With a pair of split squad preseason games in the books and October 3 on the horizon, the FFH staff looks toward the regular season and gives their take on some of the biggest questions and concerns surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes heading into the 2013-14 season.
Will Mike Ribeiro be able to improve his 5v5 play and cut down on his penalties in Phoenix?
Carl Putnam (Alpha): The Coyotes' new star center is known for his passing and his extra man play. Even strength play and keeping penalties to a minimum have never been seen as his strengths. His even strength play has ebbed and flowed in relation to the wingers he's been given. In addition, his even strength play was better under Coach Tippett in Dallas than it has been the last couple of years. The penalty issue is somewhat similar in terms of a downward trend. Ribs' penalty numbers have been up and down throughout his career. The last two years, his numbers have been the worst of his career. He had 66 penalty minutes in 74 games in 2011-12 and an even worse 53 minutes in last year's shortened 48 game season. Not chirping opponents and officials would definitely help matters.
Jordan Ellel: His 5v5 play has generally not been problematic over the course of his career. If he isn't playing defensively responsible hockey and cutting down on his penalties, he'll earn a spot in Tip's dog house and possibly a seat on the bench for a period or two until he gets it.
Christopher Hair: Playing with Shane Doan should help improve his overall 5v5 play and he's familiar with what Tippett will expect from him. If Ribs can actually draw more penalties, I don't care if he cuts down on his 43.5 PIM average since 2007.
Will two major off-season additions improve the Coyotes power play?
Alpha: The additions of the aforementioned Ribeiro and new assistant coach Newell Brown seemed geared toward improving the team's power play conversion rate. After seeing Ray Whitney, a player with similar passing skills to Ribeiro, come in and be unable to improve the Coyotes' moribund extra skater attack, will Ribeiro be able to do better? Will Brown convince Tippett to employ a different strategy, perhaps something akin the 1-3-1 configuration similar to what Ribeiro had success playing in last season.
Andy Warycka: Could anything the Coyotes did in off-season actually make the power play worse? Is that possible?
Carl Pavlock (Beta): I think so. Ribeiro will hopefully bring some scoring talent to a power play which lacks it. I also think Newell Brown is a good coaching addition who can hopefully teach the team some new tricks.
Brendan Porter: I think Ribeiro will be a definite help, and with both Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Rundblad getting another year of professional hockey under their belts, I think the PP will improve somewhat. The silver lining is that the Coyotes power play has been so historically bad that even a minor improvement could be a big deal.
Who will play left wing with Martin Hanzal & Radim Vrbata?
Brendan: Although Max Domi plays on the left side, I highly doubt that he will remain on the roster this early in his career. Ultimately, based on the players the Coyotes have on their roster now, I think the slot goes to Korpikoski, with a player like Chris Brown or Guillaume Latendresse (if he makes the team), switching sides and playing on the third line.
Jordan: Presumably it has to be Lauri Korpikoski, who saw some time with them in previous seasons. Depending on how the top line (presumably Doan-Ribs-Boedker) is doing, I'd guess you may also see Boedker spending some time paired with Hanzal and Vrbata.
Will Mike Smith be able to return to his 2011-12 form?
Will Sowards: What affected the goaltenders most last season was the lack of true practice and the speed of the 48-game season. With a full training camp and more guidance from Sean Burke, I see Mike Smith being at least equal to or better than his 2011-2012 self.
Andy: Well that's the big question, really, isn't it? I think Smith is a streaky kind of goalie, and I don't think last season was long enough for him to really hit a good streak. The key is continuing to play well enough in front of him when he's on the cool side so he doesn't have to carry the team on his back.
Christopher: With a full camp, not only for him but also the defense in front of him, I expect a bounce back year for Smitty. Between the injuries and the hodge-podge schedule, there was never a chance for him to gain a rhythm. With job security and a place to call home, I predict a Vezina nomination for Smith in 2012.
Is this the season Mikkel Boedker finally breaks out offensively?
Alpha: If he winds up as the left wing on Mike Ribeiro's line one would assume his goal numbers should rise. If they don't rise it will say more about the young Dane than it will about his center whether it winds up being Ribeiro or Martin Hanzal.
Beta: I think so. He has something to prove with this new contract and I think he is going to use it as an opportunity to prove he can do great things offensively. Also if the plan is to pair him with Ribeiro, I think he will have all the tools needed to succeed.
Brendan: It depends on what we mean by "breaks out". My hope is that Boedker develops a level of consistency in his game. Having Ribeiro as a playmaker will likely help in that regard. Also, not getting the long-term deal he wanted in the offseason might be a good motivator to get him to improve offensively.
Where do the Coyotes finish in the new Pacific Division?
Christopher: With actually having to play real NHL teams in their own division for the first time in years along with the potential growing pains under John Tortorella for Vancouver, and another year on the Sharks odometer, the Coyotes should be right in the thick of finishing behind the Kings. Put me down for a 3rd place finish behind San Jose but ahead of Vancouver.
Will: The Coyotes are almost guaranteed to make playoffs, so at least in the upper echelons of the division. The biggest obstacles will be the Kings and the Sharks. Vancouver is in for a rude awakening after so many seasons in a sub-par division and Anaheim traded away Bobby Ryan which didn't help them either. Edmonton is well Edmonton and Calgary will be lucky to not take the bottom spot. That being said I predict the Yotes will be a close one or solid two in the division.
Andy: Somewhere between 1st and 6th. Not 7th - I think the Flames have that taken care of. Seriously though, this division is ridiculous. Realistically, I think this team is capable of a solid 2nd or 3rd with an outside shot at a win if LA or Vancouver falls flat.
Jaime: This team will once again need to fight for every point they get right up until the end. I believe they can finish fourth in the division (behind LA, San Jose and Vancouver) and secure a playoff spot.