The Phoenix Coyotes missed the playoffs in 2013, just one year removed from a division title and the Western Conference Finals. The two biggest reasons for the drop off was a lack of scoring and Mike Smith coming back to Earth.
The biggest move the Yotes made in the summer had nothing to do with the team on the ice. The Coyotes ownership drama finally ended when the NHL finalized the team's sale to IceArizona Acquisition Co. and a new five year lease with the city of Glendale, AZ. On the ice, the signed one of my least favorite players Mike Ribeiro along with veteran winger Tim Kennedy and backup goaltender Tomas Greiss.
I have asked Jaime Eisner from Five For Howling to give us insight on what to expect from the 2013-14 Coytoes.
Now that the ownership saga is over, can the NHL ever become and major draw in Arizona and what can be done to help the cause?
While it is unlikely to be the draw that it is in places like Toronto, Chicago and Detroit, Hockey can be viable in Arizona. The attendance numbers were significantly better at America West Arena (now US Airways Center) and the first couple seasons in Glendale. Attendance dropped sharply after the team was placed in bankruptcy.
The Coyotes have sold out (and added standing room only) every playoff game in Glendale. While that is something that should happen, it's still an encouraging sign for the future. There are plenty of hockey fans in Arizona to fill Jobing.com Arena; the key is getting them to come consistently.
Mike Ribeiro had some of his most productive years with Dave Tippet as his coach. Are you excited about the reunion in Glendale this year?
There are mixed feelings, however mostly positive, about Ribeiro's trek to the desert. His offensive skill, particularly on the power play, is without question elite. The concern is his 5-on-5 consistency, his play in the defensive zone and his penchant for penalties. He is expected to assume the role of first line center and should be the recipient of favorable offensive zone starts and power play time.
Is this the year Mikkel Boedker finally lives up to his potential?
That's the $2.55 million question. Boedker has shown flashes of high-level offensive talent since being rushed into the NHL under the Wayne Gretzky administration. However, the 23-year-old has not been able to put all the pieces together for a full season.
He has improved over the last 17 months, beginning with his back-to-back game-winning over time goals against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012 WCQF. Last season, he more than matched his point total from the 2011-12 season despite the season being only 48 games long.
The Dane is expected to play on the top line with Ribeiro and Shane Doan this season. He will get the minutes and the center to help him succeed. If not this year, when?
Mike Smith seemed to take a step backwards last season but that didn't stop the Coyotes from locking him into a 6 year contract. Is the 31 year old Smith a concern going forward or do expect him to revert back to his 2012 form?
I believe the true Mike Smith lies somewhere between his first year successes and his second year inconsistencies. To expect him to be a Vezina candidate each year is asking a lot, but he should improve on his 2013 numbers. Nagging soft tissue injuries have always been an issue with Smith and will continue to be an issue as he enters his mid-30s. The strong defense in front of him will help, but much of the team's success will rely on how consistent and often Smith can be in net.
While the Coyotes have a couple good goalie prospects, they are farther away than most expect. The 6-year deal may be as much about those prospects and potential future free agents as it was about Smith.
Where are the Coyotes going to get their scoring from?
Ribeiro, Boedker, Radim Vrbata and defense. Vrbata has been one of the best goal scorers in the NHL over the last two seasons, ranking ninth among all players in goals per game. He will once again be tied to the hip of Martin Hanzal.
Ribeiro was brought in to bolster the overall offensive numbers of the team. Both Boedker and Doan should score north of 20 goals playing full time with Ribs.
Defense is the staple of the team on both ends of the ice. Keith Yandle is an elite offensive-defenseman who led the team in scoring last season. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is budding into one of the best two-way defensemen in the league at the young age of 22. While OEL will have PK responsibilities, he can put the puck in the back of the net on the power play and 5-on-5 as well.
Dark Horse: David Rundblad. He can quarterback a power play and has elite offensive upside. He is no guarantee to make the team, but his chances improved with Rostislav Klesla's injury.
Who are some of the top young prospects will be seeing in Glendale shortly?
A handful of young guys should see some playing time this season for the Yotes. Forwards Chris Brown and Lucas Lessio are right on the cusp of making the team. If they don't make it out of camp, they are on the short-list to be called up due to injury or poor performance on the main club.
General Manager Don Maloney is on record as saying defenseman Brandon Gormley will see NHL time at some point this year. Coyotes' fans eagerly await the arrival of Gormley who has been the team's top defensive prospect since OEL turned pro. Rundblad should see some NHL time as well.
Twelfth overall pick Max Domi will get a long look during training camp, but I'd imagine he will not surpass the nine-game NHL trial period and will go back to London.
How heated is the rivalry between the Yotes and the Kings now? Should their games this season be considered "must see?"
It is the hottest rivalry out West at the moment. While it's unlikely to have the staying power of the more traditional hockey rivalries, in the moment, it's white hot.
Both teams are not afraid to be physical. For the immediate future, these games are must see TV. Remember, when Paul Bissonnette's suspension ends, his first eligible game is against; you guessed it, the Kings.
Thanks again to Jaime for his help, it is appreciated. The Blackhawks and the Coyotes will meet three times this year. The first game will be in Arizona on November 14th with the next two meetings in Chicago on November 30th and February 7th.