After missing the playoffs in 2013, what would be considered a "successful season" for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2014?
Luke Lapinski: Any time you make the playoffs, there's a certain level of success that has to be acknowledged. It's never easy to crack the postseason in the NHL - particularly in the Pacific Division, which somehow managed to get tougher through the magic of realignment. That said, I think the Coyotes have their sights set a little higher. The bar was raised in Dave Tippett's first three years behind the bench, and the goal is clearly to build off the nice run they put together in 2011-12. The condensed, shortened schedule made last season a little strange across the entire league, so now this group needs to find a way to pick up where they left off in 2012 and harness the momentum they generated during their push to the Western Conference Finals. Making the playoffs is always a good season. Winning at least one series would probably have to be considered a "success".
Will Sowards: The goal is always to win the Cup, but a 'successful season' would probably be making the playoffs, getting to at least the second round and being at least third in the division. The team needs to show they can be taken seriously and that the last few seasons weren't just a fluke...probably the only team where saying "last few seasons" alongside "fluke" is possible. The Coyotes have some amazing depth and doing better than most have predicted would go a long way toward proving that hockey is strong in the Valley.
Jordan Ellel: Last season is a throwaway to everyone that isn't the Blackhawks. Successes over an abbreviated 48-game schedule with no training camp and no time for practices to fix those things that are going wrong are flukes as much as anything else. Success in 2013-14 will only be a playoff run that goes past the first round.
Randy Holt: The Coyotes, as they stand, are not Stanley Cup contenders, so while that may be the benchmark for most teams, the Coyotes will have to settle for less. I would say that advancing beyond the first round for the second time in three years would mark a successful year, but after how disappointing last year was, just getting back into the postseason might do it.
Which aspect of the game should be the biggest worry for the Coyotes entering the season?
Christopher Hair: There is going to be a lot of pressure on the Coyotes penalty kill this season. They finished 22nd on the PK last season with a 79.88% success rate (the league average was 81.78%). Add in the loss of PK specialist Boyd Gordon, and the current absence of Rostislav Klesla, and there is plenty of reason for concern. One potential silver lining is that since Dave Tippett has taken over as coach, the Coyotes penalty kill has flip-flopped between really good and really bad. Phoenix finished 22nd in PK efficiency last season. Here's hoping the trend continues and we see another top 10 PK.
Luke: It has to be the power play. It's the one area where this team hasn't excelled recently - in fact, they haven't ranked higher than No. 23 in the NHL with the man advantage over the last five seasons. That said, they've still found ways to win despite struggling in this department. What happens if they start cashing in now? Mike Ribeiro will help, as should new assistant coach Newell Brown. Phoenix doesn't have to be a top ten power play team to have success (they were No. 29 the year they went to the Conference Finals), they just need to score the timely goals. If the preseason is any indication, we should see some improvement here. And there's still plenty of time to fine-tune strategies or even add another piece if necessary.
Will: Goal scoring. Last season's drought was unacceptable and anything like that happening again would be devastating. Ribeiro came to Phoenix to work with Tippett and help in that respect, but so did Steve Sullivan (at least in the goal scoring part) and that didn't exactly go as planned. A strong offense relies on more than any single player and everyone from the top-six down is going to need to step up. Trading a defenseman for another top-six winger wouldn't hurt either.
Will the new Pacific Division be beneficial or harmful to the Coyotes?
Chris: Adding arguably the worst team in the NHL into your division can only help, but Vancouver and Edmonton aren't exactly a cake walk. The Coyotes will be in a battle all year trying to secure one of the top three spots in this division. Adding more games with the Western Canadian teams should only be a boon to attendance.
Jordan: I think it will help the Coyotes. The best teams that they will face (Kings, Sharks) were already here, and while Vancouver may continue their recent regular season success, they are definitely a bigger question mark than they have been in previous years. I like where the Oilers are heading but I don't think they are there yet, and Calgary is a complete mess. So adding two perennially poor teams at the expense of just the Canucks should help the Coyotes.
Luke: The old Pacific was certainly one of the toughest divisions in the NHL, and it somehow got even harder with Vancouver and Edmonton joining the fray. The Canucks are always a strong club - at least in the regular season - and the Oilers have more up-and-coming first-round talent on their roster than they know what to do with. This may very well be the most difficult division in hockey to navigate, but the Coyotes always seem to deliver their best efforts against the best opponents.
Which Coyote player do you expect to make the biggest leap forward this season in terms of performance?
Randy: I'm a major, major Mikkel Boedker fan. There's a lot to love about his game. He had his best output, in terms of his point-per-game numbers, in 2013 and there's no question he should build on that as he works toward potentially earning a long term deal. Having a creative center like Mike Ribeiro, something that has been completely unheard of in the Desert, playing to his right should prove to be a tremendous asset toward helping him have that breakout season.
Luke: This is a tough one, because there's a few legitimate candidates. The easy answer is Mikkel Boedker. He showed considerable improvement in the first half of the 2012-13 campaign and, if he makes a similar jump over the course of a full 82-game schedule, he's going to make a name for himself in this league. He has the speed and natural abilities; now it's just a matter of consistently putting it all together. Skating on a line with Ribeiro and Shane Doan can only help, and it's important to remember he's still just 23. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has already firmly established himself as one of the best young D-men in the league today, and he's still intent on getting better. Meanwhile, Lucas Lessio surprised some people just by landing on the roster out of camp. He plays the game the way it's meant to be played and will only improve as he gains valuable experience at this level. David Rundblad is another guy to watch. The blue line is loaded, but his seven assists in the preseason can't be ignored. He has the ability to make things happen and it's becoming more and more evident why he was a first round pick back in 2009.
Chris: There are a lot of guys to choose from that should (or need) to make a leap forward this season, but I expect big things from Martin Hanzal. For the first time in years, he is not the defacto "top" center for this team and that should do wonders for him. He'll still see plenty of ice time against top centers and lines in his own end, but he should face much easier competition in the offensive zone. The Ribeiro signing has somewhat reduced the expectations for Hanzal and with a little less responsibility on his shoulders, I expect him to thrive. It doesn't hurt that some guy wearing number 17 will still be skating on his wing either.
Who will meet or exceed and who won't meet expectations on this team?
Luke: Depending what exactly people expect of him, Ribeiro has the potential to really make Phoenix fans happy this season. If they plan on seeing him put up 80 points, well, that's a tough mark to hit. But he has certainly looked good throughout camp, and is capable of doing real damage for this team. The playmaking ability is clearly there and, at 33 years of age, it shouldn't be going away anytime soon. He's broken the 50-point barrier in each of his last eight full seasons, going over 60 five times and eclipsing the 70-point mark three times. Plus he led the entire NHL in power play assists last year. Seem like the sort of guy the Coyotes cold use? Mike Smith is another pivotal player in a similar situation to the one Ribeiro is in. He doesn't have to win the Vezina, he just needs to play in 60 or so games, play the way he has already shown he can play and flash that ability to single-handedly take over some big games when necessary. Both guys have lofty expectations laid out in front of them, but both are certainly capable of delivering.
Randy: I actually do think that Ribeiro will meet the expectations that come along with his lucrative new deal. He's one of the better playmakers in the league, and should thrive in a situation with a player like Boedker to his left and being back under Dave Tippett. It may not be a point per game like it was last year when he was a member of the Washington Capitals, but he could very well finish as the Coyotes' team leader in points. As far as someone who won't meet expectations, will we see Antoine Vermette get back on track? He turned in a strong postseason with the Coyotes in 2011-12, but came up quite short of expectations last year. Will slotting in as the third line center allow him to get back near that 50+ point form he flashed with Columbus? Probably not, so I do worry about him from a production standpoint.
Jordan: It really depends on your expectations. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, while a fantastic player, is probably not going to score more than 60 points this year and will not get serious Norris Trophy attention regardless of how he will deserve it. Keith Yandle will not turn the puck over 872 times leading directly to 500 goals by the opposition. In terms of what people in the media seem to think about this team? Smith will be better than he was last year, but probably not as good as he was two years ago; Shane Doan has a lot left in the tank and playing with two truly gifted offensive players, I would expect him to exceed whatever point total people are predicting for him