If July is the month on the hockey calendar known for the drunken excesses of free agency, then the only thing that August can be described as is the hangover.
After all of the big name free agents are off the board, there are only scraps left for the rest of the teams to compete for. As for the players themselves, August is also the last month that they can take full advantage of rest before they get back on the ice for training camps and their preseason games in September. That may not be the case this year with all of the pending drama about the CBA negotiations, but the fact remains that these truly are the dog days of summer in hockey, and there really isn’t much to talk about.
Except, of course, if you’re talking about the Phoenix Coyotes.
Not only do the Coyotes still have unanswered roster questions, including whether captain Shane Doan will come back to the club, but also whether or not they will deal away defenseman Keith Yandle. Those are two pretty big names when it comes to the fortunes of the Coyotes, and when you add in the uncertainty that still is surrounding the team’s ownership situation, you have a recipe for potential disaster in the desert.
With that in mind, it seems as though Las Vegas oddsmakers are discounting the team’s chances to win a championship due to all the commotion. The gambling site Bodava released its latest Stanley Cup Championship odds for all 30 NHL teams, and there weren’t a great deal of surprises. The Pittsburgh Penguins are still the favorites at 8/1 odds, with the Rangers, Canucks, Kings, and Flyers rounding out the top five. Other usual suspects are still there, and you can see the full list over at Pro Hockey Talk, but one of the few surprises that was lurking in the rundown was what odds the site has given the Coyotes to win.
Despite making an appearance in the Western Conference Finals last season, the Coyotes have been pegged as 40/1 odds to win a championship this season. That puts them in a tie for sixth-longest odds to win the title, along with the Canadiens, Senators, Avalanche, Ducks, and Panthers. They are better than a few other teams, but they are the lowest ranked 2012 playoff team on the list, and while ownership uncertainty always has to be taken into account with judging how a team will play, it doesn’t seem logical to discount Phoenix’s chances that much.
Before we get to why the Coyotes should be given a better chance than that, it seems necessary to look at some of the teams that Bodava has ranked ahead of the Desert Dogs. Perennial underachievers like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers are ahead of them, at 35/1 and 30/1, respectively, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, and Minnesota Wild, non-playoff teams a season ago, are ahead of them as well.
Granted, the Canes and Wild made some serious moves, but especially in the Wild’s case, they have some unanswered questions that need to be addressed. Do they have the wherewithal to make it through a tough Western Conference to even make it into the playoffs? Has their defense improved significantly enough with Ryan Suter being added to their blue line corps to be considered a contender? Is their goaltending going to be there when they need it?
As for the Coyotes, yes they are dealing with some issues. They did lose Ray Whitney to free agency, and they also still haven’t re-signed Shane Doan, so they are looking at replacing two of their top scorers. Relying on Radim Vrbata and newly signed Steve Sullivan doesn’t seem like it’s going to work, but if Dave Tippett’s club has taught us anything, it’s that they win games with superior defense and an offense that is patient enough to take advantage of an opponent’s mistakes.
In addition to that mentality, the team has also improved in an area that is key to postseason success: their defense. They shored the back end up by bringing back Zbynek Michalek, and they are still waiting for Oliver Ekman-Larsson to blossom even further. If they keep Yandle, you are looking at arguably the best defensive group in the entire league. Toss in Mike Smith, provided he can maintain at least a semblance of the insanely good play he displayed last season, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see them make another deep run this season.
That is all contingent, of course, on there even being a season, first of all, and the Coyotes’ ownership situation being sewn up finally. Both of those things are still up in the air, but one thing isn’t: there is no bigger reason for it to be hockey season than so we have something to talk about other than gambling odds, right?
*The Hockey Writers does not encourage gambling, and odds are presented for entertainment purposes only.