The Coyotes introduced a number of new players to league action this past season, but it just didn't generate a lot of wins and the veterans like Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Mike Smith were left to languish in a situation that wasn't going to win for them. Smith is the only one of the three that is signed on for the 2018 season and to his credit, he was the only one keeping the team in most of their games, but where does it go from here?
The management team likely acknowledged that they were not going to get much better, in the immediate sense, which meant they were able to take on draft assets for their extra salary cap space, something they were not likely going to spend on free agents, as they would have had to convince these players that this was a good place to play. So, it was another year of trying to give their youth some more experience, which they were able to do, but it has to start turning around into wins here soon or else this whole thing is going to blow up in their faces.
There were only 12 Coyotes taken in the opening draft, with the two highest picks taken in the 3rd round, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson taken 56th and goaltender Mike Smith taken 74th. The Coyotes were not seen again until the 7th round, where they started to filter in at about two dogs per round, roughly. The Week Eight Waiver Draft saw three dogs disappear, none taken, while the Week Seventeen draft saw none dropped and a goon taken. After the trade deadline concluded, there were only seven Coyotes left in the hockey pool altogether, leaving much to be desired.
The return to the desert did seem to help Radim Vrbata have a bounce back year after his time in Vancouver, as he was able to play in 81 games, score 20 goals and finish with 55 points. That was good for 83rd overall in pool scoring, 58th among all forwards, suggesting that he was a 4th round pick. So, Ekman-Larsson and Smith were overshot in this year's draft by a good chunk.
In total, the Coyotes finished with 10 players worthy of being kept on pool teams, four forwards, including Vrbata, four defensemen and both of their regular goalies earned enough points for the nod. Max Domi, Tobias Rieder and Christian Dvorak, the average age of 22 years old between them, were the other three forwards, showing that there are signs of improvement, while on defense, Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Jakob Chychrun and Connor Murphy, with the average age of 24-ish, made the list and then Louis Domingue joined his elder counterpart with enough points to make the list.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
If the Coyotes are going to stress patience, like I think they will, expectations for winning are going to remain fairly low and rightfully so. They aren't going to go out into the free agent market and drop a pile of money on a player, because they want to win now, no matter how much that would possibly improve the attendance in their building, as it doesn't have the long-term impact they are looking for. Domi, Duclair and Domingue are all subject to the sophomore jinx, so they could be in line for a drop off, but that's okay in the long-term. The Coyotes will likely be stressing defense, but their young core has a lot to learn, but as long as they make strides in the right direction, things should come along, as much as they will still miss the playoffs again in 2017.
The question at this time should be, did the Coyotes make positive strides with their youth in the 2017 season? The answer to me is yes. Three out of the four pool worthy forwards are kids, Chychrun took the ice-time he was given as a rookie and ran with it and they were able to afford some ice-time to more kids, which is what they needed to do.
2018 Pool Outlook
|Tobias Rieder||2.225||Oliver Ekman-Larsson||5.500||Mike Smith||5.667|
|Christian Dvorak||0.839||Alex Goligoski||5.475||Louis Domingue||1.050|
|Jamie McGinn||3.333||Luke Schenn||1.250||Hunter Miska||0.925|
|Brad Richardson||2.080||Kevin Connauton||1.000||Adin Hill||0.726|
|Clayton Keller||0.917||Anthony DeAngelo||0.863|
|Lawson Crouse||0.894||Kyle Capobianco||0.776|
|Dylan Strome||0.894||Cam Dineen||0.759|
|Nick Merkley||0.894||Kyle Wood||0.718|
|Brendan Perlini||0.863||Jalen Smereck||0.655|
|Christian Fischer||0.853||Dysin Mayo||0.653|
|Ryan MacInnis||0.798||Dakota Mermis||0.627|
The Coyotes are not exactly giving me confidence for the next hockey pool season, especially since they only have two pool worthy forwards signed on for next season and question marks about the rest of them. Jamie McGinn should have been better this year and the Coyotes do have some bright spots already signed on for next season that could make the jump, but those are still gambles, based their current lack of experience. The blueline is growing rapidly and their goaltending is good, it just needs help. This could be a fun off-season for the dogs.
Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft
There's only one no-movement clause on the books for the Coyotes, heading into the expansion draft and that belongs to defenseman Alex Goligoski, so he gets automatically protected. Jakob Chychrun is exempt from his lack of pro experience, so protecting the other two defensemen are no-brainers. Louis Domingue is my pick for protection, as Mike Smith's contract is quite big at 35 years old and is a good bet to be looked over. The forwards are tough, because there are very few names jumping out and required exposure will leave two out of McGinn, Rieder and Richardson exposed. There's a good chance the Coyotes will lose a serviceable forward in this draft.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
Only two pool worthy players are going to hit free agency this Summer, Radim Vrbata will go to unrestricted free agency, while Max Domi is a restricted free agent. That doesn't mean the future of Shane Doan isn't interesting, while Jordan Martinook, Alex Burmistrov and Anthony Duclair all make for interesting story lines too.
Salary cap wise, Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk come off the books, they still have a couple of buyouts worth over $3 million kicking around and Dave Bolland is likely to head back to LTIR, if needed this season. Still, even with Bolland on the books at $5.5 million, my count shows Arizona up at $57.5 million against the cap for the 33 players signed and buyouts included. The question quickly becomes, do they have enough talent to start winning games and stop being the salary dumping team for assets?
The Coyotes were able to sway their top draft pick from last Summer, forward Clayton Keller, to leave Boston University and join the team after he was eliminated from NCAA competition. He was able to play in three games and pick up 2 points in his late-season debut, without burning a year on his entry-level deal. There is a full expectation that he will be among those players vying for jobs next season, ensuring that Arizona has a good young crop playing next season. Oh yes, let's not forget Dylan Strome either... he had another good year with the Erie Otters of the OHL and his main goal was to build up strength to play with the men, as we know he has the top end skill to produce.
Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft
The Coyotes own two picks in the opening round this year, their own and Minnesota's, from the Martin Hanzal deadline deal. Their pick will be the 7th overall selection and the Wild's pick could still improve, depending on the four teams heading to the conference finals in the playoffs. By the time we know that, we'll probably be at the Wild's post.
Nevertheless, with the 7th overall selection, the Coyotes should be looking to bolster their blueline stocks and arguably one of the better overall defenders appears to be Miro Heiskanen, who has been scouted as one of the premier skaters in this draft and has many of the tools to jump into the league at an early age. This has to be exciting, if he drops this far down.
It's very likely that the Coyotes will have to spend some money somewhere and they'll likely take full advantage of the money left behind with the injury to Dave Bolland. That being said, I would have to believe that the top prospects on this team will get the longest looks at camp and the onus will be on them to earn their spots on the everyday roster. Leadership will be a big key and it might be the biggest reason why they may try to coerce Shane Doan to play one more year, into 41 years old. I still don't see enough in this team to win a ton of games, but they are building a strong foundation and as long as they have the right bricks in the right places, they will start to turn this ship around soon.