Coyotes’ Needs Supersede Just McDavid, Eichel

Somehow, this does not seem fair.

Here are the Arizona Coyotes, and holders of the second-worst record this season in the NHL. One might think the franchise would be “rewarded” for its misery and under-achievement with a significant draft pick.

Yet, the Coyotes were thrust into a lottery which could determine the nature of their draft selections.

By finishing just a step ahead of the Buffalo Sabres, one would imagine the chances are rather significant of selecting either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the eventual draft this June.

Not so fast.

Before that happens, a dreaded draft lottery, from the Coyotes’ perspective, takes place on Saturday, and Arizona’s chances of slipping down from number two are listed at greater than 66 percent.

Even if the Coyotes were to to gain the number two spot and eventually take McDavid or Eichel, and spirits within the organization soar, their essential requirements are fundamentally greater then the selection of one player.

Granted, the excitement around the play and character of both McDavid and Eichel appear unprecedented.  Most pundits believe both players will be immediate game-changers, and with players of this caliber, their presence can only lift the level of play of those around them.

Connor McDavid
Connor McDavid (Photo: OHL Images)

By any standard, the Coyotes would love to put a Sedona Red sweater on either McDavid or Eichel, but their needs supersede the acquisition of just one player.

For starters, this team did not score during the past season. Unless McDavid or Eichel, or someone else, can score 70, 80, 90 goals next season, the Coyotes’ search for offense, any kind of offense, remains a struggle.

In 82 games this past season, the Coyotes managed 170 goals scored, and only the Sabres’ total of 161 was lower. Plus, Arizona allowed 272 goals, and that was only two fewer than the Sabres for worst in the NHL.

Coyotes could waive developmental period

For Arizona to address its scoring dilemma, franchise decision-makers may eschew the usual developmental period, and place younger players on the NHL roster. That means Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Ryan MacInnes, Brendan Perlini, Laurent Dauphin, Henrik Samuelsson, Tyler Gaudet and Christian Dvorak may skate in Gila River Arena sooner than GM Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett would like.

One indication here as to a possible fast track to the NHL was the signing of Dvorak to an entry-level contract this past Friday. With London of the OHL in this recently-completed season, the 19-year-old scored 41 goals, assisted on 68 others for 109 points and a registered a plus 33 rating in 66 games. In 10 post-season games with the Knights, Dvorak picked up 13 points on eight goals and 13 assists. Dvorak was drafted by Arizona on the second round, 58th overall, in the 2014 draft.

From the perspective of those previously brought in to address the scoring drought, results fell far from expectations.

“I thought I came around in the second half, but that’s no excuse for a tough first half,” said center Sam Gagner, who finished with 15 goals, second most on the team. “I think for us to get better, as a team, we need to create more chances. That didn’t happen every much.”

By his admission, Gagner’s start was not very noticeable. After popping in 10 for Edmonton during the 2013-14 season, Gagner managed only three goals in his first 32 games for Arizona. So poor was his production that Tippett benched the 28-year-old native of London, Ont. for a home game against Minnesota on Dec. 13, the only game Gagner missed all season.

Another basic need, as cited by Tippett, is the requirement for veteran presence on the blue line.

In an effort to shake up the roster at the trade deadline, Arizona unloaded blue-liners Keith Yandle, David Schlemko and perhaps their best defensive defenseman Zbynek Michalek. While the call from the minors and acquisitions through trades of Andrew Campbell, Klas Dahlbeck, John Moore and Brandon Gormley could provide for a reasonable future, there remains an immediate need to give these players, with limited NHL experience, help and assistance.

The needs for this team are prodigious, and changes are enviable.

Starting with better and consistent play from Mike Smith between the pipes, adequate penalty-killing, more aggressive fore-checking, and better overall team speed, Arizona decision-makers have their work cut out over the summer. Still, the McDavid-Eichel sweepstakes remains enticing.

While the Coyotes are certainly in the McDavid-Eichel conversation, and would be captivated with the possibility of drafting either one, Maloney and Tippett should wisely look beyond Saturday’s lottery, and create a plan for extrication of what Tippett calls, “this mess.”


Follow Mark Brown on Twitter, @journalist193