Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney bought out Mike Ribeiro’s contract over “behavioral issues” and let Radim Vrbata walk because he demanded a no-trade/no-movement clause. Those forwards tied for fourth and second on the team in points respectively, so the obvious question now is how will the Coyotes fill that void.
Keep in mind that they ranked 20th in goals per game in 2013-14, so this isn’t a minor issue. It’s possible to make the playoffs while finishing towards the bottom of the league in goals scored, but that would put even more pressure on goaltender Mike Smith than he’s already facing.
The Coyotes didn’t make a big splash on the free agent market, but they did take on the final two seasons of Sam Gagner’s three-year, $14.4 million contract. The 25-year-old forward (who is celebrating his birthday today) is coming off of a rough campaign, but he might be part of the solution in Arizona.
Gagner did enjoy a breakout campaign in the shortened 2013 season, scoring 14 goals and 38 points in 48 contests. He obviously regressed in 2013-14, but he missed most of October after breaking his jaw during training camp and that might be largely to blame for his struggles.
After watching his contract get passed around from Edmonton to Tampa Bay to Arizona this summer, he should have plenty of motivation to prove himself.
Beyond Gagner, the Coyotes will likely have to hope that their young forwards are capable of picking up the slack. Mikkel Boedker, 24, took a big step forward last season with his 51-point campaign. Max Domi might also make the leap to the NHL in 2014-15.
Throw in a full season of Martin Erat, who the Coyotes acquired from Washington in March, and there’s the potential for the Coyotes’ offense to at least be serviceable, although it certainly remains a big question mark going forward.