2013-14 NHL Season Preview: Phoenix Coyotes

Mike Ribeiro Phoenix Coyotes

The following is a guest post from Carl Pavlock who has been writing about the Phoenix Coyotes on Five For Howling since 2011.  This will be his first season writing about a team with an owner.  You can also follow him on Twitter @CoyotesDude.

Last season with the Phoenix Coyotes was disappointing to say the least. They missed the playoffs for the first time since Dave Tippet was brought on to be head coach, suffered numerous injuries to key players like Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal, and Mike Smith, Steve Sullivan as a Ray Whitney replacement turned out to be a bust, they went over 4 games without scoring a goal, and they lost 7 games in a row. It was a big departure from the team that won their first division title and went to the Western Conference Finals the previous season. However with an ownership group finally stepping in the Coyotes have made moves in the offseason to hopefully fix last season’s mistakes.

Additions: Mike Ribeiro, Brandon Yip, Thomas Greiss,
Losses: Boyd Gordon, Chad Johnson, Nick Johnson, Jason LaBarbera

Offense: While still not an offensive powerhouse, the Coyotes have gotten better during the offseason by signing forward Mike Ribeiro. It has been largely suggested that Ribeiro will center the top line with wings Shane Doan and Mikkael Boedker which could prove to be a potent combination. Boedker still needs to prove that he can consistently generate offense and some time with a playmaker like Ribs could be just what he needs.

The second line will likely consist of Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata and either Max Domi or Lauri Korpikoski depending on whether or not Coach Tippett wants Domi to spend another year in juniors. Hanzal and Vrbata work great together but Vrbata does work best with a good set up man a la Ray Whitney 2 seasons ago. Vrbata is a great goal scorer but with the left wing still a question mark it’s hard to predict what exactly this line will do.

The third and fourth line aren’t likely to generate a lot of offense for the Coyotes, in the past they have been mostly defensive lines or grinders whose purpose is to wear the opposing team down but it is possible to see a couple goals come from the likes of David Moss, Antoine Vermette, or even a few from Rob Klinkhammer. Vermette is likely to center the third line and hopefully provide a replacement for Boyd Gordon as the faceoff specialist, but his linemates may change depending on who Tippett thinks can step up.

There is a strong possibility that a player who spent last season in Portland will come up to the NHL this season. Lucas Lessio has been generating a lot of positive buzz during preseason games and training camp, as has Andy Miele. Lessio was the Coyotes second round pick in the 2011 Entry Level Draft and he spent most of last season in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals where he went 19-15-34. He did join the Pirates for 5 regular season games where he had a goal and an assist. Miele is a former Hobey Baker award winner and has played a few games with the Coyotes and he lead the Portland Pirates last season with 53 points.

Defense: The Coyotes have had very solid defensive depth for the past few seasons and the defense is largely unchanged from last season. The top pair of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zbynek Michalek have spent the past season working together and quickly developed great chemistry and outside of a few minor mess ups during games, Keith Yandle and Derrek Morris provide a strong second unit defensive pairing. It remains to be seen who will be in the third pairing; Rostislav Klesla suffered a concussion during a preseason game against the Los Angeles ¬Kings however Michael Stone, David Rundblad David Schlemko all have NHL experience.

The only possible changes in defense could be a potential trade, right now the Coyotes have 9 defensemen signed to one way contracts and it has been suggested that Brandon Gormley is ready to play in the NHL, he with a recent send down he will be spending the first part of the season in Portland. It is entirely possible that the Coyotes will trade one or two defensemen for a forward.

Goaltending: Mike Smith is only one season removed from being the hero who dragged the Coyotes into the Western Conference Finals during the 2011-2012 season. The big question going into this next season is whether or not Mike Smith can play like he did during the 2011-12 season or will his play more resemble last year’s shortened season.

Expectations: The Coyotes have definitely improved over last season and can easily contend for 4th in the new Pacific Division and possibly contend for the wildcard playoff spot. While they are still a little weak on offense they have the strong defense and goaltending necessary to win. Also the new format means they get to play the Flames more, so hopefully easy points there.

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