With the CBA hopefully settled and the ownership mess almost put to bed, we can give our full attention to the on-ice product. In this edition of our season preview, we take a look at the Phoenix Coyotes offense, and try to see what the new season will have in store for the Desert Dogs.
Because of the very short window between training camp and the regular season, there isn't likely to be much shuffling of the lineup before the games start being played. So look for the Coyotes to have much of the same look that they did in the playoffs last year.
The Prime Line - Part Deux
By all accounts, Radim Vrbata had a fantastic year in 2011-12, with career highs in goals (35), points (62), and +/- (+24). But there are two major concerns for Vrbata this season. The first is obviously the departure of Whitney, and how it affects Vrbata's production totals. The good news is that Vrbata was a 20 goal scorer twice without Whitney playing by his size. The second concern is Vrbata's consistency, especially during the playoffs. While Vrbata scored a remarkable 12 game winning goals last year, he only had 5 points in 16 playoff games (by comparison, he had 5 points in the previous season's playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings, which only lasted 4 games). If Vrbata wants to solidify his position as top-line talent for the Coyotes, he will need to score with regularity and be the go-to guy once the postseason comes rolling around.
Martin Hanzal's value to the Coyotes comes more in his size than his production. Hanzal finished last season with 34 points and a career-low 8 goals. His size however gives him the ability to win battles down low and cause problems for goaltenders in front of the crease. Hanzal has also been bitten by the injury bug: he has missed at least 15 games in both of the past two seasons. Given how important each game will be in a shortened season, the Desert Dogs cannot afford for Hanzal to be out for any extended period of time.
The biggest loss in the offseason for the Coyotes was offensive juggernaut Ray Whitney, who produced a team leading 77 points (24G, 53A). His playmaking abilities certainly helped Radim Vrbata, who scored a career best 35 goals. To help offset the loss of Whitney, Don Maloney brought in Steve Sullivan from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a one-year deal. Sullivan, while not as prolific a point producer in his career as Whitney, has a similar skillset. The Coyotes will desperately need Sullivan and Vrbata to develop some serious chemistry.
The Playoff Payoff Line
As the name alludes, this trio of Coyotes hit their stride when it mattered most; in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Shane Doan, Antoine Vermette, and Mikkel Boedker combined for 14 goals and 13 assists. All three will enter this season having something to prove. This will be the first season after a long, dragged out free agency in which Doansigned a 4-year deal worth $21.2 million with the Coyotes: he will be out to prove that his on-ice production and leadership qualities are worth the price. He will also want to build on last season's unprecedented playoff success.
Doan's likely line-mates also have big expectations to live up to. After a poor regular season that saw him swap teams and only produce 37 points, Vermette will look to bounce back. The good news for Coyotes fans is the last time that Vermette was traded from one team to another (from Ottawa to Columbus), he had a career year. While it's unlikely that he will do that again given the compressed nature of this season, if he improves his offensive numbers from a year ago he will take a lot of pressure off of guys like Vrbata, Doan, and Sullivan to score goals.
Mikkel Boedker is under a different kind of pressure this year. The 8th overall pick in 2008 has had numerous ups and downs throughout his brief NHL career. Last season's playoff run showed Coyotes fans why he was held in such high regard, scoring 4 goals, including two memorable OT winners against Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks. He appeared in all 82 regular season contests last year for the Coyotes, but has yet to produce more than the 28 points he had in his rookie season. Given that this year is a contract year for Boedker, he will need to step up and how Coyotes' management that he has legitimate Top 6 ability night in and night out.
The True Grit Line
Lauri Korpikoski is this line's most potent offensive weapon. With great speed and quickness, the Korpedo is a solid transition player and a shorthanded scoring threat. His numbers dipped slightly from last season (17G, 20A in 82 games) from 2010-11 (19G, 21A, in 79 games), and he continues to remain a non-factor in the playoffs. He has only 2 post season points in 22 games spread out over 3 years; none of those points came in the Coyotes' run to the Western Conference Finals. If he can ramp up his production and stay consistent on the PK, he could take a lot of pressure off of the Top 6 guys.
The third line for the Coyotes has been emblematic of last season's motto: "Hockey the Hard Way". Without much recognition, these guys ate up tough minutes, made tough defensive plays, and kept the Coyotes in close games down the stretch. Boyd Gordon is the embodiment of the gritty player. In the process of blocking some absolute howitzers, Gordon had one of his most productive seasons offensively (8G, 15A) and was a vital part of the Coyotes penalty kill, especially in the faceoff circle. He will be asked to continue to fill those special roles this year.
David Moss never really got a fair shake with the Calgary Flames. His six season NHL career has been a nightmare of one injury after another. It isn't too surprising that he decided a change of scenery might be beneficial and took GMDM's offer of a two-year contract. He has the potential to be a 20 goal scorer, but will likely have to settle for a more minor role until he can prove he can stay healthy and contribute on a regular basis.
The Revolving Door Line(s)
Going into this season, the 4th line features the most unanswered questions. Kyle Chipchura will likely be the anchor on the 4th line, but beyond that there are a lot of moving parts. Raffi Torres remains suspended for the first 8 games of this season for his hit on Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks. Nick Johnson, signed to a one-year contract by GMDM from the Minnesota Wild, has only 87 games under his belt at the NHL level, 77 of which came last season. Paul Bissonnette is good in a scrap but doesn't offer much in the way of offense. The Coyotes could turn to their AHL roster to find players to fill the gaps. Look for guys like Alexandre Bolduc, Andy Miele, Chris Conner, or Rob Klinkhammer to make an appearance for the Desert Dogs if anyone on the 4th line has difficulty producing.
2013 Season Outlook
It's unlikely that anyone on this roster will be in the running for the Rocket Richard Trophy at season's end. The good news for Coyotes fans is that they don't have to be. As has always been the case under Dave Tippett, the Coyotes back end, both on D and in net, will make the job of the Coyotes' offense manageable. But if the Coyotes can get the right people hot at the right time, the Desert Dogs will be in a good position to make another run at the Stanley Cup.