For this coming hockey season, the bottom line for the Arizona Coyotes could be more of the “same old, same old.”
If their offseason moves, at this point, are complete, the Coyotes made just a few lateral moves.
No significant trades and no signing of major free agents characterized the Arizona offseason. In a strange way, the Coyotes could benefit from buying out the remaining three years of a troubled Mike Ribeiro’s contract and opening the door to say goodbye to right wing Radim Vrbata. These subtractions could work in the Coyotes' favor.
Then again, head coach Dave Tippett is wondering how to replace potential offensive contributions. The optimum word here is “potential,” as Vrbata tended to disappear for significant periods of time with little or no production. At the same time, Ribeiro, battling emotional and marital problems, appeared to be of no use to his team down the critical stretch last season.
While general manager Don Maloney and Tippett wanted to address concerns like scoring, play at the blue line and in net, several of these issues may not have been adequately addressed.
That’s because the players brought in may not provide the kind of boost Tippett and Maloney sought.
Then again, Tippett’s challenge for the season ahead is to mold a strong team to compete in a highly charged NHL Pacific Division.
“One of the keys to success for any team is depth,” Tippett told reporters at a Coyotes town-hall meeting with fans earlier this summer. “We want our players to play a hard game and players who are committed to play a hard game.”
From the coach’s perspective, that means a solid, two-way checking game, scoring timely goals, playing smart hockey in the final minute of every period and for each player to raise his concentration level.
To that end, Tippett hopes additions made thus far over the summer can elevate the Coyotes’ fortunes.
In addition to subtracting Vrbata and Ribeiro, the Coyotes also cut ties with forwards Jeff Halpern and Paul Bissonnette, defenseman Derek Morris and backup goalie Thomas Greiss.
Up front, they added B. J. Crombeen, Sam Gagner and Joe Vitale. For goalie Mike Smith’s backup, the Coyotes picked up Devan Dubnyk, who was 11-17-2 and averaged 3.36 goals against in 21 games with Edmonton. He also appeared in two games with Nashville and had an 0-1-1 record.
Going forward, Tippett expects Vitale, a gritty, hard-charging forward, to replace Halpern—and previously Boyd Gordon—as a reliable penalty-killer, provide a strong presence on a fourth line and provide solid forechecking.
Looking to pick up some offense, Tippett turned to Gagner.
A former first-round pick of Edmonton, Gagner could bring a spark and elan to what is considered a lethargic offense. Last season with the Oilers, the 25-year-old native of London, Ontario scored 10 goals and assisted on 27 for 39 points in 67 games. That's not much production, but Tippett hopes for lightning to strike his stick.
One issue with Gagner could be his defensively liability.
He tends to be on the ice for more goals allowed than scored. During his most productive season in 2011-12, he pumped in the most goals in his seven-year career, scoring 18 and adding 29 assists for 47 points in 75 games. His plus-minus ratio was a plus-five, and that represents the only season in which Gagner was on the plus side.
Last season for the Oilers, Gagner was a minus-29 in those 67 games. For his NHL career, Gagner is minus-77 in 481 career game. In this span, he scored 101 goals and recorded 194 assists for 295 scoring points.
If Gagner can address the plus-minus issue and fuse energy into a latent offense, the Coyotes should benefit.
While Arizona said goodbye to Morris, Tippett and Maloney have given NHL opportunities to a pair of promising defensemen. Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy, both previously first-round draft choices, are expected to step on the blue line and make an adequate transition from the AHL Portland Pirates to the NHL.
For a team that missed the playoffs the last two seasons—a slice of reality which did not set well with Tippett and Maloney—the road ahead still remains covered with land mines and assorted maladies.
At this point, it’s up to the players and coaching staff to side step these potential trouble spots and achieve the objective on their radar screen, which would be playing hockey in late April, into May and perhaps beyond.
Opening of Training Camp
For the Coyotes, the road to recovery begins on Friday, September 12. That’s when the rookies report to Gila River Arena, site of training camp, for physicals and then hit the ice for their first practice the following day.
Veterans report for physicals on Thursday, September 18 and engage in their initial practice at 9 a.m. MT the next day.
The first preseason game is scheduled for Monday, September 22 with a split-squad doubleheader. Half will travel to the Staples Center and a game with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. The other half will play the Kings’ split-squad at home.
The regular season opens for Arizona on Thursday, October 9 at home against the Winnipeg Jets.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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