The 2014 Winter Olympics are over and the NHL trade deadline is on the horizon. The Phoenix Coyotes come out of the break with a 27-21-10 record, good for ninth place in the Western Conference and fourth place in the Pacific Division. Twenty-four games remain in the season and the Coyotes hope to make a strong push en route to their fourth playoff appearance in the last five seasons.
Phoenix has three holes they need to fill to give themselves the best chance to make the postseason -- top-six left wing, bottom-six penalty-killing center and a left-handed stay-at-home defenseman.
Top-six left wing
Stop me if you've heard this before.
Oh, you have? Well, I'll keep going anyway.
The need for forward help, especially to play LW on the Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata line, is a constant topic of conversation. Since Ray Whitney's departure in July 2012, the Coyotes' search for a replacement turned up fruitless. Steve Sullivan, Lauri Korpikoski, Rob Klinkhammer, Tim Kennedy and even Mikkel Boedker tried and failed to match the production of the Wizard.
This is not the first time a huge question mark surrounded that LW spot. After a fairly successful 2009-10 season by the "Czech line" of Petr Prucha, Hanzal and Vrbata, a slow start to the 2010-11 season (0-1-1 in 11 games) resulted in the Coyotes placing Prucha on waivers. He never played another NHL game.
In the days leading up to Prucha's waiving, the newly signed Whitney began to find his game after a lackluster first month with the team that had fans questioning his signing. Whitney's point-per-game month of November solidified his spot on the Hanzal/Vrbata line for that season and the next.
The moral of the story: the LW hole has been vacant and filled twice before and will be again.
Pending UFA options: Thomas Vanek (NYI), Matt Moulson (BUF), Ray Whitney (DAL), Mike Cammalleri (CGY)
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Much like the void left by Whitney in the 2012 offseason, the void left by Boyd Gordon's departure last offseason has yet to be filled.
Phoenix's penalty kill is as bad as it has been in awhile, part of that due to Gordon's loss. In his two seasons with the Coyotes, Gordon played a whopping 54.8 percent and 50.7 percent of the team's total short-handed time. Antoine Vermette and Jeff Halpern try the best they can as replacements, but do not position themselves as well or block as many shots as Gordon.
Adding another center to the fold helps not only the penalty kill, but Phoenix's depth down the middle. An injury to Mike Ribeiro, Hanzal or Vermette moves Kyle Chipchura or Halpern to the third line, not an ideal situation for a playoff bubble team. Adding depth also gives the Coyotes flexibility if they choose to play Ribeiro on a line with Hanzal and Vrbata like they briefly did earlier this season.
Pending UFA options: Brian Boyle (NYR), Derek MacKenzie (CBJ), Vernon Fiddler (DAL), Marcel Goc (FLA)
Stay-at-home left defenseman
A semi-controversial need considering Phoenix's defensive depth in the system. The Coyotes' PK thrived with Michal Rozsival, Adrian Aucoin and Rostislav Klesla patrolling the blueline. The departures of Rozsival and Aucoin as well as the demotion of Klesla leave the Coyotes with a lot of offensively gifted, young defensemen. In one sense, it is very good. In another, it isn't.
The Coyotes are forced to play a pair of younger d-men on the third pairing and are subsequently scrambling to find a solid second pair PK unit. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zbynek Michalek have to rest at some point and Keith Yandle and David Rundblad are not penalty killers.
If the Coyotes can find a LD to pair with Derek Morris on the PK and either David Schlemko, Michael Stone or Rundblad 5-on-5, their defense will improve dramatically.
Pending UFA options: Mark Stuart (WPG), Chris Phillips (OTT), Andrew MacDonald (NYI), Chris Butler (CGY)
Who do you think the Coyotes should go after? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.