Five for fantasizing: five things the Coyotes need post-Olympic break

Harry How

The Coyotes have entered the Olympic break, leaving them 25 games on the season. Here are five important trends that need to happen to get the most out of their fantasy prospects in that time.

1.  Blueline Points Please

The Coyotes started the season as one of the league's surprising offensive juggernauts, ranking in the top five in goals per game through much of December. The big reason for this eruption of goals was the production that was derived from the blueline, particularly the stud duo of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle.

Over the first 20 games of the season, both players had impressive stat lines.  They combined for five goals and 27 assists in that time and were both ranked in the top five in production for defensemen in fantasy hockey at that point.  Since then, the production has tailed off a bit, especially for OEL.  Take a look at their individual breakdowns:

Keith Yandle

Goals

Assists

Points per game

82 game projection

First 20 games 1 goal 15 assists .80 ppg 65 points
Next 38 games 6 goals 16 assists .58 ppg 47 points

Oliver Ekman-Larrson

Goals

Assists

Points per game

82 game projection

First 20 games 4 goals 12 assists .80 ppg 65 points
Next 38 games 4 goals 9 assists .34 ppg 28 points

The good news is there is a potential turnaround looming for them both.  OEL has his defensive security blanket back on his pair in Zbynek Michalek, which should allow him more offensive freedom like he had in the opening 20 games of the season before Z's injuries hit.  For Yandle, he has scored four points in the last five games, and thanks to not being selected to Team USA, he will get a break from hockey in-season.  This is rare for Yandle, as he has never missed a regular season game since becoming an NHL mainstay.  The two weeks off should recharge his batteries and if the US Olympic team struggles in Sochi, you know he'll have a point to prove the rest of the way.

2. Return of Radim

The Coyotes best goal scorer is Radim Vrbata.  This season, it's been a struggle for him to prove that.  He's on pace to set a new career high for assists in a season, but if you drafted Vrby, you did so with eyes on a 25-35 goal season, not a 35 assist year with 20 goals, which is his current projection.  So what's happened to Radim?  Is there something flawed in his game that can be corrected?  Let's compare his 2012 career year against his current season.

Radim Vrbata
Games
Goals
Shots
Shots per game
Goals per game
Shooting %
2011-2012 77 35 232 3.01 spg .45 gpg 15.1
2013-2014 56 15 198 3.53 spg .27 gpg 7.6

He's actually shooting more than he has in his career, but he's suffering from some awful puck luck, which the advanced stats bear out.  His current PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) is 99.5.  His previous two years Vrbata sat at 103.5 and 102.4, so he's down quite a bit from his normal level of performance.

There is more potential good news on the horizon here as well.  After going 13 straight games without a goal through the end of December and most of January and adding only one goal in the opening month of 2014, Vrby has tallied a goal in three of the last four games for Phoenix.  If he can keep this streak up and not spend a month between goals, the Coyotes prospects for a playoff berth should increase.

3.  Find another Vermette

The addition of Mike Ribeiro to the Coyotes lineup was supposed to be a boost to the power play (check) and the Coyotes center depth, perhaps providing a career year for Martin Hanzal with less pressure on the big forward. Well, Hanzal has had a darn good year, but another Coyote center has grabbed the reins of a career season from seemingly out of nowhere. Antoine Vermette is on pace to set a career high in goals scored (27) and has an outside chance to get his career points mark (65) as well.

Vermette's emergence is great, but the Coyotes could use a similar step-up from another forward in the final quarter of the season. Vermette has 21 goals and 37 points in 58 games on the season, good for .36 goals per game and .64 points per game. Now, look at the combined stat output of Lauri Korpikoski, David Moss, Rob Klinkhammer and Tim Kennedy (four forwards who have spent some time among the top 6 units this year):

  • 24 goals, 40 assists, 64 points, 191 games played, .13 goals per game, .34 points per game

That's not good.  Granted, the idea of Klink or Kennedy being top-6 forwards isn't good in the first place, but they have spent time there and predictably struggled.  If any of these four could emerge in the final 25 games and get close to averaging .25 goals per game and/or .50 points per game, it would go a long way toward helping the Coyotes in their push towards the post season.

Basically, we need to find a Coyote Bryan Bickell.

4. Smitty Smash

The Coyotes under Dave Tippett rely on scoring by committee and solid defense and goaltending.  The scoring by committee has actually been present for most of the season, but the defense has been less than ideal, which has led to undue pressure on the goalies. Unfortunately, Mike Smith hasn't risen to the pressure this season and has struggled for long portions of the year.

To get an idea of where Smith stands right now, let's look at his career numbers, his current season numbers and the numbers he provided in his breakout 2012 campaign.

Mike Smith
Games
Goals against average
Save %
Shutouts
Career 312 2.60 .913 26
2011-2012 67 2.21 .930 8
2013-2014 49 2.77 .913 2

Obviously, the 2012 numbers are amazing but are they outliers. Is it a mirage that Smith can never repeat?  Well, lets look at what Smitty has done in the four games to close out the season before the break following his mini-benching.

Since benching
4 games 1.27 GAA .960 Sv % 1 shutout

It is an extremely small sample size, but when you look at the competition that those numbers have come against (the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and two meetings with the Dallas Stars) it's an impressive and, more importantly, an encouraging run.  If nothing else it shows that the 2012 Mike Smith is still somewhere in there and could be emerging at the most important time of the season for the Coyotes playoff push.

5. Help for Ribeiro

This is much more of a want than a need (not that the Coyotes don't need it).  A trade that brought a proven goal scorer to put on Ribeiro's wing would help this team in so many ways.  It would get more out Ribeiro than lining him up with Moss and/or Klinkhammer.  It would allow the combo of Hanzal and Vrbata to stay together (which seems to be very important to the current leadership.  Personally, I'd be okay with slotting Ribs with Vrby or moving Ribeiro to their left wing).  It would also keep the likes of Kennedy, Moss and Korpi from having to play above their heads as second or even first line forwards and return them to a more natural third line spot.  Which could allow them to emerge as pointed out in wish number three above.

So there you have it, five things that the Coyotes could use from a fantasy perspective to have the best final quarter of the season and make it closer to the playoffs.  Feel I missed anything or have your own post Olympic Coyote wishes?  Add them in the comments.

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