It's only September, but Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney says it "feels like Christmas around here."
The Coyotes embark on the 2013-14 season with a shiny new owner and a new first line center under the Christmas tree.
There is even a new campaign slogan: "Hungrier than ever."
While many preseason predictions have the Coyotes on the outside of the playoff picture, the team expects to build on a strong offseason and solidified ownership to return to the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
The last time the NHL played a full season, the Coyotes were just seven wins away from winning the Stanley Cup.
Maybe more importantly now, as Coyotes new president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said, "This team is truly here to stay."
Unlike the previous half decade, this season will not be marred by constant ownership drama and relocation rumors. The full attention of the players, coaches, front office and fans will be focused on the ice.
With the blessing of their soon-to-be owners, the Yotes signed the top scoring free agent on the market, center Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro, who played under Coach Dave Tippett in Dallas, scored 13 goals and 49 points in the lockout-shortened, 48-game 2013 season. The team anticipates Ribeiro assuming the role of first line center.
Known for his offensive prowess, Ribeiro is expected to help the team's power play, an area the Coyotes have struggled in for more than a decade.
The Coyotes returned the majority of their team after re-signing free agents Kyle Chipchura, Rob Klinkhammer, Lauri Korpikoski, Mikkel Boedker, Michael Stone, David Schlemko and starting goaltender Mike Smith. They also re-signed Tippett and Maloney.
Their two key losses, Boyd Gordon and back-up goaltender Jason LaBarbera, signed with the Edmonton Oilers.
After finishing 10th in the Western Conference and fourth in the Pacific Division, the Coyotes hope to earn a playoff spot in a year with new divisions and a new playoff format. Phoenix will welcome Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton to the Pacific Division.
But, not everything came easy for the Coyotes in the offseason. While he was eventually re-signed, Boedker was not under contract until days before training camp. As a restricted free agent, the Coyotes retained his rights but could not come to terms on years or salary until September. In the end, Boedker signed a two-year, $5.1 million deal.
"Mikkel is a big part of our future," Maloney said, "we're happy he's here."
Throughout the offseason, the front office mentioned the need for another left wing player to play on the second line. With no major signing or trade as of mid-September, that hole will need to be filled from within.
An option for that spot is 18-year-old, first-round pick Max Domi. Domi was selected 12th overall in June's draft. While it's rare to see a player of that age and draft position play right away in the NHL, Maloney and Tippett have expressed their willingness to give him a shot during training camp.
Domi embraces the chance as he begins his team training, along with other rookies.
"We're out here to work hard and have some fun," Domi said.
This season, the Coyotes hope to take the first step in becoming a model franchise in the NHL. "There is a big difference between could be a good organization and having people say you are a good organization. Now, we have to be the ‘are,'" Tippett said.