Thursday, May 03, 2018

Pool Outlook for Arizona

At what point are the Arizona Coyotes going to realize that they are just spinning their tires?  It's beginning to look a whole lot like a couple of other organizations, which are consistently trying to make good things happen with their high draft picks, but not a whole hell of a lot is coming of it.

The Coyotes finished the season with nine 1st round picks having played at least one game for them this season, some were theirs, some were acquired in other ways, but still, they had rolled through a lot of potential top end talent, yet the best they could manage was 29th best in the NHL overall standings and they are poised to add some more top end talent to their stables.

It has to be frustrating for players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who have already given some good years to this franchise, but to no avail.  The management's approach to analytics and advanced stats has not warranted much for praise, because those stats are not translating into wins, nor are they translating into goals for, ranking 30th in the league there too.

The management team just finished their second season with their philosophies and luckily for them, they are in a market that doesn't go looking for blood in the hockey world yet.  Sure, the rest of the world would love to see the Coyotes out of Arizona, but it doesn't look like any change is on the horizon, management or location-wise, any time soon.

The Coyotes did have one bright spot to their year in rookie forward Clayton Keller, who led the team in scoring in the 2018 season, picking up 23 goals and 65 points in all 82 games for the club and he finished 62nd overall in pool scoring.  If it wasn't for a very strong rookie class in the NHL this season, he may have received a little bit more consideration, but being lost in the desert doesn't seem to help his cause any.

In total, including Keller, the Coyotes finished the season with 12 players that were pool worthy, within the top 200 forwards, top 100 defense and top 50 goalies, which was more than I would have guessed, before writing this post.  Derek Stepan, Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, Richard Panik and Christian Fischer all finished in the range for forwards, but only Stepan joined Keller in the top 100 forwards.  On defense, they were led by Ekman-Larsson, of course, as he continues to produce, despite his surroundings.  He was followed up by Alex Goligoski, Kevin Connauton and Jason Demers, but there is always going to be a hesitation about taking these guys in the hockey pool, since they are no guarantee offensively.  In goal, Antti Raanta didn't do too badly, but was hurt for a portion of the season, which was a disappointment, and then the Coyotes acquired Darcy Kuemper, who had a good backup year in Los Angeles before arriving in Arizona.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

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.

How quickly my tune can change, eh?  I would have thought a strong foundation would have this team much closer to the playoffs than where they stood at the end of the 2018 season.  I will give the Coyotes credit, they did try to sort out some extra talent for reasonable money, in order to be more competitive, but their youth has already started to let them down a bit.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I would say that Dylan Strome is one of those kids that have let down management, given his station with the team and the draft position he was taken at.  Strome had a good look outside of camp, but was demoted early on, went back to the AHL and had a great year, only to get a call-up late in the year and maybe show a glimmer of hope.  It's way too early in the middle Strome's career to write him off just yet, but he could be a much better trade asset, than maybe a guy that fits into this struggling side.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Derek Stepan 6.500 Oliver Ekman-Larsson 5.500 Antti Raanta 4.250
Dave Bolland 5.500 Alex Goligoski 5.475 Darcy Kuemper 1.850
Richard Panik 2.800 Niklas Hjalmarsson 4.100
Jordan Martinook 1.800 Jason Demers 3.938
Nick Cousins 1.000 Jakob Chychrun 0.925
Lawson Crouse 0.894 Kyle Capobianco 0.745
Clayton Keller 0.886 Andrew Campbell 0.650
Brendan Perlini 0.863
Dylan Strome 0.863
Nicholas Merkley 0.863
Christian Dvorak 0.839
Christian Fischer 0.822
Ryan MacInnis 0.798
Josh Archibald 0.675

In terms of rough sketches, the Arizona Coyotes are definitely that, heading into this off-season.  The goaltending duo seems to be rather set, in theory, while the defense has a solid top five, in terms of expectations for making the roster next year, and the forwards are a work-in-progress to say the least.  Are we getting excited about taking Coyotes in next year's draft?  Not really.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Even with Dave Bolland's injured salary cap on the books, this team is just barely squeaking over last season's salary cap floor and now it's poised to go up, so the 23-man roster, including Bolland, will need to make some necessary additions.  This needs to be the year where management does a better job pitching the desert as a place to play hockey, using up some of those dollars to their fullest capacity or else something would have to change.

Thankfully, a kid like Max Domi, who leads the RFA charge, will need a new deal and it will likely be a reasonable bridge deal that helps the overall cause.  Kevin Connauton is the only pool worthy player heading to unrestricted free agency and I would imagine that he finds his way back to the club.

As much as I'd like to say Dylan Strome is the one to watch, maybe he is, maybe he isn't, I'd rather give a focus to 2015 1st round pick Lawson Crouse, who has been garnering some rave reviews from team management at the end of the regular season for being a good team guy. Crouse has some good size and some decent offensive skills and his time has been slow at arriving, but it could be just around the corner.  A good camp after a good season and AHL playoffs could see a confident kid finally break through at the top level.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
The Coyotes are the team that really misses out after the Draft Lottery, since they fell from 3rd to 5th, missing out on one of the top three forwards in the draft rankings and now their scouting staff is put to the test.  Where do the Coyotes need to improve at this draft?  I think they'll go to the blueline to bulk up their organizational depth and this could be a clue at what they plan to do in the future.  I think they could make a pretty good splash taking Swedish defender Adam Boqvist to help persuade Ekman-Larsson to stick around and mentor the kid.  Boqvist is another one of those Swedish blueline dynamos that plays at both ends of the ice.  The Coyotes could be a bit more dynamic from the back end, so this pick could really help.

Having a good number of kids with entry-level deals on the list as pool worthy players is very promising for the Coyotes, but they still miss that X-factor that brings a team up to the ranks of being relevant in the standings.  Management seems to be confident in their goaltending tandem at the end of the year, but I could see them shop for an upgrade.  Their defense is very mobile, but needs to tighten up, while the offense is a collection of young talent that is a spark away from really setting the league alight.  Can the Coyotes find that X-factor to bring it all together?  That's the big question and the difference between being competitive, fighting for a playoff spot, and being an early post in these Pool Outlook overviews.

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