PITTSBURGH PA - DECEMBER 20: Head Coach Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes shouts instructions to Martin Hanzal #11 of the Phoenix Coyotes during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 20 2010 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans. The Five for Howling Roundtable is back for a second season. In this week's edition, the FFH staff looks at the season ahead.
What is your biggest concern with the Coyotes going into the season?
Travis: Well after watching two games I have to say my biggest concern is that they won't lock down on defense as we've seen them do in the past. Mike Smith can win for the team, but not when seeing 50 shots like he did in the first game of the season. Without adding a big goal scorer, it'll be the key to the team yet again.
Jordan: I know a lot of folks will be concerned with the goaltending, but I think it will be fine once Smith gets settled and with LaBarbera in net. I continue to be concerned (as I am every year it seems) that we just don't have enough offensive strength and it is generally hard to win 1-0 or 2-1 games all year. I think it will be a tough year unless we see some guys really stepping up their game.
Carl: My biggest concern is on special teams and probably not the part many might think. I believe the power play will be improved this season. It is the penalty kill that concerns me. A poor penalty kill again this year is something the Yotes can't afford, especially given the fact they likely will get slightly weaker numbers from their goalies five on five than in the past two years with Bryz.
Which player do you expect to be the biggest surprise this season?
Travis: David Schlemko. I don't know that he'll turn into Keith Yandle, but he showed some flashes at the end of last season that he could start to take his game to a higher level. We'll see if he can actually do it now as the ice time should be plentiful with Rozsival out.
Jordan: I don't know if it will be a real surprise considering the hype and the flashes we've seen, but I think Oliver Ekman-Larsson is going to be a tremendous player. Early performance suggests that he's learned to play a cautious game and not think he can singlehandedly skate it by the entire opposition. I think playing with Adrian Aucoin will also really help him understand defensive positioning and how to be physical without being dirty. I expect big things from OEL this year.
Carl: Both Travis and Jordan chose the two players I expect to make the biggest jump in their level of play this season. As Jordan already intimated, OEL is expected to eventually be an all-star caliber player, so I'm going with Schlemko. If he can find a way to assert himself into the play without being overly aggressive in the offensive end he could really be a plus for this squad.
Where do you expect the Coyotes to finish in the Western Conference?
Travis: I pick 5-6 every year. This year is no different. I think they can absolutely make the playoffs again, but this year they actually need to do something with it to cement them in the market.
Jordan: I think they are going to be right at the border of making the playoffs, but with a few good runs, I think they sneak in to the 7th position in the West and promptly end up playing Detroit again probably...because that's how these things seem to go.
Carl: I believe the Desert Dogs can finish anywhere from 7th through 13th in the West. My prediction is they will finish in 10th. The concerns about the goaltending, defense, and special teams combined with personnel improvements by other squads in the West make me think its unlikely the Coyotes make the playoffs for a 3rd straight year. Hopefully I'm wrong.
Will Kyle Turris play for the Coyotes this season?
Travis: Eventually yes. As the season goes on if he continues to sit it's going to become more and more damaging to him. I just hope that when he does the relationship with Don Maloney and Dave Tippett can be repaired. GMDM has already said he's not going anywhere and sitting out an entire season isn't the way to prove you're worth any amount of money.
Jordan: If he's going to play in the NHL, then I think he will be in a Phoenix uniform unless someone really knocks GMDM's socks off with an incredible offer. I think he's going to figure out pretty quickly that he can't afford to just sit out for an entire season and that GMDM's called his bluff. There's plenty of opportunity for him to thrive in Phoenix and he really should just take advantage of it.
Carl: Nothing in the situation to this point makes me think Turris will be playing for the Coyotes this season or possibly ever. His contract demands don't match his performance. One therefore assumes the demands are part of a strategy to force a trade. GM Don Maloney obviously doesn't want to set a precedent by giving in and trading Turris, especially when he is unlikely he will get much value for him in a trade. If Turris is going to play in Phoenix I think we'll know in the next month or so. If not, I don't expect him to get dealt until the trade deadline or in the offseason. Then again I never thought he wouldn't sign over the summer.