The numbers are a bit deceiving.
For the season, the Phoenix Coyotes finished among the top teams on the power play, but not much else was associated with energy, passion or drive.
Over the final three weeks of the season, the Coyotes, from the enthusiasm of possibly gaining a playoff spot to eventually walking the plank, went quietly into the night. Their plunge into darkness was their own doing, and now it’s up to general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett to try and make something out of very little.
Though the power play was decent, all else seem crashing down and destroyed what was a promising season. The Coyotes finished 20th in the scoring and averaged 2.55 per game. Compare that to the Anaheim Ducks, who led the league with an average of 3.21 goals per game, and the gap is sizable.
“We simply did not get the results and that’s bad,” Maloney said on the day the Coyotes cleaned out their lockers and headed for points unknown. “At this point, there will be changes but I’m sure in what form.”
Should the Coyotes qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, they most likely would have had an increase in scoring from principal players. In the end, that did not happen, and now decisions are forthcoming on the fate and future of key individuals.
One is right wing Radim Vrbata, who is known for being a streaky player who can get hot for a few games and then disappear for a considerable period of time. In the season that just concluded, Vrbata scored 20 goals in 79 games, and 10 were on the power play. That left huge gaps for the Coyotes, as they depended on his scoring, and he appeared to melt in the scorching desert sun.
On July 1, Vrbata becomes a free agent and will turn 33 in June. From delicate comments after the season, the Coyotes may take a hard look whether to bring him back.
“We know (Vrbata) is a free agent and he’ll be in the conversation,” said Tippett with little enthusiasm. “He’s a good fit for us and a good shootout player. However, we would like him to chip in here and there.”
By early March, the Coyotes brass knew that they had to do something to increase scoring—or else they would be watching the playoffs on television.
At the trading deadline, Maloney brought in left wing Martin Erat and put him with fellow Czechs Vrbata, on the right wing, and Martin Hanzal, at center. That hope of creating a certain chemistry with language failed miserably.
In his first 12 games with Phoenix, Erat recorded one assist and finished with four points, including one goal, in 17 games with the Coyotes.
“We were disappointed in Erat,” Maloney added. “We thought by creating a Czech line, the lines of communication would be there as well as the production. He had an assist in each of the last two games and we finally sensed a heartbeat.”
Above all, Maloney and Tippett must find way to increase scoring from the forwards. Acknowledging the blue line is solid, Maloney said, “up front, that’s the key for us.”
Because the upcoming free-agent market is considered thin, Maloney said teams may improve through trades.
“Right now, there are 14 teams looking to get better and in another week or so, eight more teams will be thinking the same way,” he said. “Regarding free agents who will be out there, there’s not a great pool. How will we address the free agents and possible trades is the question.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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