It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Arizona Coyotes
How they did last season: 35-39-8 (78 points). Fourth in the Pacific Division; 10th in the Western Conference.
Notable acquisitions: D Alex Goligoski, LW Jamie McGinn, C Ryan White, D Luke Schenn and GM John Chayka.
Notable departures: C Antoine Vermette, C Boyd Gordon, C Kyle Chipchura, D Nicklas Grossmann and GM Don Maloney.
When they will play the Caps: March 25th in Washington; March 31 in Arizona.
Analysis: After missing the postseason for a fourth consecutive season, the Coyotes fired GM Don Maloney, who had held the position since 2007, and replaced him with John Chayka, a 27-year-old analytics whiz. (For some perspective, team captain Shane Doan is 12 years older than Chayka.) Veteran Coach Dave Tippett also received a promotion in the shakeup, adding executive vice president of hockey operations to his title.
So, yeah, it’s not hard to discern which side of the eye-test-vs-fancy-stats debate the team’s ownership has chosen to embrace.
Will it work? It’s far too soon to know. This much, however, is clear: the rest of the NHL will be watching…very closely.
Chayka has been active in his first few months on the job. He acquired puck-moving defenseman Alex Goligoski to bolster a blueline that’s headlined by Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The rookie GM also bolstered his team’s forward depth with the addition of physical winger Jamie McGinn, who produced 22 goals and 17 assists for Buffalo and Anaheim last season, and tough, versatile vet Ryan White, who tallied 11 goals and 101 penalty minutes in Philly. Chayka, meanwhile, has also been widely praised for his first draft haul.
On Monday, Chayka made another significant decision: he waived 34-year-old Antoine Vermette for the purposes of buying out the final year of the declining center's two-year, $7.5 million contract. Chayka said, in part: “This move will provide an opportunity for some of our young, talented players to step up.” Chayka didn’t name names, but prospects like Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak will get the chance in camp to prove that they are indeed ready the rebuilding club take the next step.
Season prediction: At first glance, the roster appears stronger than the one missed the final playoff spot by nine points a year ago.
Soon it will be Tippett’s turn to get to work molding this retooled roster into a unit that’ll show some meaningful improvement on the ice—most notably in the areas of goals against (28th, 2.98 per game) and special teams, where the power play ranked 20th penalty kill ranked an abysmal 28th.
I like the gutsy decision to hire Chayka and the forward-thinking point of view he brings to the table. I like the direction Chayka has the team heading after just a few months on the job. I also like the Goligoski signing and the decision to move on from Vermette which, in turn, opens a spot for a youngster.
Buuuuut…while I can see the organization continuing to make some strides in 2016-17, I’m having a tough time seeing Arizona returning to the postseason next spring. I do, though, think Tippett and Co. will make the race a bit more interesting down the stretch. In the end, I still suspect the ‘Yotes are at least a year away from being ready for primetime.
MORE HOCKEY: WHERE DOES GALIEV FIT IN?
Other team previews:
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)