March 24, 2017
by Doug Stolhand
Patient’s Name – Arizona Coyotes
Time of Death – 10:37pm ET/7:37pm PT on March 20, 2017
Predictions coming into the season – Eddie and I thought they’d finish 5th and 6th in the Pacific Division, respectively, so our hopes were not high for them. Our thinking was that they did not have enough scoring depth and they were weak in net. Both of us liked the defense they had assembled and thought this was a key year for some of their young stars. I even thought Dylan Strome would be the Calder Trophy winner – perhaps I was simply a year early with that one.
Beyond the Puck Podcast some actually had the Coyotes as a playoff team including Amalie Benjamin of NHL.com. For the most part, though, this was considered a building year for the Coyotes and that’s how it played out.
What went wrong – As was expected they simply couldn’t score enough goals nor keep the puck out of their net often enough. As of this writing they are 27th in the NHL in scoring with just 2.34 goals per game through 74 games and they are 27th in the NHL in allowing 3.16 goals against them per night. When your average night has the opponent scoring more goals than you are it’s no wonder you’re the second team to be fitted with a toe tag.
Surprisingly one of their young stars from last season completely fell apart this season. Anthony Duclair had 20 goals and 44 points in 81 games last year but this year he was absolutely awful and has just three goals and 12 points through 51 games. The reason he’s played over 20 games less than the rest of his teammates is not because he was injured it’s because they demoted him to Tuscon of the AHL and he earned that demotion with just three goals and eight points in 41 games while also hanging a -8 on the board. Since getting recalled earlier this month he’s been better with three assists in 10 games while posting a +1 and the Coyotes have to hope he’s gotten his game back.
It wasn’t just the young guys that disappointed them, though, the captain did as well. Father Time has finally grabbed Shane Doan and he did so with both hands this season. After leading the team with 28 goals and having 47 points last season Doan has just six goals and 25 points through 70 games this season. Between he and Duclair that’s a reduction of 39 goals and 54 points from last season and the Coyotes simply did not have the depth to withstand that.
It’s not just on them, though. Many Coyotes players, and certainly the star players they count on, saw a reduction in their scoring in 2016-17. Oliver Ekman-Larsson went from 55 points to 37 so far. Max Domi from 52 to 33 (including an injury which we’ll discuss in a second). Martin Hanzal from 41 to 26 before he was traded. The only impact player who looks like he’ll end this season with more points than he had last season is Tobias Rieder who has 34 points with eight games to play after having 37 points last season.
Some of the free agents they brought in were less than stellar as well. Jamie McGinn cashed in with a three-year, $10 million deal but he was awful from the beginning before becoming a healthy scratch in recent weeks. Alex Goligoski signed for five years and $27.375 million but hasn’t lived up to that deal yet. When you’re a team that has a strict budget like the Coyotes do you need to get production for your dollars and you can’t afford to miss in free agency. Both of those players need to be better next season.
When the overwhelming majority of your players have a drop in production you’d better get great goaltending to keep you in games. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case in Arizona this season. Mike Smith is putting up similar numbers as he has in the past with a .914 SV% this season compared to .916 last season and a career mark of .913. He’s exactly who you thought he would be – the problem is he’s simply an average goalie and they need someone to steal games for them on a regular basis. Louis Domingue has played well late in the year but overall he’s been a disappointment. His SV% is down to .904 after being .912 last season. Again, combining the drop in production from the skaters and the lack of elevation from the goalies and this team never had a chance.
Beyond that, though, was a very preventable injury. Max Domi broke a finger in a fight in December and in my opinion that’s unacceptable. You’re on a team with very little offensive talent. You’re a young player who’s being paid to score goals and you decide to drop the gloves and get injured as a result? No. Not acceptable. That had better be the last fight of his career. His dad was one of the greatest goons the league has ever seen but the Coyotes cannot afford to have Max putting himself in a position to get hurt. Nothing good can come of him dropping the gloves in the future. The best case scenario of him dropping the gloves is that he wins the fight and doesn’t get hurt but that still takes him off the ice for a minimum of five minutes. If I were general manager John Chayka or head coach Dave Tippett I’d tell him to never fight again and I’d make sure there was a player on the roster who knew it was his job to fight on behalf of Domi should the need arise.
What went right – It wasn’t all bad in the desert this season. If this was a year to build for the future quite a few of their prospects showed they’re ready to help. Tops among them was Christian Dvorak who has 12 goals and 28 points through 70 games and is a +8 on a team that clearly gives up more goals than they score. In fact he’s the ONLY Coyote player with a plus number this season through 74 games. In addition to him Brendan Perlini has 13 goals in 49 games and has showed a natural scoring touch at the NHL level.
On defense we saw Jakob Chychrun jump right to the NHL from the draft where he was taken 16th overall last summer. He wasn’t the next Aaron Ekblad but he clearly has skill and can play in the NHL and it was encouraging to see him hold his own at the age of 18 in the best hockey league in the world.
In addition to them Radim Vrbata returned to the desert and picked up where he left off. Arizona is clearly his happy place and he leads the team with 18 goals and 52 points through 74 games.
Afterlife – I still believe the future is bright for the Coyotes and clearly better days are ahead of them. Strome was the third overall pick in 2015 and he’s going to be an impact player for this team, perhaps as soon as next season. Domi will continue to improve, Perlini and Dvorak should improve and the defense is still loaded with talent that is under contract for years to come. If Duclair can regain the form he had last season that would go a long way towards making this team competitive again.
The question is who will be the answer in net and can they get enough scoring depth? I believe the team will be better defensively next season and they almost have to be better offensively. But how much better and will it be enough to get them into playoff contention?
Another question is the future of Dave Tippett. He’s been in Arizona for eight years now and they’ve missed the playoffs each of the last five years. He was also not hired by GM John Chayka so at some point you have to think that Chayka will want to bring in his own coach.
A few contracts come off the books this summer with Shane Doan, Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk, Zbynek Michalek and Radim Vrbata all becoming UFAs. Doan will be brought back if he wants to continue playing and another year from Vrbata seems likely as well, though at 35 you have to wonder when Father Time will grab him with both hands. They’re projected to have around $29 million in cap space this summer with very few key RFAs to resign. Alexander Burmistrov, Peter Holland, Teemu Pulkkinen, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook and Josh Jooris probably won’t combine to cost them more than $10 million a year leaving them tons of cap space to play with in free agency.
They should have a very good draft pick again this summer and they own the Wild’s 1st round pick as well which they got in return for Martin Hanzal and Ryan White at the trade deadline. If they can get impact players with those picks and use their free agency money wisely they might be able to turn things around quickly. Otherwise next season will be another building year and another year of waiting for the bad contracts to go away while the young players become NHL regulars.
Flowers can be sent to the team at the address below or you can make a donation to the Arizona Coyotes Foundation. Our deepest condolences to the Arizona Coyotes fans, employees and players on their loss(es).
Address for flowers and condolence cards:
9400 W. Maryland Avenue
Glendale, AZ 85305