This 2013-14 NHL season preview features the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Coyotes have dealt with ownership uncertainty for years now and, until last season, were able to make the best of it making the playoffs for 3 consecutive seasons.
This past season was a little more difficult. The general lack of depth and consistent offensive production were constant obstacles in the tough Western Conference.
Still, they only missed the playoffs by 4 points, giving players and fans hope that, with the ownership situation finally looking like it’s behind them, they can chalk up this past season as an aberration and look to return to the post-season.
What went right in 2012-13
If there’s one constant throughout the Coyotes’ ups and downs, it’s defenseman Keith Yandle. He finished the season with 10 goals and 20 assists, leading the team with 30 points. He also averaged over 22 minutes a night and never missed a game. Yandle has registered between a 41 and 59 point pace in each of his last 4 seasons.
DC01468 by sapah_fu Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic via Flickr
Also on defense, the evolution of Oliver Ekman-Larsson into one the game’s premier defensemen continued this season. He led the team with over 25 minutes per game, and put up career highs in assists (21) and points (24) in 48 games. The talented 21 year-old is still only scratching the surface of his ability.
Phoenix also saw a definite step forward in the development of Mikkel Boedker. The young two-way forward earned a bigger role with the club this season playing over 18 minutes per game. He responded with 26 points in 48 games, which translates into 45 points over an 82 game season. He’s very fast and he’s a smart playmaker who likely still has another level or two that he can reach.
What went wrong in 2012-13
After a Vezina calibre season in 2012, goaltender Mike Smith was rather mediocre, posting a .910 save percentage and 2.58 GAA. He did register 5 shutouts, but if the offensively challenged Coyotes are to contend for a playoff spot, Smith will need to find the consistency that carried the team to a first round upset of the Chicago Blackhawks two seasons ago.
With just 4 players on the roster who have ever scored 20+ goals in the NHL, and no forward managing to hit 30 points, the Coyotes’ lack of depth and offensive ability definitely hurt their chances this past season. Their shooting percentage was among the worst in the league, in spite of the fact that they were in the top third for 5-on-5 goals for/against.
Both special team’s were absolutely horrible for Phoenix this season. The penalty kill ranked 22nd in the NHL at 79.9%, while the power-play was even worse placing 25th at 14.8%.
So what did they do to get better?
Ray Whitney was a huge loss for this team. As an elite playmaker, they were able to filter all the offense through him and he was able to make everyone he played with better.
By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The organisation recognised this as an important need, and addressed it by adding center Mike Ribeiro. While a little bit more of a shooter than Whitney, Ribeiro’s ability to make plays and find teammates in comparable. He hasn’t been without his issues between the ears however, so on a squad that’s very much about the group rather than the individuals, it remains to be seen if he can fit in.
The only other addition was backup goaltender Thomas Greiss. The German netminder has had a solid career in San Jose thus far. While not quite good enough to be a full-time starter in the NHL, he can certainly push the #1 goaltenders enough to get the most out of them.
Player to watch
Center Mike Ribeiro will likely be the focal point of the offense, however he’ll have to play responsible enough defense as well. The Coyotes don’t have much in terms of offense however, so he may get a longer leash than most.
They will make the playoffs if…
Mike Smith stands on his head and Mike Ribeiro creates enough offense to win 1-0 or 2-1 games.
They will miss the playoffs if…
They can’t find some scoring from some unexpected players currently in the system.
I’d look for defenseman Derek Morris to attract considerable interest as the trade deadline nears. He’s a UFA at season’s end, he’s experienced and can play many different situations. He’s an ideal addition to a contending team’s defense corps.
Rookie most likely to have an impact
Even though he’s played enough games to not be considered a rookie, David Rundblad is at a point in his career where he needs to show he’s ready for the show. He’s got considerable offensive talent and has had some issues committing to the defensive aspect of the game. If he can round out his game a little, he could be comparable to Erik Karlsson. He’s that good.
What should we expect this season?
The Coyotes’ ownership situation really caused havoc on the whole organisation. There are plenty of good young pieces coming up through the system, but there isn’t much quality or depth on the roster right now.
While the defense and goaltending is solid enough with Yandle, Ekman-Larsson and Smith, there is very little scoring in the desert.
It could be a long season for the new ownership group, but that likely means a shot at possibly drafting a franchise player next summer.
30-40-12, 72 points, 6th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference
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