Financial situation improved. Will on-ice product follow?
Thomas Greiss, Tim Kennedy, Mike Ribeiro, Brandon Yip.
Alexandre Bolduc, Chris Conner, Boyd Gordon, Chad Johnson, Nick Johnson, Jason LaBarbera.
Last year: It was an uncharacteristic start for the Coyotes last season.
Mike Smith, usually stellar in the Coyotes net, got torched in his first two starts of the year before missing significant time with a groin injury.
The result was the usually-stingy Coyotes getting torched several times in January, going 2-4-1 on the month and giving up four goals or more in each of their regulation losses.
The poor start was particularly stinging after the team received a vote of confidence in the off-season from captain Shane Doan, who re-upped with a four-year $21.2 million deal the previous summer.
The rest of the year was fairly pedestrian for the Coyotes. They had a good February (7-4-2), followed by a sub-par March (5-7-3) and a good April (7-3-3) that wasn’t quite enough for them to gain the four points that would keep them from the post-season.
One of the biggest hindrances for the Coyotes last season was their play away from Glendale. A 6-10-7 road record was certainly the differential between playing and watching the second season.
This Year: The good news is that the team’s ownership woes are – for now, at least – settled.
The Yotes were sold in August to the Renaissance Group that had its lease on Jobing.com Arena approved (barely) by Glendale City Council, a move that should keep the team in Arizona for at least the next five years, when the group’s first opt-out clause kicks in.
So, what of the on-ice product?
The team solidified its centre by adding Mike Ribeiro, who cited coach Tippett as one of the prime motivating factors behind his decision to take to the desert.
Ribeiro’s play-making ability will be key to the Coyotes bouncing back in 2013-14. The desert dogs were offensively-starved last season, as evidenced by Keith Yandle leading the team in points. If Ribeiro can dish to some of the team’s other offensively-capable forwards, perhaps the team might finally get the kind of breakout production they’ve been hoping for out of Mikkel Boedker and others.
A bounce-back year out of Radim Vrbata on the scoresheets and out of the sick bay would also go a long way.
The team’s forward ranks also got a nice boost in the grit and grind departments with the free agent signings of Brandon Yip and Tim Kennedy.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Coyotes' performance after a shortened season?
Maybe the shortened season hurt the Coyotes’ groove. The team had its greatest post-season in franchise history in 2011-12 and was forced to wait it out for three months before they could hope to build on it.
Despite missing the playoffs, the Coyotes were still competitive last season, so there’s nothing really preventing from turning it around with more time. But they absolutely need to be better on the road.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Coyotes make to get themselves back in cap shape?
The Coyotes aren’t a team traditionally capable of spending too close to the cap, so there wasn’t much to worry about with the cap dropping ahead of 2013-14.
They were able to commit four years to Ribeiro at a price tag that puts him close to the top of the team’s payroll and they do have Ekman-Larsson, Yandle and Doan locked down for at least three more years apiece.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Coyotes after realignment.
Here’s the good news for the Coyotes’ hope for a turnaround: welcome to the Pacific Division, Calgary and Edmonton.
If Phoenix can stay within reach of the California teams and Vancouver in the division this season, the addition of two teams that are both riding playoff futility streaks of at least four years bodes well for their post-season hopes.
The Western Conference-only slate did minimize the amount of travel for the Coyotes last season, though, so they will once again have to rack up some air miles with more visits to the Eastern Time zone.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Mikkel Boedker, LW - The 23-year-old winger from Denmark saw a major increase in his role last season, playing a career-high 18:29 per game (up from 13:38 per game in 2011-2012) and his point production was at his best per-game rate (0.54 ppg) even while his shooting percentage was a career-low 8.4%.
Entering the 2013-2014 season, Boedker has a legitimate chance to play on the top line with veteran playmaking centre Mike Ribeiro, a proven point producer. Boedker's speed and two-way play should assure him a significant role with the Coyotes, but if he does secure a spot on the first line, he's a prime candidate for a breakout season.
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Pressing Question: Have the Coyotes been saved?
The NHL would certainly like its fans to think that the new sale of the team has solidified the future of hockey in the desert, but there are a few reasons to be concerned about the team’s most recent brush with relocation.
The Glendale council vote to approve the lease deal for Jobing.com passed by one vote. The City got behind the Coyotes again, but who’s to say that next time the swing vote will go the team’s way.
The vote was close enough this time and was possibly saved only by a partnership with the group that owns the Philadelphia Flyers.
The problem is that Renaissance still holds an opt-out clause after five years or of the Coyotes losses pass the $50 million mark.
While some concessions were made by Renaissance to get the agreement done, the reality still exists that five years from now, a more attractive option could easily emerge to lure ownership out of the desert.
With Seattle and Quebec City both presenting themselves as attractive options to the NHL while the Coyotes got their ownership sorted - and out of the League’s hands – who’s to say the next sign of trouble won’t be the last?
- Phoenix Coyotes Preview by Shane McNeil, TSN.ca