It’s the time of the year for season ending evaluations and these are my thoughts on the current Phoenix Coyotes roster. Many of the players on this list are UFA’s and RFA’s and will be evaluated by the team as well. My grading system is based on a different set of criteria that some fans may or may not agree with but for the most part it’s as simple as “what you see is what you get.” This is by no means a scientific evaluation based on statistics and analysis from experts in the field.
My opinions are based on my 50 plus years of viewing the game as a Coach (15 years), a WHL Scout (15 years), a Player (15 years), a Fan (50 years) and even a Fantasy GM (35 years). My evaluations are made by looking at the game wearing many different hats. Listed below are some of the criteria I used in grading this report card.
1. The players position and his role in the line-up for each game. Example: top 6 forward and PP.
2. The amount of ice time and hard minutes. Example: playing against other teams top lines and PK.
3. Expectations from coaches, media and fans.
4. Salary and the return on investment (ROI). This is the one that may seem unfair and not very popular in the “Main Stream Media” but I believe it’s one the most important factors in grading a hockey player. Are you getting fair value for the money being spent? In 1990, the NHLPA decided to introduce salary disclosure. This gave the players negotiating leverage because they now have the ability to negotiate their salaries based on comparables around the league. This info has now exposed the players to public scrutiny from fans and media alike. This information is easily attained by simply going to a web-site like CapGeek.com.
The Coyotes finished their season with a 21-18-9 record and I feel these grades are fair for the current Phoenix Coyote roster.
I think that most of these grades are fair and if every player improved their grade from a C to a C+ or a C+ to a B and so on the Phoenix Coyotes will be a playoff team again.
Making The Grade
RFA’s that need to be re-signed:
Mikkel Boedker — Boedker had his best offensive season as a Phoenix Coyote and it looks like he is on his way to being a solid top 6 forward. After a solid start, his play did tail off a bit in the second half of the season and now consistency is his next goal.
Laurie Korpikoski — Korpikoski is a hard player to figure out for me. Coach Tippett uses him in many ways but he seems to take on the role of his line-mates. At times he looks like he has top 6 forward skill but he can be used in shut-down situations also. Whatever his role is, he also has to work on consistency.
Michael Stone — Michael Stone made huge strides in becoming a full-time NHL defenceman. Stone, like all defencemen his age, is prone to errors but it’s how you respond and how fast you learn from your mistakes. Obviously, he is learning and he has one important thing going for him and that is his coaches trust. He has good size, a big right-handed shot and a good hockey IQ. Michael Stone is far from a finished product so his future looks bright.
UFA’s that need to be re-signed:
Mike Smith — Mike Smith didn’t have the season he did last year but that doesn’t concern me at all. The lock-out and not having access to Sean Burke, his goalie coach, was a huge factor. Goaltenders understand each other and the goalie/goaltender coach relationship is bigger than most fans realize. Smith is looking to be paid as a true #1 which he is but until the Coyotes ownership situation is settled we’ll have to wait and see where this goes.
Boyd Gordon — Boyd Gordon is a coaches dream. Gordon knows his role on this team and gives you all he has every night. Character and commitment are words that come to mind.
Kyle Chipchura — Chipchura is much like Gordon as you know what you’re getting. Kyle Chipchura is another player that can play on my team any day.
Rob Klinkhammer — Klinkhammer was a mid-season call-up that made the most of his time in the NHL. He showed a bit of a scoring touch and he worked hard so I’d bring him back next season.
Dave Tippett — YES! YES! YES! Dave Tippett has put his stamp on this team and he knows how to get the most from them and is an absolute must re-sign.
Don Maloney — Never has a GM done more with fewer resources and is an absolute must re-sign.
The Final Word
If the Phoenix Coyotes want to return to the playoffs next season, there are a few things that need to happen.
1. New Ownership — this team, coaching staff and management need some long awaited stability.
2. The team needs to upgrade and/or add to their top 6 forwards. They will probably have to trade a player like Keith Yandle to get this accomplished but the Phoenix Coyotes also have a plethora of young defencemen with offensive up-side to use as trade-bait if needed.
3. The teams core group will need to elevate their games a notch. Players like Hanzal, Vrbata, Doan, Boedker, Vermette, Ekman-Larsson, Yandle and Morris have to be the teams best players consistently every night. This group gets a bit of a pass from me because of the abnormalities of the “Lockout season” and should be better next season. The schedule was brutal and practice time was at a premium.
This off-season will hopefully set the table for what should be a bounce-back season for your Phoenix Coyotes.