In this edition of the Roundtable, Jaime Eisner, Brendan Porter, and myself discuss a number of the big questions for the Phoenix Coyotes as the shortened NHL season begins this upcoming weekend.
Do you think the lockout will have a large or small effect on attendance at Jobing.com Arena?
Brendan: I don't think it will have a tremendous impact. The Coyotes don't tend to see a major increase in their attendance until late January or early February. Also working in their favor is the fact that the Cardinals and the Suns have been disappointing this year. The Phoenix market is hungry for a winning team and the Coyotes can fill that role well.
Jaime: I think the lockout will have only a small effect on attendance. The real test is the attendance after January 31 when Coyotes fans will have a much clearer picture on the ownership situation.
Carl: I think it will have a small effect at worst. I agree with Dan Bickley's comments about the fanbase. Surviving the ownership saga steeled Desert Dog fans for the lockout. I also think attendance will be up this season due to the team's playoff run and the Suns being below average.
What place do you expect the Coyotes to finish in the Western Conference at the end of the regular season?
Brendan: I think they're going to be in the hunt for the Pacific Division title towards the end of the year, but I see LA edging them out. Unfortunately, because there are a lot of quality teams in the Pacific that they'll have to play more often I expect them to end up as one of the lower seeds. I think their continuity from last season will have the, finish somewhere in the 6th to 8th position.
Jaime: I expect the Coyotes to finish sixth in the Western Conference. I think the losses of Taylor Pyatt and Ray Whitney are made up with the additions of David Moss, Steve Sullivan and Zbynek Michalek. Those additions coupled with having a "full" season of Antoine Vermette should keep the Coyotes' in solid playoff contention.
Carl: Does anywhere from first to twelfth place answer the question? The West is going to be a dog fight. My best guess is the Coyotes finish in seventh place. Like Brendan, I see the Kings winning the Pacific.
Who do you expect to be the breakout star of this shortened season for the Coyotes?
Brendan: This season is a make-or-break year for Mikkel Boedker. His rookie season still remains his best statistical year, and he has to prove to the front office that he is worth the faith they placed in him by drafting him in the Top 10. He was able to show why he was so highly touted in the postseason, scoring 4 goals and 4 assists. As he will be an RFA after this year, I expect Boedker to have a big season and establish himself as a Top 6 forward for the Coyotes.
Jaime: David Rundblad. While he is far from a guarantee to make the team, Rundblad could make a major offensive impact if given the chance. Rundblad's forte is to shine on the power play and boy could the Coyotes use someone like that. I think 7-10 power play points are not out of the question for Rundblad if he plays the entire 2013 season.
Carl: I'm with Brendan again. Boedker's performance in last year's playoffs teased us. Now can he put it together for a full shortened season. I think he can and will. He seems to have chemistry with Doan and Vermette in a way he hasn't with past line mates. I think he equals his regular season goal total of last season (11) in 34 less games.
Who do you think makes the roster as the team's 7th defensemen?
Brendan: To me this is the most intriguing storyline going into camp. David Schlemko has the most experience of the three D-men fighting for a regular spot, but Michael Stone was the go-to guy down the stretch for Dave Tippett. Ultimately I think the deciding factor will be how much David Rundblad has improved his defensive game. If he has, I expect him to be the 6th defenseman on the roster so he can work the power play, and I expect Schlemko to then grab the last roster spot.
Jaime: I believe David Schlemko will end up being the seventh defenseman for the team. I think fellow defenseman Michael Stone will end up pairing with Rusty Klesla for most of the season. Schlemko is a solid defenseman who can be called on when players are injured or given rest. Schlemko has proved himself to be ready when called upon at various times throughout a season.
Carl: Honestly, I have no clue. I haven't seen Stone or Rundblad play this season in Portland. Stone has historically been the better two way player, but he doesn't have the offensive upside the Swede does.
Will Mike Smith be able to match his performance from last season?
Brendan: As I mentioned in the season preview, I think Mike Smith will have a hard time matching his impressive performance from last year, but I also think he won't regress nearly as far as many others are predicting. He will have another year to work with Sean Burke, and I think the defense will be better this season than it was last season. I also think that he will be extra motivated to establish himself as a legitimate No. 1 goaltender given that he will be a UFA at season's end.
Jaime: The numbers Smitty (or Smith-Dogg as he calls himself) put up last season will be hard to repeat. I think Smith puts up similar but not quite as stellar of numbers as he did last season. I think a 2.30 GAA and .925 save percentage would be fair.
Carl: My thoughts are similar to Jaime's. His numbers from last season will be extremely hard to duplicate. However, I don't think he's going to turn into the Mike Smith of old either. By now I have faith in any goaltender working with Sean Burke.
Will Greg Jamison actually acquire the franchise from the NHL?
Brendan: It's my firm belief that Gary Bettman and Bill Daly would have found time during CBA negotiations to hammer out this deal if they felt it wouldn't get finished in time. Everyone involved knows that the arena lease agreement lapses on the 31st and that they aren't going to get a better deal if they let this deadline pass. It will get done, but in true Coyotes fashion, it will be finished a little too close to that deadline for comfort.
Jaime: Yes and I hope it will be before or on opening night so he can drop the puck (and the Pacific Division Championship banner) and kick off a new era of Arizona Coyotes hockey. If not, I do believe that he finalizes the sale by the end of January.
Carl: I believe he will, but I've learned after three and a half plus years of the ownership soap opera to not assume anything. If history is any judge, Coyotes fans may be hitting the refresh button countless times on January 31.