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Long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes.

Pending free agents

The Core

A pressing question — one of the most important in franchise history, frankly — is if the Coyotes should re-sign Taylor Hall, and if Hall would actually want to become part of the core.

Because, whether you feel convinced that this is the sort of group you can win a Stanley Cup with or not, there’s definitely a core to this team.

Extending Oliver Ekman-Larsson was crucial to the Coyotes, but he didn’t really look like an $8.25M defenseman during his first season being paid that way. Time will tell if Clayton Keller is really worth $7.15M per year, himself. (It’s fair to mention that big prices for prominent forwards almost always look better as time goes on.)

The Coyotes have handed big term to some interesting players, including Nick Schmaltz, who they received in moving out former third overall pick (2015) Dylan Strome. Christian Dvorak‘s contract was a little surprising at the time, but will probably be fine.

There are some other interesting questions to answer. Can Jakob Chychrun stay healthy enough to realize his potential? As great as Darcy Kuemper has been, will he be the goalie beyond his extension (running through 2021-22)? Will they retain Antti Raanta beyond 2020-21 to maintain a potentially outstanding platoon?

Clearly, the Coyotes also hope that Barrett Hayton will not just be part of the core, but a star for them. File another one under “We’ll see.”

Long-term needs for Coyotes

The Coyotes still lack that “game-breaking talent,” so to speak.

For all that the Coyotes do well (they’re quite viable), it’s not a great sign when your top two scorers are at 45 points (Schmaltz) and 44 (Keller) this late in the season. At least now that we’ve exited the dreadful “Dead Puck Era.”

Circling back to an earlier point, Taylor Hall lingers as a tough question.

While still a strong player, Hall might not quite be the guy anymore. Hall nonetheless is the closest answer Arizona currently possesses. (Opinion: Keller and Hayton seem more likely to settle in as “stars” rather than “superstars.”)

Also, for a team that’s missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons and stands at risk of an eighth, their prospect cupboard doesn’t bowl you over. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked their farm system 20th in late January (sub required), for example. While some might chalk that up to “early graduations,” Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed Arizona’s 23-and-under core at a middling 16th place.

The defense is also getting a little older in spots, particularly Alex Goligoski (34). Even OEL turns 29 on July 17.

Long-term strengths of Coyotes

Goalies are an unpredictable lot, but the Coyotes have done as well as anyone in acing these tests.

They’ve successfully targeted two backups in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. While receiving top-notch goaltending, the Coyotes also haven’t signed scary contracts like other teams. They merely signed Raanta for three years ($4.25M) and Kuemper’s extension ($4.5M for 2020-21 and 2021-22) looks like a super-steal right now. Even if Kuemper slides, few teams have made safer bets.

There are Plans C and on, too. Adin Hill has shown some potential, and Arizona boasts an interesting prospect in the pipeline in Ivan Prosvetov.

If Chychrun can get through this rough patch of injuries and Victor Soderstrom develops, the Coyotes’ defense looks pretty solid, too.

Yes, lots of “solid” can feel like a curse when “great” is usually the difference between clearing a hurdle and crashing. (Well, great matched with lucky, at least in this often-random sport.)

Still, the Coyotes keep putting themselves in a spot where they can get that extra boost. With plenty of Pacific Division teams looking to be in waning periods, there might just be an opening for the Coyotes.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Arizona Coyotes
Coyotes’ biggest surprises, disappointments so far

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 Arizona Coyotes day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Arizona Coyotes.

The Arizona Coyotes struggled both offensively and defensively last season, and as a result they finished 29th overall with a 24-50-8 record.

Their 11-25-5 record at Gila River Arena was their worst home record since moving to Arizona 19 years ago.

Arizona finished 29th overall scoring 2.01 goals-for per-game and allowed 3.28 goals-for per-game good for 28th overall.

“Not only couldn’t we score last year, we couldn’t defend,” GM Don Maloney told NHL.com.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson led the way offensively with a career-high 23 goals and 43 points in 82 games for the Coyotes in 2014-15. His 23 goals were the most by a defenseman last season. The 24-year-old also represented Arizona at the NHL All-Star Game in Columbus.

Up front, Sam Gagner led all Coyotes’ forwards with 15 goals and 41 points – both were his highest totals since the 2011-12 season while a member of the Edmonton Oilers.

Mike Smith carried the load in goal making 62 appearances going 14-42-5 while posting a 3.16 G.A.A. and a .904 save percentage.

Off-season recap

The Arizona Coyotes solved their off-ice dispute over a lease agreement with the City of Glendale last month. The new deal will keep the Coyotes at Gila River Arena for at least the next two seasons.

Not surprisingly, the team is already pushing to have the deal extended.

As far as on-ice moves go, Maloney brought back Antoine Vermette after trading him to the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the trade deadline. Arizona also signed free-agent forwards Steve Downie and Brad Richardson.

On the blue line, the Coyotes brought back Zbynek Michalek, who was dealt to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline. Arizona also acquired Nicklas Grossmann in the trade, which also landed them the contract of Chris Pronger.

In goal, the Coyotes signed Anders Lindback to back up Smith.

“I think we’ll play better defense in front of [Smith], which is important,” Maloney said. “I think we’ll have a better structure in front of Mike so he doesn’t feel like he has to be all-world every night and he can just do his thing.”

Vancouver Canucks ’15-16 Outlook

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It was another eventful offseason in Vancouver, the second under GM Jim Benning, and it left both fans and media asking the same question:

What exactly are the Canucks doing?

To hear Benning explain it, the plan is simple in theory, yet difficult to execute — rebuild while staying competitive, giving young players a winning environment in which to grow.

“From the time I took the job (14 months ago) until 10 days ago, I went at it hard,” Benning explained, per the Vancouver Sun. “It hasn’t been easy. I’ll admit it — it’s been hard. I’ve had to make hard decisions to try to remain competitive while building for the future. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

“But for the most part, we’ve been able to accomplish that this summer.”

Some will argue with that last remark.

This summer, Benning took heat for a variety of his moves, most notably his trade of popular (and relatively successful) backup goalie Eddie Lack to Carolina for a third-round pick, which many saw as a middling return. After tiring of the Zack Kassian experiment, the Canucks cut bait and got what they could in exchange — 31-year-old Habs tough guy Brandon Prust — then paid a tidy sum to acquire third-line Pittsburgh center Brandon Sutter, paying him an even tidier sum to be their second-line center ($21.875 million over five years, specifically).

In the end, it’s tough to say the Canucks got any better this summer. It’s tough to say they stayed even. Most say they got worse.

And that makes next year’s outlook kinda bleak.

Sure, the same old suspects remain — the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Radim Vrbata, Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler — but they’re all a year older, and now surrounded by kids. Bo Horvat, 20, projects to be the No. 3 center while winger Sven Baertschi, 22, will get a shot at the top-six. Former first-round pick Jake Virtanen (18) figures to get a long look in training camp, and Frank Corrado (22) will likely be in on defense. Other prospects like Hunter Shinkaruk, Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce and Jared McCann could all get looks, too.

Which makes for an odd dynamic, especially since the Canucks were competitive last year, registering 101 points and a playoff spot. But their opening-round loss to Calgary only confirmed what most suspected — Vancouver was a flawed team, nowhere close to contending.

Now, the club heads into this season minus the services of veteran contributors like Kevin Bieksa, Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson — jobs that will be filled by (the aforementioned) inexperienced players. And should injuries strike the team’s aging core, it could be grim; at no position is this more concerning than in goal, where 35-year-old Ryan Miller, who missed extensive time with a knee injury last season, is backed up by a total wildcard in Jacob Markstrom.

Oh, and lest we forget, the Canucks play in a tough Pacific Division in which the Ducks, Kings, Flames and Oilers all made significant upgrades this summer.

If you believe Benning, though, his moves weren’t designed to make the Canucks less competitive.

The way he sees it, the club is more versatile than ever.

“What we’re trying to do is build a team that can play whatever style the game dictates,” he explained. “So we’ve made some changes this summer. I thought maybe in the playoffs we didn’t play with the intensity and emotion to step up in a playoff series and win.

“We’ve got some good, young, skill players coming up. But we want to surround them with players who fit.”

Coyotes want long-term deal with Glendale

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Last week, the Coyotes and Glendale resolved their contentious arena lease dispute.

Now, the Coyotes want to extend the deal.

“I would like to see us structure something with the city of Glendale on an extended basis sometime over this next year,” team president Anthony LeBlanc said, per the Arizona Republic. “Because I don’t want to go into free agency next year having Don [Maloney, Arizona GM] dealing with the same uncertainty he was dealing with this year.”

That uncertainty, according to the Republic, affected negotiations with RFA winger Mikkel Boedker, who opted to sign a one-year pact rather than a long-term extension.

The Boedker negotiations, in turn, apparently played a role in the Coyotes’ decision to target long-term with Glendale, rather than wait for the renewed lease — which went from a 15-year agreement to a two-year — to expire at the end of the 2017-18 campaign.

The desire for a long-term pact isn’t surprising. Though the Coyotes were able to land free agents like Steve Downie, Anders Lindback, Brad Richardson and ex-Coyotes Zbynek Michalek and Antoine Vermette, none of them signed on for longer than three years. The Republic reports that “a number of players [were] uninterested in the Coyotes because of their drama.”

If the club is going to be a significant player in free agency moving forward, Maloney needs to sell potential targets on a number of things.

Like, y’know, where they’re going to play.

“We will begin in earnest in the month of August having discussions about what we need to see on both sides to extend this,” LeBlanc explained. “Nobody benefits from a short-term deal like this, in particular, our hockey department.”

Vey admits his ‘preparation last summer wasn’t what it needed to be’

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While 10 goals and 14 assists aren’t exactly terrible numbers for a rookie, Linden Vey knows that his first season with the Vancouver Canucks did not match expectations.

Though he started relatively well, registering 12 points in his first 22 games, his production fell off dramatically. In the end, he was a healthy scratch for five of Vancouver’s six playoff games, and it was fair to question whether he could play center in the NHL.

“Sitting out (in the playoffs), I already had a lot of time to look at where things went wrong,” Vey told TSN.ca. “I was really honest. My preparation last summer wasn’t what it needed to be.”

Vey, who just turned 24, was acquired last summer in a trade with the Kings. He was essentially gifted a spot on Vancouver’s roster, despite having skated in only 18 NHL games up to that point.

Vey should once again be given a chance to play regularly in 2015-16. While centers Henrik Sedin, Nick Bonino, and Bo Horvat remain in Vancouver, the options beyond those three are limited, as the Canucks don’t have Brad Richardson or Shawn Matthias anymore.

“I’ve already worked the hardest I ever have in a summer,” Vey said. “In every league I’ve played in, I made a big jump in my second season. … Last season, I wasn’t the same player that got me to the NHL.”