With approximately 20% of the season in the book, are the Coyotes where you expected them to be in the standings at this point in the season?
Brendan Porter: If you expected the Coyotes to be battling for the best record in the NHL at this point this season, you're lying. I expected a lukewarm start with the team getting better as the year went on, especially with the shakeup at center during the offseason. Instead, the Coyotes have found ways to win a ton of games. Even if Phoenix doesn't have the late season success it usually does, the white-hot start to the year bodes well in making it to the postseason again.
Carl Pavlock (Beta): I actually expected them to be lower in the standings. I thought that the Pacific Division would be the toughest this season, which it is, but I thought that would translate to the Coyotes being 4th or 5th in the Pacific and much lower in the Western Conference. I don't think anyone expected such a strong start.
Christopher Hair: No, they are not. They are even better positioned than I expected. Under Tippett, the Coyotes have been slow starters, averaging 17 points in their first 15 games. This year, that number jumped to 22, which is very surprising given the east coast trip to begin the year and the number of division games they started the season with. Especially since the Pacific is the most competitive division in the league, bar none. The great start comes with the defense and goaltending ranking in the bottom third of the league and the penalty kill in the bottom half. The offense has carried the Coyotes to this point. At some point the defense will get back on track and the team will be playing even better. I started the season expecting them to finish third in the division, but they have a very real shot at winning it. This is going to be a fun year.
Who is your team MVP 20 percent of the way through the season?
Carl Putnam (Alpha): Antoine Vermette. The question before the season started was, could he be as effective as Boyd Gordon was in a shutdown/PK role? So far the answer is unqualified 'yes'. From the faceoff circle (58.7%) to shootouts (2 for 3 - both game winners), the veteran center has been productive in almost every aspect of the game. He's even moved up the lineup from the third line to the first line, in part due to how well he has played. Without his play on both ends of the ice, the Coyotes would likely be sitting much lower in the standings. The only negative has been the amount of penalty minutes he's accrued. Additional note - Derek Morris, Mike Ribeiro, Radim Vrbata and David Moss would be my honorable mention MVP candidates.
Jaime Eisner: Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He is facing the toughest competition of any Coyote and is tied for third on the team in points with 12. He drives play (offensive zone start - 39.1 percent, finish - 50.1 percent) and is the team's number one defenseman in all situations. Honorable mention to Martin Hanzal who has played very well this season, suspension and offensive zone penalties aside.
Christopher: This year, there are any number of players deserving of this honor and surprisingly, Mike Smith isn't in the discussion, even with scoring a goal. Vrbata leads the team in goals, Yandle is tied for third in the NHL for points by defensemen, Hanzal has been so hot right now, Derek Morris has turned back the clock and Rob Klinkhammer has played his way into top-six minutes. But the choice comes down to either Antoine Vermette or Oliver Ekman-Awesome. Vermette has nine points, is a +9, wins 58.7% of his face-offs, plays over 19 minutes a game and has won two games in the shootout. OEL has 11 points, two game winning goals, leads the team in ice time (and is 11th in the league) and is improving on a game by game basis. Both have been great, and while Vermette's performance has been a pleasant surprise, OEL's game is scary now and he's only going to get better. For that reason, I give Oliver the slight edge for team MVP.
Does GM Don Maloney need to change anything about the current roster or is the team, as currently constituted, capable of a deep playoff run this spring?
Alpha: I wouldn't be in a hurry to change anything. I would wait until mid-December before deciding if any pieces needed to be added. They could still use an offensive minded left wing and with so many clubs close to the cap, this might a year in which GMDM is in a strong position to make a deal for a scoring winger. If so, I'd make a deal in Decemeber or early January. The trade deadline is often too late from the standpoint of integrating new players into a team.
Christopher: At this point, I still believe the team is another goal scoring wing away from being a true contender. I had hoped that Boedker could become that guy, but so far this year, it hasn't happened. The good news is that the Coyotes don't have to make a move right now. They are second in the division and third in the conference and are giving themselves some room for error. Preferably, it'd be nice to bring in a new player before the deadline, but the Coyotes can afford to wait. Plus, they have a glut of young, impressive blueliners which is as high end an asset as one could hope to have in the NHL right now. A move will come, but it won't be anytime soon.
Brendan: If the Coyotes were to change anything about the current roster, I would try to find another shutdown defenseman who could be added for relatively little. The Coyotes are a much better team with Rusty Klesla and Derek Morris in the lineup than they are without them. Unfortunately both of those players have missed chunks of time with injuries. If either one of them were to go down in the postseason without a replacement (especially Klesla), the Coyotes PK and depth defense could be adversely affected. I would also love to have a shutdown guy to pair with David Rundblad and see if that is the missing piece in getting Rundblad more regular ice time.
After a lengthy contract debate in the offseason, do you feel Mikkel Boedker has played up to expectations so far this season?
Christopher: It depends on what your expectations were. Currently, he's on pace for a 50 point season which would blow away his career high of 28 in his rookie year. But does anyone really expect the Coyotes to continue to score at their current 3.19 goals per game rate?
To me, Boedker needs to step up and become the second goal scoring threat to Radim Vrbata for this team. He has the speed and the shot to be a 30-goal guy, but only taking 1.31 shots per game (his career average is 1.29, so there has been little improvement) won't get him there. He ranks 12th on the team in total shots, behind such dangerous players like David Moss, Rob Klinkhammer and Zbynek Michalek (no offense [editor's note: pun intended?] to those guys, but they aren't supposed to be driving the offense). As long as Boedker is shy about shooting, I don't think he'll live up to expectations which justifies the Coyotes nervousness about giving him a long term deal.
Beta: I still think Boedker has more to prove, he seems to have the potential to be a goal scorer and he hasn't really shown that yet. He is playing solid minutes, and on most occasions he looks good on the ice, but I think if he wants to get his big pay day he is going to have to find the back of the net more and prove that he can do it consistently.
Alpha: I do. He started a bit slowly, but he has elevated his play since his original line (89-63-19) was broken up. He's been making fairly smart decisions with and without the puck. In other words he's shooting more and reading off linemates better. He's already on pace for his best career season point wise. One thing to keep in mind is my expectations of the young Dane tend to be less than many others in town. I've never really expected him to become a 30 goal scorer. I'm looking for 15 goals and consistently responsible play.