll find out now if that’s all Murphy is going to be, but OEL might find trying to lift up Hammer just as hard of a task. The two would seem to mesh perfectly, with Hammer being a free-safety for OEL, but again it’s going to pivot on where Hammer is on what we’ve always thought is going to be a rough and ugly aging curve.
However, the McGinn-for-Demers deal is absolute theft, and a second pairing of Goligoski-Demers is very solid (it was a top pairing in Dallas just two years ago when they were topping the division). If Rick “Lay The Points” Tocchet wanted to get creative, he could have Goligoski-Demers be the human shield to let OEL run wild (and because Hammer might not be up to it anymore). Goligoski found it a rough go in the desert last year, though maintained his possession numbers above the team rate. But he was dragging around the likes of Michalek, Stone, and whatever other usher ran out of beer to sell and ended up on the bench. Demers is a gigantic improvement. The third pairing of Connauton-Schenn is… it’s a third pairing on a bad team. It’s what you’d expect. Merely with the acquisition of Demers this defense is better.
Forwards: If it feels like it’s been a while that we’ve been hearing about all the young forwards the Yotes are packed with, you wouldn’t be alone. Domi, Rieder, Duclair, Keller, Strome is a good start, for sure. Except Duclair has only flattered to deceive in his career. This is year four, he’s just 22, but if it’s going to happen for him you feel like it’s got to be this year. Domi missed a chunk of last year through injury. Strome tore up juniors last year (with the help of Top Cat), but this is a leap especially for a center with little help. Clayton Keller tore up Hockey East as a freshman last year, which generally portends to NHL success.
The problem for the Yotes is there isn’t a whole lot to prop the kids up. They brought in Derek Stepan, but as you probably know this blog has never understood the appeal of Derek Stepan. He’s maybe a really good #2 center. Here he’s going to be the #1 center, in a division with Run CMD, Getzlaf, Thornton, Kopitar (if he’s come back to life), Monahan. He’s going to get his head kicked in most nights of the year. If he does, how is Domi going to score enough to keep this team afloat? Is Christian Dvorak ready to take on most of the scoring center load at 21 on the second line? It feels like all these kids are going to have to learn the hard way.
Outlook: With Dave Tippett, you at least knew the Coyotes would be well-coached. We have no idea what Rick Tocchet is. He’s only been a coach in Tampa when he had to clean up the Barry Melrose mess, which was quite the mess. We don’t know what Raanta is going to be as a #1. We don’t know what Hammer has left. We don’t know how ready these kids are and whether they can take on the whole load themselves. There’s a lot of promise, but promise isn’t results. The Yotes appear to be in too deep once again. They’ll be better than they were, but that’s too many questions for a team in a division with three good to very good teams and a further two that will at least be representative. They’re gonna miss the playoffs by some distance again.
Previous Team Previews