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Phoenix Coyotes Roundtable: struggles and trades

Fox Sports Arizona's Craig Morgan joins FFH to discuss Phoenix's trade for Martin Erat and the team's recent struggles.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
How beneficial will Martin Erat's addition be?

Craig Morgan: That depends on his role, but the Coyotes believe his two-way style will benefit them wherever he plays. He's going to be a valuable penalty killer because of his tenacious style and experience. He will likely also see power play time. If he plays on a line with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata, he could be the playmaker Vrbata, the team's best pure goal scorer, has been hoping for ever since Ray Whitney left in free agency two seasons ago. It was interesting to hear Dave Tippett talk about Erat's game. He says Erat is strong on the puck; a guy who wins puck battles and brings a compete level every night. That has been a missing ingredient with the Coyotes this season, but Erat also has a pretty good skill level and that is every bit as important. Obviously, his compete level was an issue in his final season in Nashville when he fell out of favor with blue collar coach Barry Trotz, but that instance and his time in Washington may have been a product of his role. As I mentioned before, Erat could also shift to the Ribeiro line. Tippett doesn't see him as a pure set-up guy, but sources in Washington and Nashville insist he never shoots the puck. That would be an odd combination with Ribeiro. Regardless, the Coyotes are hoping that a change of scenery will revitalize Erat.

Christopher Hair: Erat is probably past his prime, but then again, so was Ray Whitney in 2010 supposedly. Erat is a smart, dependable player who should fit right into Tippett's preferred style of play and him being Czech is something that should only benefit him should he slot into the hole on Hanzal and Vrbata's wing. Erat was actually playing quite well the final two months in Washington when he was no longer banished to 4th line purgatory and could actually help the Coyotes currently struggling PK as well. It's not a high impact move, but one that improves the Coyotes currently.

Brendan Porter: I think there's a tendency among those watching this trade to look at the lone goal Erat has scored on the year and freak out. I wouldn't be concerned about that. For one, Erat will be playing situations and minutes that Adam Oates was not giving him in Washington, so there's a pretty good chance his production will improve. Second, he's brought in to fill a role left vacant ever since the departure of Ray Whitney. If he can facilitate offense on the part of Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal, he will be worth it. Remember that the Coyotes gave up no current NHL talent to get Erat; that's a pretty good deal all around.

Carl Putnam (Alpha): I expect his addition to be beneficial on several fronts, though possibly not in the manner in which the fanbase may want in terms of time frame. He could solve the LW issues on the Hanzal/Vrbata line which should improve their numbers. The Erat solution also likely makes it easier to convince Vrbata to re-sign in the summer. Vrabata has been clear about his desire for his line to get a better left wing.

My one caveat is to not expect Erat to fix everything right away. I see this move as helping more next season than this season. Deadline deals themselves tend to be overrated in terms of what they can do for a team immediately. Who knows? He may be a big help over the final stretch. I just wouldn't count on it.

As for Erat himself, he's a skilled two way possession guy who can pass. He's not the goal scorer Ray Whitney was, but he's a much better scorer than his one goal this season indicates. Even if you believed his skills are in decline there is no way his 2.2% shooting percentage so far this season is sustainable. It's going to go up eventually.

Why do the Coyotes have so much difficulty holding onto leads compared to years past?

Craig: Simply put, they are not as strong defensively. They've lost a lot of veteran players who added that ingredient such as Adrian Aucoin, Michal Rozsival, Raffi Torres, Taylor Pyatt, Ray Whitney, Boyd Gordon and Daymond Langkow. And when defenseman Rusty Klesla's game changed dramatically after the concussion he suffered on a hit (I still think was illegal) from L.A.'s Jordan Nolan, they lacked a physical presence on their blue line other than Derek Morris, who was been in and put of the lineup himself with personal and injury issues. Dave Tippett says publicly that it's all about compete level; that the current players are capable. I'm not so sure they are.

Brendan: It seems to be a lack of top end talent that can drive possession coupled with a lack of veteran, lock-down defense. Because the team has trouble holding the offensive zone consistently, they have to resort to essentially turtling in their defensive zone and looking for mistakes to capitalize on. But if your defense doesn't have enough of the Adrian Aucoin types who can recognize offensive attack patterns and disrupt them before they can get set up, than it becomes extremely difficult to maintain that defensive shell for an entire period. Unlike a sport like basketball or baseball, when an opposing team can go on a run and still lose, all it takes are one or two bad shifts to turn a regulation win into a loss or an overtime game.

Alpha: Their defense has been weakened on several fronts by the losses of veteran players the last several years. It's not just Aucoin and Rozsival, it's also Ray Whitney and Boyd Gordon. None of the players who replaced them, save for Zbynek Michalek, is as good a defender as they were.

Christopher: They aren't able to produce enough pressure in the offensive zone. The cycle has been non-existent for the past two seasons for whatever reason, and leaves the other team with possession of the puck far more than Coyotes earn. When you are allowing teams time to generate offense, it's no surprise that they can score.

Given the team's record in the last handful of games, should fans expect a shuffling of players (i.e. bringing Miele up, playing Ribeiro on a different line, etc.)?

Craig: We may see some shuffling, but it won't really relate to the team's recent struggles. The addition of Martin Erat (and perhaps another forward before the deadline) will obviously have an impact on the forward lines, forcing coach Dave Tippett to tinker a bit to see which combinations work. For example, it is widely assumed Erat will play with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata, but he also has a comfort level playing with Mike Ribeiro from their days in Washington. And as I mentioned earlier, if they add another forward, Erat's role could change. But this is not the time to be calling up players from Portland or giving guys who are normal scratches some ice time. The Coyotes are chasing a playoff spot. This is the time of year to field your best lineup and the Coyotes already know which players comprise that lineup. The only reason we could see some call-ups is if the team suffers some injuries. My personal opinion: Andy Miele is a career minor leaguer.

Carl Pavlock (Beta): I think the team should be doing some shuffling of players depending on what else happens at the trade deadline, but I'm not sure if it is going to happen at this point. The team hasn't been playing well and honestly I think they should have made adjustments much earlier on but they didn't. Honestly, I would love to see Miele get a real shot in the NHL so we know whether his point per game production in the AHL can translate or if he is worth letting go.

Christopher: Should there be a shuffling of players in the lineup? Yes. Will there be? It seems unlikely given the track record of the current Coyotes player/personnel staff. The current Coyotes group trusts older, veteran players more than unproven youth and the lineups that are iced for the remainder of the season will reflect that. I, for one, would like to see GMDM and coach Tippett throw everything into a blender and experiment greatly over the final fifth of the season, calling up youngsters from Portland and giving them meaningful NHL minutes (cough ANDY MIELE cough) but I doubt it happens.

Brendan: I would expect Mike Ribeiro to play on a different line at some point, because Dave Tippett shuffles his lines constantly to find good combinations. It doesn't seem as if the team is going to make any internal roster moves of significance in the next couple days; perhaps McMillan gets sent down and Miele gets called up. It seems like the roster of NHLers that the team has now is going to be almost identical to the one it has at the end of the season, for better or for worse.

Is coach Dave Tippett to blame for this year's struggles or have fans become spoiled by Phoenix's past overachieving?

Craig:I think the latter. Compare the Coyotes best skilled forwards to other teams in the West and tell me what you see? The franchise's inability to draft and develop elite offensive forwards is biting them on a nightly basis, and they don't have that grind-it-out ability they had two years ago because of the loss of key personnel. Chicago drafted Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Anaheim drafted Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. San Jose drafted Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau. Los Angeles drafted Anze Kopitar. St. Louis drafted T.J. Oshie and David Backes. Vancouver drafted the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler. The best offensive forwards the Coyotes have drafted and kept in that span are Mikkel Boedker (39 points) and Martin Hanzal (37), who have both posted career highs in points this season. To be blunt, I think anybody who blames Tippett for the team's current struggles is insane. It's a simple matter of personnel. The Coyotes don't have the requisite skill level up front. Tippett is one of the best coaches in the game and widely regarded as such in league circles. If the Coyotes were to let him go, he would have other job offers quickly.

Alpha: I'd like to see another coach do much better with the Coyotes current roster. Toe Blake still wouldn't be able to turn anyone on the current roster into a 50-goal scorer or turn either of the bottom-2 defensive pairings into an experienced shutdown duo. The team's somewhat lucky run to the WCF a couple of years ago seems to have thrown expectations way out of whack given what the actual player roster is. The Coyotes are right around where I figured they'd be this season if changes weren't made to shore up their weaknesses.

Brendan: I've seen some in the Coyotes' Twitterverse calling for Dave Tippett's firing, and in my opinion this would be one of the biggest mistakes the franchise could make in recent years short of re-hiring Wayne Gretzky as a head coach. If the Coyotes had a roster comparable to the Los Angeles Kings or Pittsburgh Penguins and were underperforming to this degree than it would be understandable to put Dave Tippett on the hot seat. But this team does not have the same level of talent as either of those two clubs. This is a team that has been hampered by poor draft decisions and severe financial constraints. Both of those issues are being resolved, but won't be fixed immediately. Blaming Dave Tippett for problems that arose before he even arrived in the Valley is nonsensical.

Christopher: Is Tippett to blame for the failings of the Coyotes this season? No, no, a thousand times no. There are things I haven't agreed with Tip on this season (not playing Rundblad, keeping Miele on the 4th line when he was given his call-up this season, playing Klink and Moss with Ribs far too much), but I tend to trust the guy who is the only coach in Coyotes' history to win a playoff series and guided them further in the playoffs than anybody in the history of the franchise. Especially when the other side of the argument are kneejerk reactions to a larger problem. The Coyotes currently lack in high end talent forward wise, which makes it difficult to consistently score. Firing Tippett won't suddenly make Radim Vrbata remember how to score a goal or make Klinkhammer magically a second line wing or keep Shane Doan from coming down with a random illness in the middle of the best season of his career.

Keep calm and Tip on.