Arizona Coyotes leadership sees challenge, opportunity this offseason

Jaime Eisner

Central figures in the Arizona Coyotes organization shared their plans for the future with fans on Thursday night.

Arizona Coyotes CEO and Alternate Governor Anthony LeBlanc isn't quite as busy as he was this time last year--not that he's complaining.

"It's nice because last year we obviously didn't get involved until we closed the first week of August, so it took us a lot longer to get going, and we had so many things we had to do on the business side. This year a lot of it has already been done so it's been really nice for us as the ownership group," LeBlanc said.

As far as plans for the future go, Coyotes fans got an early glimpse as LeBlanc joined Head Coach Dave Tippett and General Manager Don Maloney for a 50-minute long question and answer session in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Ice Den in Scottsdale.

The three members of the organization addressed a plethora of fan concerns ranging from the in-arena experience at Jobing.com to the television and radio broadcasting schedule to, of course, the on-ice product.

Building a Winner

Maloney looks to an old adversary when considering how best to build a winning franchise, no matter how begrudgingly he does so.

"I hate the Detroit Red Wings, but I respect what they've done to build their team," Maloney remarked to laughter from the crowd. "They develop players well."

He noted the recent success of Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar as examples of Detroit taking its time to develop offensive talent.

That doesn't necessarily mean young faces won't make their way into the NHL next season. Both Maloney and Tippett believe that there are a good crop of young players who will make their case at training camp in September.

Tippett expects first round picks Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson to compete for roster spots, thanks in no small part to their strong showings at the Memorial Cup tournament earlier in May. Free agent signing Tyler Gaudet could also make a strong case.

"[Gaudet] has been projected by his coaches to be a third line center that's really hard to play against," Tippett said.

Tippett added that he has a hard time imagining Connor Murphy and Brandon Gormley not making the opening night roster next season, which seems to suggest that the team is happy with the composition of their defensive corps as it currently stands.

As for who plays behind Mike Smith as the backup goaltender, Tippett was undecided.

"I believe young goaltenders need years in the minors," Tippett said of Mark Visentin and Louis Domingue. "Visentin right now, coming into camp this year, is probably a little bit ahead of Domingue, but if you look back to last camp, Domingue played very well--he closed the gap. We'll see where it goes in camp."

LeBlanc, Maloney and Tippett all agreed that the composition of the team, both in terms of its moves on draft day and its free agent options, will become clearer later today when the ownership group plans to sit down with the GM and Coach and outline a strategic plan for the offseason.

Bargain Hunting

That strategic plan will become critically important as the team explores its options on the open market. Maloney noted that he was "0-for-UFAs" when referring to signing the team's pending unrestricted free agents which include Radim Vrbata, Derek Morris, and David Moss.

There may be some future offensive relief coming from overseas, however. Former first round draft pick Viktor Tikhonov has expressed interest in returning to the NHL, Maloney mentioned.

"The problem is, he currently is making $3.1M this next year in Russia, and he can't get out of his contract," Maloney said. Once the young winger's deal with KHL club SKA St. Petersburg expires, Maloney sounded confident about the team's ability to bring Tikhonov back into the fold.

Unfortunately for the Coyotes, the one year delay comes at a time when the free agent market doesn't look all that good.

"It's not a great market, to be honest with you," Maloney said. "It's always a dangerous time with the players looking for the big dollars and the long term."

Per NHL rules, Maloney would not comment on his interest in any particular free agent, but he did note that he will be sitting down with the players in an unfamiliar setting.

The Coyotes GM will participate for the first time in the NHL's offseason competition committee, which consists of general managers and players from around the league who decide on potential rule changes for the upcoming season.

As the new man on the block, Maloney is keeping an open mind.

"There's a number of rules that we talked about in March that are now in front of the players. It's now a matter of seeing if there's anything there they really object to. I'm just going to go in there and listen."

Busy Times at Jobing.com Arena

Although LeBlanc is highly optimistic about most of the franchise's growth, there is one thing that he is disappointed about.

"I don't think so." was LeBlanc's response when asked about the possibility of the team receiving a Stadium Series game next season.

He reiterated that the league has promised them a future All-Star Game (when has yet to be determined), while saying that the success of the outdoor game in Los Angeles can only be a positive for Arizona's chances down the road.

Although they won't be taking the fan experience outside, the Coyotes have a lot planned for the coming year.

LeBlanc confirmed that the team is in fact planning on hosting a draft party at Jobing.com Arena on June 27th, which will also serve as the official date the team re-brands itself as the Arizona Coyotes.

The Coyotes will be offering the first of many different varieties of merchandise on that date, with the promise of a significantly larger selection in the team shop when the season begins.

There may also be some new developments on the broadcasting front; the Coyotes will continue airing radio broadcasts on the KTAR family of stations, and it sounds like Bob Heethuis will be joined by a color commentator full-time next season. LeBlanc also mentioned that they plan on partnering with KTVK again to ensure all 82 games are on TV in the Phoenix area.

But not everything with the Coyotes is sunshine and roses. LeBlanc acknowledged the pitfalls of the parking situation first reported by the Arizona Republic roughly a week ago.

"The reality is that you have part of Westgate's business model is not to charge for parking, and the Arizona Cardinals have the ability to charge for parking and are doing so." LeBlanc said.

But he quickly noted that the health of the hockey club itself is not in immediate jeopardy.

"The good news is when it comes to the revenue streams the City of Glendale receives directly from the Coyotes, we hit them all," LeBlanc said, referring to the revenue targets the team and Glendale set for ticket surcharges related to the games themselves.

The CEO and alternate governor expressed optimism about the number of non-hockey bookings at the arena, saying that several major concerts were in the process of being finalized.

But the thing that LeBlanc stressed the most was his gratitude toward the fans who are providing his team with helpful feedback as they restore the franchise.

"We want to stay engaged, we want to work with our fans and we want to hear what they have to say."

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