The Phoenix Coyotes stumbled down the stretch, going on a seven-game winless slide, to miss the playoffs by two points, their second straight season on the outside looking in.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at the Coyotes, and what they might be able to do to get over the hump.
The Coyotes have been able to ice a consistently competitive squad on a budget -- even missing the playoffs the past two seasons, their cumulative points percentage was .538; just good enough to miss, apparently.
If the Coyotes are going to make progress, they need to upgrade their scoring. They were a middle-of-the-road possession team, with good goaltending, but finishing 20th in goals scored was enough of a difference to prevent them from getting into the postseason.
Additionally, they face the prospect of losing their highest-scoring forward, Radim Vrbata, as a free agent, so this is a situation that ought to be addressed. How might they do it? Well, internally, the Coyotes might turn to top prospect Max Domi, a skilled centre or a winger like Lucas Lessio might be able to make the jump, but those moves would hardly offset the loss of a proven NHL scorer.
There will be scorers on the free agent market -- Thomas Vanek, Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Matt Moulson among them -- though they won't likely come cheaply, and while the Coyotes' new ownership may offer more financial flexibility than when the franchise was under league rule, it's one thing to have flexibility and another to outbid the big spenders for a top scoring winger.
Given the way this franchise has run through adversity, though, figure that GM Don Maloney will be able to find some value in the marketplace and ice a competitive team again next year. As we've seen over the past couple seasons, though, competitive may not be enough
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) -- Corsi, adjusted for zone starts, quality of competition and quality of teammates, hits, blocked shots, penalty differential and faceoffs. Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be around 70, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013-2014 regular season ratings at 87.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
CF% = Corsi percentage (ie. percentage of 5-on-5 shot attempts), via www.extraskater.com.
Don Maloney/Dave Tippett
Even at 37-years-old, and coming off a season in which he missed time with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Shane Doan remains a productive scoring winger. Last season's 23 goals in 69 games represented his best goals-per-game rate since 2008-2009, and his 13.8% shooting percentage was the best of Doan's entire career. That certainly makes regression likely, but it's not like Doan has been reaping the rewards of favourable percentages; it just may not be reasonable to expect the same goal production.
Martin Hanzal registered the first 40-point season of his career and continues to take on tough assignments, but he's also running into injury problems lately, missing 65 games over the past four seasons. His possession stats were down last season, but Hanzal's size (6-foot-6, 236 pounds) makes him a tough physical presence for opposing centres to handle, at least it's that way when he manages to stay in the lineup.
Antoine Vermette played 19:13 per game and scored 24 goals last season, both his most since 2009-2010, and he's as durable as they come, having played every game for five straight seasons. Vermette's possession stats have declined, but at least some of that can be attributed to usage -- he faced the toughest matchups with more defensive zone starts.
Speedy winger Mikkel Boedker has been making steady progress offensively. In the past two seasons, he's scored 77 points in 130 games, which puts him 85th in the league over that time. If he's still got a few more years to hit his peak, maybe Boedker could be good for 60-plus points with the right line combination. Last season, it was mostly taking the tough matchups with Vermette and a rotating cast of characters on the other side.
The Coyotes had expectations that 34-year-old Mike Ribeiro would be able to add life to their offence but, by season's end, Ribeiro scored 47 points (two fewer than he scored in 48 games with Washington in 2012-2013) and his 17:00 per game of ice time was his lowest since 2006-2007. More troubling about the lack of production is that the Coyotes tilted the ice in Ribeiro's favour with zone starts, yet 0.59 points per game was his lowest since 2002-2003, when he was still trying to break into the Montreal lineup.
Industrious winger Lauri Korpikoski has been getting hard minutes, though there's a fair case to be made that it's more than he can handle. That doesn't mean that Korpikoski can't be a useful contributor, just maybe ease up on the quality of competition that he faces on a regular basis.
At one time, Martin Erat was a consistent offensive performer, and while he remains a capable puck possesion player, he's fallen on ridiculously hard times as a goal-scorer. Among NHL forwards to play at least 1800 minutes over the past two seasons, Erat is the only one with fewer than a dozen goals, and he has eight. He's coming into a contract year, so Erat ought to be motivated, but this offensive dry spell isn't something that can be dismissed as a motivation issue. His shots-on-goal totals, which were never sky-high, are way down and if that doesn't change, don't expect Erat's point totals to rebound much.
Hard-hitting winger Rob Klinkhammer just completed his first full NHL season, as a 27-year-old, and certainly held his own. There may not be a ton of offensive upside, but there's lots of room for a 6-foot-3 winger who can skate and hit.
28-year-old Kyle Chipchura has never scored more than six goals or 20 points in an NHL season, but he's battled his way to a regular spot on the fourth line, missing four games total over the past two seasons. This past season, he delivered a career-best 20 points while starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone.
There will be some need to make changes up front, as the Coyotes have four unrestricted free agents. UFAs
Free Agent Defence
||'13-'14 Cap Hit
Keith Yandle doesn't intimidate with his physical play, but he doesn't need to -- the rest of his game is plenty intimidating in its own right. Over the past five seasons, he ranks third in scoring among defencemen, behind only Duncan Keith and Erik Karlsson and was on for 54.5% of the 5-on-5 goals when he was on the ice over that span. So, USA Hockey might not have been compelled to name Yandle to the Olympic team, but the Coyotes can be more than satisfied with a productive player who hasn't missed a game in the past five seasons.
While Yandle puts up the numbers, 22-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson is effectively the Coyotes' No. 1 defenceman, in terms of usage, because he plays 25 minutes a night, and is always facing the opposition's best lines. Ekman-Larsson's production is starting to take off, too, as he had career-highs in goals (15), assists (29) and points (44) last season.
Michael Stone is steadily improving, becoming a regular on the Phoenix blueline, and he finished the year playing top-four minutes. It takes some projection, and maybe a little faith, to believe the 23-year-old is ready for it full-time, but Stone does move the puck well and can contribute on the power play.
Playing alongside Ekman-Larsson, Zbynek Michalek gets the toughest matchups and holds his own in that regard though, with 12 points in 93 games since returning to Phoenix, he plays more of a meat-and-potatoes game. Michalek has led the Coyotes with 252 blocked shots over the past two seasons.
Injuries have hampered the development of David Schlemko, though the 27-year-old has been an effective depth defenceman at a reasonable price.
There will be openings on the Coyotes' blueline, though top prospects Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy could both be in consideration for spots and Chris Summers, signed to an inexpensive one-way deal, might fill a depth role.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'13-'14 Cap Hit
While his 2011-2012 season stands out as an aberration for his career, Mike Smith has been solid over three seasons with the Coyotes. The 32-year-old is under contract for five more seasons, so Phoenix is committed to him as their number one but, with Thomas Greiss hitting unrestricted free agency, there could be a new backup coming.
The Coyotes have tended towards inexpensive options and might be able to do something like that again with unrestricted free agents Carter Hutton, Chad Johnson or Justin Peters.
||34-59-93, +24, 61 GP
||7-29-36, -22, 54 GP
||0-13-13, -1, 36 GP
||35-60-95, +35, 65 GP
||29-25-54, -13, 69 GP
||28-20-48, -14, 64 GP
||3.25 GAA, .902 SV%, 45 GP
||24-30-54, -8, 52 GP
||11-15-26, -12, 46 GP
||8-6-14, -5, 27 GP
||2-7-9, -7, 48 GP
When he was sent back to junior last season, Max Domi struggled a bit early on, but had 85 points in 54 games since the beginning of November. The 12th overall pick in last summer's draft is smallish, but a creative playmaker, something in short supply in Phoenix, and could have a shot at making the team next year.
The 13th pick in 2010, Brandon Gormley is a smart defenceman who makes a good outlet pass and has 65 points in 122 AHL games over the past two seasons. That earned him a five-game audition with the Coyotes, though that audition might have suggested that he needs more work before he's ready.
Picked 20th in 2011, Connor Murphy split last season between the AHL and NHL, and the 21-year-old doesn't have much of an offensive game, Murphy is a steady, stay-at-home type who was most frequently paired with Yandle or Ekman-Larsson when he was the Coyotes.
Taken with the 27th pick in 2012, Henrik Samuelsson has steadily improved throughout his junior career and is a high-scoring forward with a big body. He may have to shift to wing in the NHL, but there's nothing wrong with having that size and skill on the wing.
Sturdy winger Lucas Lessio got into three games with the Coyotes early in the year, and while he may not have been ready for primetime, he had a very strong first pro season, scoring 29 goals in 69 AHL games. The 2011 second-round pick should be in competition for a job at some point next season.
Acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in March, 2013, Tobias Rieder was productive in his first pro campaign. He'll need to get stronger to move up the ladder but, if he does, Rieder has skill that makes him worth watching.
A first-round pick in 2011, Mark Visentin has produced uneven results in his first couple pro seasons. He's only 21-years-old, so there's time to be patient and develop Visentin, but early returns have not lived up to that draft slot.
Laurent Dauphin, a second-round pick last summer, is a smart, competitive centre who will need some time to round out his game and get stronger, but is one to watch.
Picked up in a trade with Anaheim, Brandon McMillan was a solid contributor in 22 games with the Coyotes last season, chipping in six points with favourable possession stats. He'll be in prime consideration for a depth spot next season.
A fourth-round pick in 2009, Jordan Szwarz got into 26 games with the Coyotes last season, scoring three goals. He's a high-effort guy with limited offensive upside.
Chris Summers has played 47 NHL games over the past four seasons, compared to 211 in the AHL, so while the 2006 first-rounder might appear to be destined for time on the farm, he does have a one-way contract for next season, which might keep him in a depth role with the Coyotes.
Coyotes advanced stats and player usage chart from Extra Skater
12th - Brendan Perlini, Jared McCann, Adrian Kempe.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Coyotes have approximately $52.0M committed to the 2014-2015 salary cap for 16 players.
Check out my possible Coyotes lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top nine forwards, depth forwards, one top four defenceman, backup goaltender.
What I said the Coyotes needed last year: Two top six forwards, depth forwards, two goaltenders.
They added: Mike Ribeiro, David Moss, Jeff Halpern, Thomas Greiss.
Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat, David Schlemko, Michael Stone.
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.