Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: Arizona Coyotes Wisely Embarking on a Tank Ride

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterJanuary 20, 2015

WINNIPEG, CANADA - JANUARY 18: Head Coach Dave Tippett of the Arizona Coyotes and players Joe Vitale #14, Lauri Korpikoski #28, Kyle Chipchura #24 and Sam Gagner #9 watch third period action against the Winnipeg Jets from the bench on January 18, 2015 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jonathan Kozub/Getty Images

Tanking is sports performance art.

Or maybe it’s a lack of performance art.

Outsiders will look at what the Arizona Coyotes are beginning to do much the same way you’d look at some welded garbage monstrosity in the Guggenheim and wonder what’s so special about it. Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer receives acclaim as an artist because he couldn’t build a barbecue pit?

The Coyotes are that failed barbecue pit.

Tanking is not only the smart move for the 2015 draft, as it gives them a shot at Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, but it’s the smart move for a franchise that has the power to leave Glendale in 2018 should the team lose more than $50 million in the preceding five seasons. 

On Wednesday, the Coyotes traded goaltender Devan Dubnyk to the Minnesota Wild for a third-round pick. As far as subtle tank trades go, this is the Mona Lisa. The Coyotes traded their backup goaltender for a pick? That’s not going to change the direction of the franchise. No big deal.

But it is a big deal when you trade a goaltender with a .916 save percentage because you want to stick with Mike Smith, who is rocking an .887 this season. The best way to lose more is to allow more goals, and riding a goaltender who is 30 points worse than your other goaltender will result in a whole mess of losing.

Just listen to GM Don Maloney’s rationale for the Dubnyk trade, as told to the team’s website.

“It will put Mike Smith back in our net on a permanent basis to get him back to the level we know he can play at. We believe in Mike."

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 15:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes looks down ice during the second period of the NHL game against the Calgary Flames at Gila River Arena on January 15, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Get
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Words are fun if you pay attention to them, so while that quote is meant to be complimentary, it could just as easily be Maloney saying he knows Smith can be worse over the rest of the season and the badness could work for them. 

And all this is good. 

This is the best way for the Coyotes to become a sustainable, profitable, and, oh yeah, winning organization before the five-year out clause in the team’s lease allows them to leave for another other location that wants an NHL team.

Entering Tuesday’s games, the Coyotes are 16-24-5 with 37 points, which places them 27th in the league standings, six points ahead of 30th-place Buffalo. In order to guarantee McDavid or Eichel with a top-two pick, the Coyotes would need to sink below the Sabres; finishing 29th would leave them vulnerable to a team behind them winning the draft lottery and displacing them to third. By all accounts, McDavid and Eichel are NHL-ready, game-changing talents who will be on cheap, entry-level deals between now and the time the Coyotes' out clause can be enacted.

The Coyotes are not unique in that to turn the franchise around, it must be done from within. Drafting and development are keys for everyone, but especially key for a club that doesn't spend money—although that could change with new majority owner Andrew Barroway. Top free agents are never going to come to a team as bad as the Coyotes, but throw in the team’s uncertain future and it’s just about impossible to lure game-changing players. 

Drafting is the only way for the Coyotes. 

Who knows for sure how profitable the Coyotes have been the past two seasons; a team can cook its books any way it wants, and people on the outside can never know for sure how much revenue is pouring in or leaking out of the building. The club has announced new sponsorship deals, so maybe Barroway is rolling around in $100 bills on his office floor. 

Attendance is down this season by about 1,000 fans per game and with the Coyotes embracing the tank, that won’t get better.

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  A sold out crowd watches as the San Jose Sharks take on the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on December 27, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Sharks defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in a overtime shootout. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI v
Norm Hall/Getty Images

So let’s say the Coyotes are on pace to lose $50 million between now and the end of the 2018 season. The only way to stop the bleeding is to win, and the only way for the Coyotes to win is inexpensively through the draft, which is why having the ability to select McDavid or Eichel and insert one into the lineup starting in 2015-16 works on two levels: 

1. It would make the team both better and interesting right away, and a team that is both better and interesting will draw more fans to the building. 

2. It would make the team better on a long-term basis, too, so if the Coyotes don’t instantly turn things around with a McDavid- or Eichel-fueled rebuild at light speed, they will certainly be better off when they show up in Seattle or Quebec City at the start of 2018-19.

Tanking 2014-15 can save the team in Glendale, though. Along with McDavid or Eichel, the Coyotes have some prospects that can help turn this team around right away next season.

Max Domi is an utter mystery to me. Is he this elite young talent that dominated at world juniors for Canada? Or is he a 19-year-old that wasn’t good enough to crack a roster that’s so bad you’re currently reading an article about them tanking before the All-Star break? Either way, he’s a talented first-round pick that should be ready to contribute next season. 

Hockey’s Future ranks the Coyotes prospects 13th in the league. Brandon Gormley has a chance to be a top-pairing defenseman; Philip Samuelsson, acquired from the Penguins for Rob Klinkhammer, could be a player; Henrik Samuelsson may be the big center the team needs and Mark Visentin, a 2010 first-round pick, may get a shot to unseat Smith in net, although that seems pipe-dreamy in the immediate future.

Room could be cleared for those prospects with tank trades, including Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek, two players who will be unrestricted free agents after the season. Captain Shane Doan loves life in Arizona and is signed through 2015-16 but could perhaps be swayed with the “trading you will help the organization you love” logic that was hurled at Jarome Iginla before he left Calgary. Keith Yandle's name is always out there.

Everyone on the Coyotes roster should be in play, but...

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 13:  Shane Doan #19 of the Arizona Coyotes is congratulated by teammates after his second period goal against the San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on January 13, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Imag
Norm Hall/Getty Images

This is where Maloney the tank artist needs to attach all the right objects to the barbecue pit that’s racing down the hill. He needs to find the middle ground that will allow the team to sink to 30th, which seems almost impossible when you examine the staggering ineptitude of the Sabres, but allow them to contend for a playoff spot in 2015-16. 

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said Barroway and Maloney talked last week and agreed to “blow this up,” although Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona, a rights holder for the team, sorta, kinda passively refuted that report but admitted changes are coming.

I tend to side with LeBrun and believe no owner or general manager likes when the word “rebuild” gets into the public discussion, because the imagery that comes along with it is a turn-off to fans. It’s why Sharks GM Doug Wilson insists upon “reset and refresh” over rebuild, although fans have been staying away in San Jose this year after a summer filled with Joe Thornton- and Patrick Marleau-rebuild trade rumors that never amounted to anything. 

But Coyotes fans, chasing McDavid and Eichel is the best way to improve and keep your team in Arizona. It’s probably depressing and demoralizing to know your team may be actively trying to get worse, but with a franchise that has spending limitations and a potential relocation in the future, an aggressive tank works for everyone.

Don’t think of it as tanking; think of it as a creative redistribution of assets that ensures the long-term viability and sustainability of the organization’s future in an ever-changing market. 

Hey, if the Coyotes thought rebranding from Phoenix to Arizona was going to reshape public opinion, rebranding tanking isn’t beneath them either.

Quote of the Week: Jon Cooper vs. Darryl Sutter

Lightning coach Jon Cooper and Kings coach Darryl Sutter are the two most quotable coaches in the NHL. Each week, we will let you decide who had the best quote.

During a game against the Boston Bruins last week, there was an incident involving Zdeno Chara and Tampa's Cedric Paquette. And by "incident," I mean Chara dropped Paquette with one punch, which can be watched here along with NESN play-by-play man Jack Edwards gleefully screaming like a Boston child unwrapping a Chara jersey on Christmas.

As you may have noticed, no one on the ice for the Lightning had any sort of reaction to Matt Carle getting destroyed from behind. 

Jon Cooper noticed, too, and said this to The Tampa Tribune: “I think we could have responded better and that’s all I’ll say about that.’’

So if you've seen the Lightning overcompensating for cheap hits lately, this is why.

What did Darryl Sutter say this week?

Well, he too had issues with his team, especially after getting waxed at home by the Devils.

On whether he’s surprised to be talking about deficiencies like 'effort and penalty kill':
You said ‘effort.’ I didn’t. [Reporter: More about passion on the ice, in some respects, do you think?] Yeah, it might be a little bit of that. I also think the penalty kill is also a little bit of the desire to do it and the experience to do it and the personnel to do it.

Sutter and Cooper were unhappy with their team's passion last week. Sad Sutter and Sad Cooper make me sad.

KHL Thing of the Week

In October, unemployed NHL defenseman Ryan Whitney signed with Sochi of the KHL. The 31-year-old couldn't find a contract stateside after years of poor play with the Edmonton Oilers so he took a job in Russia.

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 5: Ryan Whitney #6 of the Florida Panthers warms up on the ice prior to the start of the game against the Edmonton Oilers at the BB&T Center on November 5, 2013 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

How's he been doing?

Well, it's the KHL, so who knows what this means in relation to the NHL, but he's been pretty good. In 29 games, Whitney has five goals, all at even strength, and 16 points along with a plus-1 rating. Plus/minus is a garbage statistic, as so eloquently described here by Broad Street Hockey, but I don't have possession numbers or WOWYs for KHL teams, so deal with it.

The reason that plus-1 is potentially impressive is Sochi is minus-13 in goal differential, which seems pretty good for an expansion team. HC Sochi did not exist last season, and they are currently in playoff position

This isn't to say Whitney is the Scott Niedermayer of the KHL, but maybe this can be a springboard to an NHL tryout and/or contract next season.

Who Is Connor McDavid-ing This Week?

The tank battle for Connor McDavid will be quite the scene this season as teams stumble over each other to finish last in the standings, thus guaranteeing either McDavid or future American hero Jack Eichel.

BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 28:  Marcus Foligno #82 of the Buffalo Sabres follows the play after losing his helmet in the game against the Montreal Canadiens on November 28, 2014 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI vi
Bill Wippert/Getty Images

30. Buffalo Sabres (14-30-3, 31 pts): The Sabres are 1-14-1 in their past 16 games and haven't won in 2015.

You know how after a Stanley Cup-winning goal, the announcers will just let the crowd tell the story? How when you're around that type of greatness, nothing needs to be said? The 2014-15 Sabres are the complete opposite of that moment. Just enjoy it, kids. You're witnessing history.

29. Edmonton Oilers (11-26-9, 31 pts): After weeks of not dominating the NHL, the Oilers have allowed themselves to slip to 29th in the league standings. The nightmare scenario for the Oilers is finishing in this spot, then having the 28th-place team win the lottery, knocking them into the No. 3 spot, where they'll have to settle for the third-best prospect in the world. Yuck.

28. Carolina Hurricanes (16-25-5, 37 pts): A prediction: This is the last time we will get to make passive-aggressive tanking jokes about the Hurricanes losing all the time. They are 6-2-1 in their past nine games, healthy and tied with the hard-tanking Arizona Coyotes, who have played one fewer game.

It's a shame, too, as the Hurricanes probably would have received the most immediate benefit from McDavid or Eichel. Alas, they will slowly rise to sorta bad instead of sinking to historically bad. A true travesty.

Goal of the Week 

This week's goal comes from the AHL, where goaltender Reto Berra scored into an empty net for the Lake Erie Monsters.

As you can see in the video, he doesn't quietly sit in his net after scoring; he skates down the bench to celebrate, which, of course, upsets some guy on the ice and opposing coach John Anderson.

Questions and Answers

Got a question? Tweet me @davelozo or email me at dave111177@gmail.com, but please don't call before 9 a.m. I will answer any of your questions about hockey or whatever if it's a good question. 

Will @Willsimm6

@DaveLozo would trading Ryan O'Reilly for a top 4 d-man significantly improve the Avalanche?

At worst, the Avalanche would stay the same, but if they traded Ryan O'Reilly for, say, Keith Yandle, as a hypothetical choice that represents the caliber of player they'd get in return, it has to help. The great irony of the All-Star Game is Colorado's one representative is a defenseman, Erik Johnson.

It's pretty clear the Avs and O'Reilly don't see eye-to-eye on contract terms, so if they can part ways and get a top-four defenseman in return, that's very fair. Finding a defenseman of the same age and skill level that's also available is the hard part, which is why they'd probably have to settle for someone older than O'Reilly, who turns 24 next month.

Corey Masisak @cmasisak22

@DaveLozo Which Game of Thrones characters would fit in best as love interests for each member of the cast of Friends? You're welcome.

I gave this question about eight hours of solid thought. Here are my answers.

• Ross: Since his dream woman is Rachel, a bratty child who was quite dull, there's no doubt he'd spend many happy years with Daenerys Targaryen. He's into dinosaurs, and she's into dragons so I could see this lasting forever.

• Rachel: The writers of Friends forced her with Ross in the finale after years of those two not getting together. It's hard to pin down her type. She rocked the cradle with Tag, nearly married a dentist, dated the guy who did her job while she was on maternity leave. But I go back to Paolo, a hunky Latin man that would still be with Rachel today if not for him grabbing Phoebe on the massage table. So Rachel and Oberyn Martell will be great until his skull is crushed.

• Joey: He wasn't really into challenges or long-term relationships. Joey was all about one-night stands and quick hookups, so he needs to be with someone who has a similar track record. That makes Margaery Tyrell the perfect match for Joey. They'll both have fun until the usefulness of the relationship ends for one of them.

• Monica: A neurotic clean freak and a chef. The only person pre-Chandler she wanted to marry was billionaire Pete Becker. Monica digs wealthy, powerful men. Also, she had sex with a teenager in the first season. That's right: Monica will spend eternity with Joffrey Baratheon until that ends disastrously for one of them.

• Chandler: The man dated Janice, a woman he clearly hated who was married to another man. She was tall, thin, dark-haired and bad for Chandler in a lot of ways. The only character on that show that somewhat matches that profile is Melisandre. Her hair is red, but it's dark red. And she's hardly faithful to Stannis. Instead of an annoying laugh, she has an annoying penchant for killing people. Samesies.

• Phoebe: Clearly, it's Tyrion Lannister. No explanation needed. They'd be the happiest together of anyone.

Preds Talk @PredsTalk

@DaveLozo Who do Preds need for serious contention consideration

More than anything, they need a living, breathing, Pekka Rinne. If this 3-to-5 week knee injury occurred in April, just check out of the season. Someone would write a "Carter Hutton can get it done" story but just throw it away and start focusing on the Titans draft situation and NFL training camp.

Assuming Rinne has a pulse, the Predators need offense. The Predators are averaging 3.00 goals per game, but it really reminds me of the numbers the Blues were putting up last season before collapsing offensively down the stretch and in the playoffs. The Predators are a very good possession team (52.3 percent Fenwick) but I'd want one or two players that can score in the playoffs.

This is Filip Forsberg's rookie season, so who knows what you'll get out of him in the first round. James Neal is a goal-scoring machine, but the Penguins soured on him and traded him after he had just two goals in 13 playoff games last season, and he earned a reputation for not scoring the gritty goals that are needed in the postseason. Colin Wilson has one goal in 13 playoff games. Craig Smith has two career postseason games.

A championship window isn't closing in Nashville or anything like that, so it's not as though the Predators need to mortgage the future. But I'd be looking for cheap scoring help at the deadline if I were David Poile.

Jay Onrait @JayOnrait

@DaveLozo Did you ever get that burrito that @wyshynski mentioned? #mailbag

I did not. Greg Wyshynski quoted television's worst possible Colbert Report interim replacement, At Midnight, I shamed him for it, then I was told to enjoy a burrito. I don't know what he meant by that, but no, I never ate that burrito and haven't had once since I was ordered to eat a burrito.

I don't really have anything clever or allegedly funny to add here, but when Canadian legend Jay Onrait asks a question, you answer it. Let me confess this before moving on: It has been nine days since my last burrito.  

No. Still no.

Radon Chong @MrButterChicken

@DaveLozo My question: is there a hockey moment from your childhood that for a while you had thought you had dreamed?

I didn't realize Dale Hunter's hit on Pierre Turgeon was real until about eight years after it happened. It seems weird to say now but when that hit occurred, the Internet was barely a real thing, I wasn't an Islanders or Capitals fan and I was 15 years old. I was still figuring out puberty and girls (still am).

The hit occurred on April 28, 1993. If you somehow have never seen it, here it is:

Less than two years prior, I got all my next-day sports information from The National, the coolest sports page ever that didn't make enough money to last two years. My local paper was always an early edition, and no one at my school in New Jersey cared about the Islanders. I don't think I watched SportsCenter the next morning because I'm sure I would've seen it.

So I sorta hazily knew Hunter received a massive suspension and Turgeon was hurt, but the idea that a dude would just wreck another dude while he was celebrating seemed insane to me. "Why is Turgeon out?" "Hunter maimed him from behind while he was celebrating a goal." Ha, I thought. I wonder how he really got hurt.

No, seriously, that's really what happened. 

Perhaps I was young and naive because I would totally believe you if you told me that happened today.

Katie Nolan @katienolan

@DaveLozo why did Clarissa leave so much unexplained and how am I supposed to carry on #mailbag

Clarissa Explains It All was never meant to explain it all, Katie. In the finale, it was very clear to the learned eye that Clarissa wasn't actually explaining it all; she was explaining that explaining it all simply isn't possible; that it's up to you, the viewer, to seek explanations for yourself.

Consider the final words Clarissa said to viewers on December 3, 1994.

"Maybe this isn't goodbye. Maybe this is just a new beginning. You never know."

Clarissa was a textured, nuanced, layered show. That was her confessing that the explanations were coming from you all along. That's how you go on. By explaining things...to the world.

This is all probably why Melissa Joan Hart follows 95,000 people on Twitter and I'm not one of them.

All statistics via NHL.com and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.


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