The Arizona Coyotes are getting ready for their 18th NHL season, their sixth one under head coach Dave Tippett, and their first under their new “Arizona” name. The Coyotes have missed the postseason the last two years and will have to battle this year against a strong Pacific Division that features the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings. So what will Arizona need in order to get back to the playoffs for the first time since their 2012 run to the Western Conference Finals? This two-part series will take a look at the different aspects of the team and look at what needs to happen for the Coyotes to have a successful season.
Offense: Replacing Production
Arizona’s second attempt at replacing 2012 Ray Whitney, after Steve Sullivan only managed 12 points in the strike-shortened 2013 season, ended abruptly when the Coyotes bought out Mike Riberio’s contract. The Coyotes also saw Radim Vrbata, who had been one of the top scorers for the Coyotes in the last five seasons, depart for division rival Vancouver in free agency. These departures left Arizona without two of their top five scorers from last season.
Shortly after saying goodbye to Ribeiro, the Coyotes went out and picked up Sam Gagner from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Arizona’s move for Gagner, who had struggled to find consistent success with the Edmonton Oilers, came in the same day as the move that initially sent him from Edmonton to Tampa. The Coyotes hope that a change of scenery will help Gagner turn things around and help him reach the potential he showed as the sixth overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. There are also rumblings that Max Domi might get an opportunity to make his NHL debut this season. Domi has been a scoring machine with the London Knights of the OHL as he put up 93 points in 61 games last season, although there are still mixed opinions on whether Domi is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Defense: Holding Late Leads
The backbone of Arizona’s success in recent years has come from their strong play on defense. In 2012, when the Coyotes won the Pacific Division and went to the Conference Finals, they finished the regular season with 2.37 goals against per game. That number has grown in the last two seasons, with Arizona averaging 2.73 goals allowed in 2013-14. However, the stat for me that defined the downfall of the 2013-14 Coyotes was their 23-6-4 record when leading after two periods. Their 10 regulation and overtime losses last season was one more than they had in the four combined previous seasons under head coach Dave Tippett (113-4-5). The late collapses proved to be a major reason why Arizona missed the postseason for the second straight year. If the Coyotes had been able to pick up those extra points that were left on the table, last season would have had a much different ending.
This concludes the first part of the Arizona Coyotes 2014-15 season preview. In part two, I will take a look at Arizona’s goaltending and special teams.