Risk Factors: Arizona Coyotes edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Arizona Coyotes

1. They’re betting heavily on the idea that Mike Smith can carry this team to the playoffs, but his overall track record isn’t great.

The Coyotes have Smith to thank for their run to the Western Conference Final in 2012, but in the two campaigns that have followed, Smith has been inconsistent at best. Certainly, he’s been nothing like the man that posted a 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage in 67 games in 2011-12.

To be fair, the last two campaigns have been unusual given the lockout and the Olympics; both of which might have had an adverse impact on the 32-year-old goaltender.

“Goaltending through the middle of the season for me wasn’t where it needed to be,” Smith told the Arizona Republic in April. “I was kind of doing some soul-searching, and we lost some games because of that.”

He added, “Mentally, it was kind of tough leading up to the Olympics and not knowing if I was going to be on the team or not.”

At the same time, if you look at his 325-game career track record, his previous two seasons are closer to his norm than his 2011-12 campaign. That’s not to suggest that he’s a bad goaltender or even an average one, but the Coyotes need him to play at an elite level if they are to make the playoffs and that might be hoping for too much.

2. They might finish the season without a single player reaching the 20-goal mark.

This ties into their dependence on Smith. Arizona only had three players that reached the 20-goal mark last season and one was Radim Vrbata, who now plays for Vancouver. Mike Ribeiro finished fifth in goals with just 16 and he’s also gone.

They still have Shane Doan. He scored 23 goals in 69 contests last season and has traditionally been good for 20-plus goals per season, but he’ll turn 38 on Friday, so obviously his age is increasingly becoming a concern.

They aren’t completely devoid of offensive talent. Mikkel Boedker, 24, might take another step up this season for example and Sam Gagner might bounce back after recording just 37 points in 2013-14. Even still, it’s hard to get excited about the Coyotes’ offense, especially after they decided not to start the season with promising young forwards Max Domi, Henrik Samuelsson, and Lucas Lessio.

3. Can they grow their fanbase when their chances of making the playoffs are slim?

Coyotes GM Don Maloney’s reason for cutting Domi, Samuelsson, and Lessio from their training camp roster is that they “need to be a playoff team.”

In fact, he went on to specifically state that reaching the postseason was the way to excite their fanbase and get people into Gila River Arena. The problem is that their chances of making the playoffs aren’t great regardless of the decision regarding their prospects.

This is a franchise that’s in a somewhat tenuous situation. They finally have an ownership group in place, but the new management’s debut season had mixed results. The Coyotes ranked 30th in the NHL with an average attendance of 13,775 in 2013-14, per ESPN.com. That’s still a step up from the 12,420 fans per game they had in 2011-12, but it’s a downgrade from their shortened-season attendance of 13,923.

Coyotes CEO Anthony LeBlanc admitted in December that he was disappointed in the attendance. On the ice, the Coyotes competed for a playoff spot, but they ultimately fell just short. Their task will only be harder this season with the two 2013-14 Western Conference Wild Card winners — Dallas and Minnesota — upgrading over the summer and with teams that finished below the Coyotes in the Pacific Division — Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton — moving in the right direction.

As Maloney suggested, providing a city with a playoff-caliber team is the best way to grow a fanbase, but that might not be what the Coyotes have done. At least not yet.