After making the playoffs for three consective seasons, the Phoenix Coyotes missed the postseason in 2013 and still face the uncertainty that has been hanging over the franchise since the league took over the team in 2009.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Coyotes team facing an uphill fight, at least as long as their future remains up in the air.
The main reason that they Coyotes are handicapped in their efforts to build a team is that it's awfully difficult, if not impossible, to get a prime free agent to sign a long-term deal with a team, with no assurances that they won't be moved across the continent. When players reach the point in their careers at which they get to choose where they want to play, it's already a problem when a team doesn't have big money to spend, but it's a further disadvantage when the team can't tell a free agent, for certain, where they will play.
"To me it's a challenge," GM Don Maloney told the Arizona Republic. "I think it's been shown with great coaching, with Dave Tippett, with great chemistry and great goaltending, you can win here."
Of course, Maloney faces the prospect of not having highly-regarded coach Tippett if the ownership situation isn't settled, and both of last year's goaltenders are unrestricted free agents, so there are potential changes coming to the crease.
Looking at the Coyotes roster, they still have a formidable defensive unit and some solid, if not necessarily spectacular, two-way forwards but, perhaps aside from defenceman Keith Yandle, they lack game-breaking offensive players and that's the area that most needs to be addressed if the Coyotes are going to get back on the postseason track.
"It's just that extra talent to get that extra goal on the road that you need when you're tied or down a goal," Maloney told the Arizona Republic. "We really missed that this year — maybe the last couple years."
It's one thing to know it's a need and another matter entirely to have the wherewithal to do something about it. If Don Maloney, facing ownership (and team location) uncertainty, can figure out how to improve the Coyotes' offensive outlook, then he may be too good for the job because this is akin to climbing a mountain without any equipment.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Don Maloney/Dave Tippett
Coyotes Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
He doesn't get the kind of pub that he deserves for his production but, with 47 goals in 111 games over the past two seasons, Radim Vrbata ranks 11th in the league with 0.42 goals per game, falling between Corey Perry and Logan Couture. He's one of the few bona fide scoring threats for the Coyotes, so that brings a certain amount of pressure too.
36-year-old Shane Doan has played every one of his 1301 (regular season plus playoff) games with this franchise and while his offensive production is tailing off (last season's 0.56 points per game was his lowest since 1999-2000, which was also the last time he played less than last year's 18:03 per game) he remains a sound two-way player.
Though 23 points in 39 games might not stand out, it marks the best per-game scoring rate (0.59 ppg) of Martin Hanzal's career. The 6-foot-6 centre is a beast of a physical presence and gets charged with taking on the opposition's best on a nightly basis. It would be nice if Hanzal could score a little more, given his ice time but, overall, he's a significant asset.
Physical 26-year-old winger Rob Klinkhammer got into a career-high 22 games and showed enough to earn a two-year NHL contract from the Coyotes. It's tough to place expectations on a 26-year-old that has played 38 career games, but Klinkhammer comes at a bargain price and should be able to fill a role in the bottom six.
Antoine Vermette may get asked to do too much for the Coyotes, but he is a two-way player capable of contributing offensively -- he tied with Doan for the team lead, scoring 13 goals. With Hanzal and Vermette the top two options down the middle, the Coyotes have responsible players, but could really use a playmaker to elevate their offence.
David Moss missed only three games, his fewest by far since 2008-2009, and he played a career-high 15:33 per game. He's a reliable two-way winger, as if there is any other choice to earn ice time with the Coyotes.
While Paul Bissonnette may be known more for his Twitter feed than anything else, he did score a career-high six points last season and, while his ice time is limited and protected, his possession numbers are strangely okay.
23-year-old winger Mikkel Boedker was deemed ready for a big jump in responsibility, playing nearly five minutes per game more than in 2011-2012, and he finished fourth on the team in scoring. He still has some offensive potential to explore.
After a couple of decent seasons, Lauri Korpikoski started 2013 with four goals in 10 games, then fell right off the grid, scoring twice in his next 26 games, yet he still played more than 17 minutes per game. Goal-scoring doesn't mean everything for hard-working Korpikoski, but if he's not scoring, his role on the team comes further down the depth chart.
It's not easy to find free agents willing to deal with the uncertainty of the Coyotes' future. It would be great to find a playmaking centre, like Mike Ribeiro, Stephen Weiss, Derek Roy or Valtteri Filppula, but that may not be in the cards. Taking a shot on a veteran scorer like Vaclav Prospal or Simon Gagne, on a short-term deal, could help too. Failing an offensive upgrade, though, it might be best to re-sign top-notch checking centre Boyd Gordon.
Free Agent Defence
||'12-'13 Cap Hit
Coyotes Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
In the last three seasons, only Erik Karlsson and Dustin Byfuglien have tallied more points than Keith Yandle, who has 132 points in 212 games. He's a dynamic presence and his offensive instincts stand out on a team that lacks gamebreakers.
21-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson has already emerged as one of the game's best shutdown defenders, playing more than 25 minutes per game and taking on the best the opposition has to offer every game. Ekman-Larsson also developed as expected in his third NHL season and is likely going to be a viable Norris Trophy candidate for the next decade.
David Schlemko has been a part-time player for the Coyotes, playing 119 of 212 games over the last three seasons. He's at the point where he's established that he can play in the league, but he still requires protected minutes, avoiding the opposition's top line for example, in order to get best results.
More than 1,000 games into his NHL career, 34-year-old Derek Morris still plays more than 21 minutes per game for the Coyotes. His performance varies, from year to year, but if he's not asked to play the toughest minutes, he can be a useful piece of the puzzle.
It seemed as though, after an up-and-down time in Columbus for much of his career, Rostislav Klesla had found a steady role in Phoenix, but he played a career-low 17:38 per game last season and has always struggled in the possession game, so he could be bumped by one of the Coyotes' younger options..
Zbynek Michalek returned to Phoenix and provided the rugged, reliable defence for which he is known, even if he brought very little offence, even by his own standards. Two points in 34 games (0.09 ppg) was the low mark for his career.
A 23-year-old with good size and big shot, Michael Stone worked his way into a regular role with the Coyotes, playing 40 games (albeit a limited 16:13 per game) in 2013. Next season could be an opportunity to take on more significant minutes.
The Coyotes have six defencemen under contract and, presuming that they re-sign Stone, a restricted free agent, that would make seven, leaving little room for top prospects Brandon Gormley and David Rundblad, both of whom are ready for their chance to play in the NHL. That could be all the more reason to move a defenceman in an effort to increase their firepower up front.
Free Agent Goaltenders
||'12-'13 Cap Hit
Jason LaBarbera was very good in a backup role, as expected. Over the last four seasons, he ranks sixth among backups (between 20 and 100 games played) with a .918 save percentage. Ideally, the Coyotes could get the 33-year-old to stick around, but you never know what money and opportunities could be available on the free agent market.
After a career year in 2011-2012, Mike Smith reverted back closer to career norms in 2013. That should make his price more reasonable as a free agent, but the 31-year-old is likely to have suitors who like his size and competitiveness. Will Phoenix try to keep Smith, or will they just find another answer, as they did when Ilya Bryzgalov moved on?
If they don't keep Smith, then free agents like Niklas Backstrom, Evgeni Nabokov, Jose Theodore, Ray Emery or Anton Khudobin may be viable alternatives.
||5-24-29, -7, 68 GP
||9-30-39, +8, 50 GP
||33-47-80, +31, 69 GP
||6-12-18, +14, 33 GP
||15-12-1, 2.98 GAA, .903 SV%
||19-15-34, +11, 35 GP
||29-18-47, -5, 68 GP
||27-29-56, +12, 52 GP
||14-8-22, +10, 70 GP
||19-34-53, +3, 70 GP
A reliable defender with offensive upside, Brandon Gormley maybe ready to challenge for a spot in Phoenix next season. Since the Coyotes' blueline is a little full at the moment, more time in the AHL shouldn't hurt his development, but it's only a matter of time before he's a regular in the NHL.
Though he has just eight points in 38 career NHL games, David Rundblad is an offensive defenceman, who has 55 points in 80 career AHL games and scored 50 points in 55 games his last year in the Swedish Elite League. The 22-year-old has the puck skills to quarterback the power play so it's just a matter of whether his play without the puck is strong enough.
This is the kind of player that the Coyotes need: Henrik Samuelsson is a big, offensive-minded centre who can play both ends of the rink. A first-round pick last summer, he had a tremendous season in the WHL and shouldn't be too far from an NHL job, but he's only 19, so some patience is required.
A 6-foot-5 defenceman that can move the puck and play a shutdown role, Connor Murphy is an enticing package, though one that can't stay in one piece. He's played a total of 68 games in two OHL seasons, so he could use some playing reps to further his development. If he can stay healthy for a year or two in the minors, he could be a valuable part of the future on the blueline.
It's likely to take some time for 20-year-old Mark Visentin to become an NHL-calibre goalender, but the first-round pick from 2010 was okay in his first pro campaign. With a few more years, he'll have a chance to make it.
Drafted in the second round in 2011, Lucas Lessio is a winger with good size and speed and a little offensive upside to boot. He'll need time to develop, particularly after missing half the OHL season with injuries, but could be a solid pro.
An aggressive forward who played a handful of games for the Coyotes last season, Chris Brown also displayed a scoring touch in the AHL (29 goals in 68 games) that wasn't really evident through his collegiate career at Michigan (34 goals in 125 games).
An Edmonton Oilers draft pick that was acquired in exchange for tough guy prospect Kale Kessy, German-born forward Tobias Rieder is very skilled and has been productive (230 points in 219 regular season and playoff games) in three junior seasons. He needs to get stronger if he's going to handle the pro grind but, if he does, Rieder has a chance to be a scoring forward.
A big winger with a limited offensive game, Phil Lane did score 14 goals as a rookie pro (his high in junior was 18) while providing a physical presence. It's reasonable to give him another couple years to show whether or not he's going to be able to handle a jump to the next level.
At 25, Andy Miele is on the old side for a prospect, but the 2011 Hobey Baker winner has proven he can generate points in the American Hockey League. With no points in eight career NHL games, the jury's out on whether he can do it in the NHL.
The Coyotes have bolstered their prospect list a bit in recent seasons by signing undrafted juniors. This spring it was Quebec league defenceman Mathieu Brisebois and last year it was Western League scorer Brendan Shinnimin.
12th - Max Domi, Hunter Shinkaruk, Ryan Pulock
According to www.capgeek.com, the Coyotes have approximately $38.1M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 13 players.
Check out my possible Coyotes lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top six forwards, depth forwards, two goaltenders.
What I said the Coyotes needed last year: Three top nine forwards, one top four defenceman, depth defencemen.
They added: David Moss, Steve Sullivan, Matthew Lombardi, Zbynek Michalek, Michael Stone.
Rostislav Klesla, prospects.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.