Phoenix Coyotes' Keith Yandle Needs to Elevate His Defensive Game

Mark BrownContributor IMay 1, 2014

Keith Yandle needs to be more defensive-minded.
Keith Yandle needs to be more defensive-minded.Getty Images / Christian Petersen

With success usually comes some failure.

There’s always that pay-and-reward scenario, and for the Phoenix Coyotes, defenseman Keith Yandle is the personification of such a scenario.

Regarded as one of the more proficient scorers from the blue line in the NHL, Yandle seems to come with liability. That’s the danger from a defenseman who plays an offensive-minded brand of hockey.

Yandle’s offensive game is well documented.

The Boston native finished the 2013-14 season 13th in the league in assists with 45, just behind fellow defensemen Duncan Keith of Chicago (sixth) and Erik Karlsson of Ottawa (seventh) and forward Matt Duchene of Colorado (11th).

On the power play, Yandle brought his game to another level. Instrumental from the left point, Yandle picked up 31 power-play points, good enough for fifth in the league.

Conversely, his defensive play is regarded as marginal. Lapses in front of his net and careless play behind the net, at times, makes Yandle a liability. He finished the season a minus-23, which was well below Mike Ribeiro's minus-13, the second worst rating on the team behind Yandle.

“With Yans, it’s a risk-and-reward situation,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “He took our power play to another level but defensively was inconsistent.”

If Yandle was more proficient in the offensive game, Derek Morris, his defensive partner for most of the season, was left to clean up the mess. Morris finished the season with a creditable minus-two and covered up for Yandle on many occasions.  

For his part, Yandle is the first to recognize his limitations.

“I have to get better defensively,” he said. “I know that. From the blue line, guys really sacrificed their bodies and did a great job. As a team, we had too many blown leads.”

When Yandle worked with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who patrolled the right point, the Coyotes power play was dominant. As the engineer from the left side, Yandle controlled play and demonstrated a penchant for finding teammates.

Overall, Phoenix finished fourth in the league in the power-play department. The Coyotes had a 20.2 percent success rate with the man advantage, tailing only Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston.

“What helped was that Yans took responsibility for the power play,” Tippet added. “He showed spurts at that level and has become an elite player in this league.”

Offensively, there is little questioning Yandle’s credentials.

For the Coyotes to raise the bar, compete at a higher level and put themselves in a position to gain a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Yandle needs to elevate his defensive game.

Plus, the Coyotes must learn how to finish off teams and put together a complete 60 minutes of hockey each night. Without a common effort to ensure games come to a successful conclusion, Yandle’s heightened offensive talents will be compromised, and the Coyotes, as a team, will continue to frustrate themselves.

Phoenix general manager Don Maloney told AZCentral Sports he is no hurry to replace Brad Treliving.

As assistant general manager under Maloney for the past seven years, Treliving was recently named the Calgary Flames’ new general manager.

Several candidates have emerged as a replacement, and Sean Burke, the current Coyotes goaltending coach, is prominently mentioned.

While Maloney continues to work on preparing the franchise for the upcoming amateur draft, set to take place in Philadelphia June 27-28, there is no apparent sense of urgency to fill Treliving’s former position with Phoenix.

Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.