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2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Arizona Coyotes

2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Arizona Coyotes

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.


Other team previews:

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— 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)

Metropolitan Division
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)

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Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

The Capitals may have won the game Friday against the New York Islanders, but now they will wait to see if they also suffered a significant loss.

Kuznetsov left the game in the third period after taking a slash from Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey which sent him sliding head-first into the boards. The team labeled the issue as “upper body” when it was announced he would not return to the game.

Head coach Barry Trotz was tight-lipped afterward on Kuznetsov’s status.

“They're going to re-evaluate him tomorrow and we'll have some clarity hopefully tomorrow,” he said.


You can see the play here:

When Kuznetsov is first slashed he immediately reacts. His feet then catch the stick of goalie Jaroslav Halak which sends him tripping and sliding hard into the boards. He sat on the ice for several minutes afterward and was looked at by the trainer before getting to his feet and slowly making his way to the locker room.

When asked after the game what he felt about the slash, Trotz said only, “Hockey play.”

One of the Capitals’ biggest strengths as a team is their depth down the middle. Any injury to a center, considering it is arguably the most important skating position on the ice, would be significant. An injury to the team’s top-line center would be even more costly.

Kuznetsov leads the team with 28 assists and ranks second in both goals (21) and points (69).

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3 stars of the game: Caps win brutal rematch to sweep home-and-home with Islanders

3 stars of the game: Caps win brutal rematch to sweep home-and-home with Islanders

The Caps rocked the green in warmups, the red for the game and left a bit black and blue after a brutal 6-3 win over the New York Islanders.

Based on how things went in Brooklyn on Thursday, odds were that there would be some bad blood when the two teams met Washington on Friday. One night after giving up seven goals, the Islanders gave up another six in Washington and frustrations over a rough season boiled over all game long.

Ross Johnston was ejected for continuing to fight Tom Wilson even after the referees intervened, both teams combined for 56 PIMs and Evgeny Kuznetsov left the game in the second period after a slash from Thomas Hickey as he went headfirst into the boards.

The sting of the rough night was mitigated somewhat, however, by the 6-3 score as the Caps won their fourth straight.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Chiasson: Playing in his first game since March 8, Chiasson made the most of his opportunity with a three-point night. Jakub Vrana did the legwork as he drove the net with the puck. Jaroslav Halak stuck out his stick catching Vrana which spun the netminder around and out of the crease. Chiasson came up behind for the easy layup.

He would repay the favor with an assist for Vrana's goal later in the third. Chiasson's first assist on the night came in the second period as his initial shot was saved, but he stayed in the face of Halak long enough to prevent him from making the save on Matt Niskanen's goal.

2. Nicklas Backstrom: When things were getting ugly, Backstrom made the Islanders pay with a power play goal on the two-man advantage.

After Johnston lost his marbles and Cal Clutterbuck was called for interference on Oshie, the Capitals needed to take advantage and put the Islanders away or watch New York build momentum. That was the critical juncture of the game. Backstrom also added an assist on the two-point night.

3. Braden Holtby: The recent struggles of Holtby have been well documented. After yielding the crease to Philipp Grubauer the last four games, Holtby got the start on Friday and played very well in the winning effort. The defense in front of him certainly helped allowing only 13 shots in the first two periods, but the Islanders were buzzing in the third period. New York battled back to make it 5-3 and Mathew Barzal had a breakaway opportunity with a chance to cut the deficit to one. Holtby made the save to deny Barzal and shut the door on the comeback attempt.

In all, Holtby turned aside 22 of the 25 shots he faced.