Are the Coyotes in trouble on the ice this season?

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It seems like whenever we’re talking about the Phoenix Coyotes it’s always about what’s happening with their ownership situation. All the off-ice stuff gets the headlines for the lovable team in the desert that rolls onward without executive leadership while their efforts on the ice play second banana to all that. That might not be fair, but that’s life.

Going into this season, however, coach Dave Tippett is going to have his hands full in trying to keep the “Little Engine That Could” Coyotes rolling along and keeping them a playoff team. While the team is returning five of their six top scorers from last season, there’s a lot of doubt swirling about the team whether they can score enough while supporting starting goaltending that seems to be, at best, highly suspect.

Take a look at how their forwards stack up. Shane Doan (60 points), Ray Whitney (57 points), Radim Vrbata (48 points), and Lauri Korpikoski (40 points) make up part of that group of players that led the way in scoring for them last year. Doan is 35 years-old and has some hard miles on his body. Whitney turns 39 this season and has seen his production fall off in three of his last four seasons. Vrbata is 30 years-old and is one of their slicker forwards while Korpikoski put up good numbers while buried on the team’s third or fourth line on occasion.

The Coyotes offseason additions don’t bring a lot of hope to their situation up front. Raffi Torres will make them tougher to deal with and Tippett will like having his physical presence out there, but he’s not scoring goals for them. Taking a flyer on Patrick O’Sullivan in hopes he can find his old scoring touch is nice, but where the Coyotes could get their biggest push from is letting their youth run wild.

Players like Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Andy Miele, and Victor Tikhonov haven’t had the leash taken off of them to see what they can do offensively and the Coyotes are going to need a spark from them. The one young forward that has gotten a push is Martin Hanzal thanks to his ability to win faceoffs and play tougher defensively. Tippett demands solid play both ways, even bordering on being highly dull, but getting the lift and injection of life from those youngsters is what the team could use to be a playoff team once again in the West.

Even on defense there’s youth to be found. 2009 first round pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson spent most of last season in Phoenix but as a healthy scratch. His slick puck handling and offensive abilities from the blue line could help take the pressure off of Keith Yandle (59 points) who saw his great offensive work fall off the map in the second half of the year. Asking guys like Derek Morris or even David Schlemko to help support Yandle in that role on the power play is asking more out of those guys than necessary.

Ekman-Larsson will have a bright future in the NHL, and after getting to watch a lot of it up close and personal, perhaps he’ll have the “caged animal” effect in that he’ll go through walls to win a starting job.

One thing is for sure though in Phoenix, the team has a dearth of playmaking centers and it’s something that’s going to hamper their ability to score goals. Unless Turris has a breakout season and is allowed to do his thing creatively, there’s no one else there that is a bonafide set-up man. Hanzal? No. Alexandre Bolduc? Not a chance. Kyle Chipchura? Not even close. The Coyotes will be able to grind other centers’ faces off, but they won’t be able to outscore them.

With how Dave Tippett coaches his teams, perhaps that’s just what his plan is going to be by grinding other teams into submission and give his goalies Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera as much help as possible. It’s like the only way to ensure that Phoenix can win more games than how the roster seems like it should on paper, but it’s not the exciting brand of hockey that’s going to help keep the fans excited either. Obviously Tippett is a perennial Jack Adams Award finalist for a reason, but there’s a lot that stands out on the Coyotes roster that gives us plenty to worry about.

Under Pressure: Bruce Boudreau

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.

Bruce Boudreau knows all to well that success in the regular season only takes an NHL head coach so far.

Consider that, essentially, Boudreau’s coached his team to 100-point seasons in basically every situation where his team played a full 82 games. (Being hired mid-season, being fired during a season, and lockouts skew things, but Bruce brings the goods.)

His career coaching record of 503-24-99 is kind of absurd, and is the quickest way to explain that Boudreau probably deserves more credit. Yet, even so, it also underscores the sadness that is Boudreau’s existence as, essentially, the Andy Reid of the NHL.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough]

Despite being one of the best coaches in hockey, it’s tough to be too optimistic about Boudreau’s situation heading into 2018-19.

One can see why new Wild GM Paul Fenton and Boudreau, incumbent head coach, might feel a bit like kindred spirits. After all, both needed to put in plenty of work to prove themselves and earn their current spots in the NHL.

Such thoughts were aired when Boudreau was asked about the Fenton hire, while they also acknowledged the elephant in the room: a little awkwardness is almost inevitable.

“I’m usually the one that’s getting fired and going into (a team where) somebody is already there,” Boudreau said, via The Athletic’s Chad Graff (sub required). “We have mutual friends that say good things about each other, so I don’t think it’s going to be a difficult transition at all. We’re hockey guys and when we’re getting together, we’re going to be talking hockey all the time. That’s what we love to do. He spent a lot of years looking at the minors. I spent a lot of years in the minors. I think it should end up being a really good relationship.”

Both sides seem optimistic about the situation – for now – but let’s be honest. When you’re building a team – particularly when you’ve been waiting for your chance to run the show for so long, as Fenton had during his lengthy, acclaimed run as the Nashville Predators’ assistant GM – you’ll want to do it your way. Boudreau isn’t Fenton’s “guy.”

Could he become Fenton’s guy? Maybe.

It may help that would-be Fenton guys may already be employed in prominent jobs.

Looking back at his most recent Predators days, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette are both gainfully employed, and seemingly in pretty safe spots, at least by the “What have you done for me lately?” standards of coaching in professional sports. Phil Housley’s also running the show in Buffalo.

Fenton inherited one of the stickier situations in the NHL, as the Wild have been quite good, yet not good enough to get over the hump, and now they’re arguably at a fork in the road where they either need to contend or begin to clean house. It’s understandable that Fenton might want to bide his time with a good head coach while he figures out how to put his stamp on this team.

(Overall, the Wild didn’t really make a bunch of huge moves this off-season, with the biggest news coming in the form of new deals for Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker.)

Boudreau, then, finds himself in a tough spot. He’ll be asked to optimize this Wild roster once again, even with some key players seemingly on the decline, and facing brutal competition in the rugged Central Division.

You have to wonder that, while a smart NHL team would probably give Boudreau another shot, there’s also the fear that Boudreau would be viewed as yet another “retread.” After all, the Wild are already the third team he’s coached at this level.

It’s the sort of pressure that could really leave you red in the face, so hopefully Boudreau doesn’t get too overwhelmed by it all.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Building off a breakthrough: Matt Dumba

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.

Coming into last season, Matt Dumba already established himself as a pretty nice NHL defenseman.

[Looking back at 2017-18]

Considering how inexact a science drafting can be, the Wild had to set out a sigh of relief that the seventh pick of the 2012 NHL Draft was paying at least some dividends. Even so, the 2017-18 season really put Dumba’s skills on display.

For the third season in a row, Dumba hit the 10+ goal mark, generating a career-high 14. He also achieved a new peak in points, seeing a big jump from 34 points in 2016-17 to 50 in 2017-18. Dumba’s 50 points ranked 19th among defensemen – more than Dustin Byfuglien and Dougie Hamilton – while his 14 goals tied him for 10th at the position.

Really, Dumba presented upgrades across the board.

He already saw increases in ice time (16:50 TOI in 2015-16 to 20:20 in 2016-17), yet this past season really showed just how prominent Dumba’s become for Minnesota, as he logged 23:49 minutes per game. With Ryan Suter sidelined during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Dumba shouldered an even larger burden, averaging just under 27 minutes per game as the Wild fell to the Jets in five contests.

After signing his new five-year, $30M contract, Dumba spoke of even greater growth going forward.

“I look back at my personal growth over the season and I want that to just be the start,” Dumba said in July, via NHL.com. “I think I started the year a little slow, to be honest, and if I can play at the pace I was down the stretch the entire season, I think, I hope, I’m just scratching the surface.”

In that same NHL.com article, you can see new Wild GM Paul Fenton discuss the elite company Dumba is joining from an offensive standpoint.

There’s a lot to love about Dumba’s game already, and he’s probably worth fighting through whatever flaws he has in his game. Still, if he wants to break through from very good to truly elite, becoming more effective in his own end could be key.

You can see big areas of improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in deployment and production via Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool, yet some of the finer defensive points still need some work.

Now, it’s unfair to argue that Dumba didn’t make any strides in his all-around game. While his possession stats seem underwhelming, he went from receiving cushy offensive-zone starts to carrying a fairly heavy defensive workload, so keeping his possession stats at more or less the same level is reasonably promising.

In a lot of ways, the Wild’s outlook feels a little glum going into 2018-19.

The aging curve (or just injuries?) seems to have hit Zach Parise pretty hard, and considering the way Ryan Suter’s season ended, his huge minutes might be taking their toll. Spending big money but failing to get to that next level in the postseason cost Chuck Fletcher his job, and the Central Division only seemed to get grizzlier this summer.

Seeing significant improvements from Dumba and Jason Zucker soothes some of those wounds in Minnesota. If we’ve seen their peaks, they already represent very useful players. The Wild might need even more from them if they really want to leap over the many hurdles in the West, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

It’s Minnesota Wild day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.

2017-18

45-26-11, 101 pts. (3rd in the Central Division; 4th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-1 vs. Winnipeg Jets, first round

IN:

Eric Fehr
Greg Pateryn
J.T. Brown
Matt Hendricks
Matt Bartkowski
Andrew Hammond
Matt Read

OUT:

Matt Cullen
Kyle Quincey
Daniel Winnik

RE-SIGNED: 

Jason Zucker
Matt Dumba
Nick Seeler

Another year, another disappointing end result for the Wild, who were bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets. Unlike in 2017 when they faced the Blues in the opening round, Minnesota was never expected to take down the high-flying Jets, and they didn’t.

The Wild finished with the 2017-18 regular season as the eighth best team in the NHL, which was somewhat impressive considering they had to overcome injuries to Charlie Coyle, Jared Spurgeon, Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise.

They managed to survive thanks to productive seasons from Eric Staal (42 goals, 76 points in 82 games), Mikael Granlund (21 goals, 67 points in 77 games), Jason Zucker (33 goals, 64 points in 82 games), Matthew Dumba (14 goals, 50 points in 82 games) and goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

Unfortunately for them, the one injury they couldn’t overcome was the one to defenseman Ryan Suter‘s fractured ankle. Suter ended up missing the end of the regular season and the playoffs. The 33-year-old was their leader on the blue line. He put up six goals and 51 points in 78 contests. That was a tough break.

The Wild added a whole bunch of bodies this off-season, but none of their acquisitions are core pieces, which means it’ll be the same group that will be relied upon to create offense for this team. They could stand to get some more production from guys like Parise, Coyle and Mikko Koivu if they’re going to be taken seriously in the Western Conference.

Also, Dubnyk will have to continue turning in solid performances between the pipes. The 32-year-old has been rock-solid since joining the Wild three seasons ago. He owned a 35-16-7 record with a 2.52 goals-against-average and a .918 save percentage in 2017-18. When he’s on his game, the Wild are a better team.

Minnesota has some talented youth in their pipeline, but you’d have to think that they’ll need to make a playoff run soon with the veterans that are currently on their roster. Are they good enough to do that? So far the answer is no, but things change in a hurry in the NHL.

Prospect Pool: 

Jordan Greenway, W, 21, Boston University – 2015 second-round pick

Greenway got his first taste of NHL action last season when he suited up in six games during the regular season and five move in the playoffs. He recorded just one assist during the season and a goal and an assist in the playoffs. Greenway is a hulking power forward with offensive upside, which is a rare. He finished his collegiate career by collecting 35 points in 36 games at Boston University in 2017-18, and he has a real chance of cracking Minnesota’s lineup this season.

• Kirill Kaprizov, W, 21, CSKA Moscow – 2015 fifth-round pick

Since being a late-round draft pick, Kaprizov has turned heads in the KHL. He picked up 42 points in 49 games with Ufa Salavat Yulayev in 2016-17 and 40 points in 46 games with CSKA Moscow last season. Kaprizov is loaded with offensive upside. He’s got great hands, awesome puck skills and an ability to find the back of the net consistently. The biggest problem with him right now, is that he has two years remaining on his KHL contract, which means he’s still not close to North America.

Luke Kunin, C, 20, Iowa Wild – 2016 first-round pick

Kunin made the leap from the University of Wisconsin to the professional ranks last season. He collected 10 goals and nine assists in 36 games in the AHL and two goals and two assists in 19 games in the NHL. Unfortunately for Kunin, he tore his ACL late in the season, which led to him having surgery in April.

“I’m feeling good,” Kunin told the Pioneer Press in July. “I’ve been able to get into my strength training as I would’ve if I wasn’t hurt, so that’s been nice. As far as the injury is concerned, the doctors are really happy with how everything has been going so far.”

Kunin’s been an offensive-minded player at every level. He has enough upside to become a top-six forward at the next level.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Sekera out with torn achilles; Letestu gets Panthers tryout

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Philipp Grubauer spent part of his day with the Stanley Cup making friends in the German mountains. [Keeper of the Cup / Twitter]

• The Edmonton Oilers announced on Tuesday that defenseman Andrej Sekera suffered a torn achilles tendon during off-season training and underwent surgery. He is out indefinitely. [Oilers]

• Mark Letestu is heading to Florida Panthers camp on a PTO. [Panthers]

• The NHL preseason begins Sept. 15. [NHL.com]

• Following shoulder surgery, Zach Werenski plans to be in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ lineup on opening night. [Blue Jackets]

• Wysh updates our old “Mount Puckmore” Puck Daddy summer series for 2018. What four faces should represent your favorite team? [ESPN]

• Can Alex DeBrincat end next season as the Chicago Blackhawks’ leading goal scorer once again? [Blackhawk Up]

• How ‘tanking accidentally’ is the wrong way to tank. [Yahoo]

• Ben Meisner’s story is tough to read, but is an important one. [The Players’ Tribune]

Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois could play themselves into the “one of the best lines in the NHL” argument, pending they stay together, of course. [1st Ohio Battery]

• How will Brad Treliving fit both Matthew Tkachuk and Noah Hanifin under the Calgary Flames’ 2019-20 salary cap? [Flames Nation]

Nathan Walker has done a lot in introducing the world to hockey in Australia. [Last Word on Hockey]

• The Vegas Golden Knights are being very aggressive about protecting their logos and marks. [Review Journal]

• It’s not just NHLers putting in the work during Minnesota’s “Da Beauty League” this summer. Minor leaguers are making their mark as well. [The Sin Bin]

• The Washington Capitals retiring Peter Bondra’s No. 12 is long overdue. [DC Puck Drop]

• The 2018-19 NHL season could be the end of the line for these five players. [Featurd]

• Finally, Victor Hedman lands at No. 1 on NHL Network’s list of the top NHL defensemen:

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.