Despite the Stanley Cup playoffs now at great heights, all but eight teams are thinking about next season.
That would include the Phoenix Coyotes, a team that had great expectations last September but only to experience cold, dark ashes of a forgotten season by April.
Now, the Coyotes head into the offseason with more needs than general manager Don Maloney would care to admit.
Above all, the Coyotes need a forward, perhaps several forwards, who can score. At best, players who show the slightest hint or promise of scoring.
After last season, the team had three 20-goal scorers, and Radim Vrbata popped in 20. Captain Shane Doan, after missing 12 games due to Rocky Mountain Fever, managed 23, but at age 38 just after opening night this October, he cannot be relied for scoring.
The dilemma facing Maloney and coach Dave Tippett is not all that uncommon. Yet the Coyotes’ scoring drought seems to last for prolong periods of time and the prospects for relief appear slim.
“We did not get the results and, in the end, we were bad,” Maloney said. “We could not finish games and in the past, we were able to win those games.”
Several losses resulted from not simply putting the puck in the net at the most opportune time.
Because the free agent market this offseason is not terribly compelling, Tippett will probably have to work some magic to increase production.
At first look, Vrbata is an unrestricted free agent and Coyotes should part company. At best, Vrbata is a streaky player who has a penchant for disappearing for prolonged periods of time. His goal production is spotty, and the Tippett needs to cut bait. No longer can Tippett, Maloney and the coaching staff rely on “potential” from Vrbata but recognize the aging Czech, at 32-years-old, as simply a marginal, expendable player.
While Doan provides needed leadership in the locker room, his value on the ice is diminishing. His experience in the past few years in dealing with potential owners and reliance of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to seek him out during critical negotiations in the franchise’s recent past makes for a better front office fit.
Doan would argue he has plenty left in the tank and constantly tells listeners how much he loves the game. That’s all well and good and based on his admiration, it’s more than a safe bet the Coyotes or the NHL could find a place for him within management.
Also, Tippett and Maloney need to address some dead wood on the blue line.
After last season, many lauded defensemen as the core of this team. The combination of veterans and younger players interacted to provide strength and stability on defense.
That observation may be overrated. That’s because defenseman Keith Yandle, who was proficient in running a vastly improved power play, was a defensive liability. Yandle finished the season with a minus-23. Right-handed shot Michael Stone, who finished with eight goals and 13 assists in 70 games, was also double-digit defenseman with a minus-10.
Overall, the Coyotes had only three defensemen with a plus in the plus/minus ratio. They were Zbynek Michalek (plus-four), Connor Murphy (plus-five) and David Schlemko (plus-two). Chris Summers was zero in 23 games.
Changes are coming to the blue line, and the future of veteran Derek Morris (17 points in 62 games, minus-two), who will be 36 in late August, is in jeopardy.
Still, the most pronounced change needs to come with increased scoring. How Tippett and Maloney squeeze production from a team which lacked scoring at critical times remains their immediate task at hand.
ELSEWHERE AND WORTH NOTING
Team Sweden announced its squad for the upcoming World Championships slated for May 9 to 25 in Minsk, Belarus.
Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, regarded as a rising star in the NHL, is not included on the roster. Three NHL defenseman were named and include Tim Erixon of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators and Erik Gustafsson of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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