The Arizona Coyotes love their grinders. These are guys that may not impress on the score sheet, but certainly impress the coaches with their physical two-way play. And perhaps no grinder in the Dave Tippett era was more universally loved than the one who wore No. 38, Vernon Fiddler.
Fiddler had to earn every minute of NHL ice time he received. He went undrafted after playing for the Kelowna Rockets and Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, and had to sign minor league contracts with the ECHL's Arkansas Riverblades, Roanake Express and the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals before the Nashville Predators finally gave him an NHL contract.
He would jump back and forth between the Admirals and the Predators from 2002 until 2006, when he stuck in the NHL for good. He would play four more seasons for the Predators before coming to the Coyotes in 2009.
Despite only playing in Phoenix for two years, Fiddler developed a reputation for doing everything it took to help his team win. He had a total of 14 goals, 38 assists, 92 PIMs, 107 blocked shots, 179 hits and won faceoffs at a 53.2 percent clip in 147 games in Sedona Red.
It comes as little surprise that when free agency opened up, many (myself included) felt Fiddler would be a worthwhile potential 4th line center option for the Coyotes. However, looking at the bottom six players for last season's Western Conference finalists, there is a surprisingly narrow gulf between the Coyotes and the other bottom sixes for the West's best.
2013-14 Los Angeles Kings
Dwight King (15G, 15A, 77GP) - Jarret Stoll (8G, 19A, 78GP) - Justin Williams (19G, 24A, 82GP)
Kyle Clifford (3G, 5A, 71GP) - Mike Richards (11G, 30A, 82GP) - Trevor Lewis (6G, 5A, 73GP)
2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks
Bryan Bickell (11G, 4A, 59GP) - Andrew Shaw (20G, 19A, 80GP) - Kris Versteeg (12G, 24A, 81GP)
Brandon Bollig (7G, 7A, 82GP) - Marcus Kruger (8G, 20A, 81GP) - Ben Smith (14G, 12A, 76GP)
For comparison's sake, here are the bottom six for last season's Coyotes squad.
2013-14 Phoenix Coyotes
Lauri Korpikoski (9G, 16A, 64GP) - Mike Ribeiro (16G, 31A, 80GP) - David Moss (8G, 14A, 79GP)
Kyle Chipchura (5G, 15A, 80GP) - Jeff Halpern (5G, 7A, 69GP) - Rob Klinkhammer (11G, 9A, 72GP)
All things considered, the Coyotes' depth players held their own reasonably well against some of the others in their conference. While the lines shifted constantly throughout the season (especially in the case of Ribeiro), their relative positions from top six to bottom six tend not to fluctuate for very long.
So all this goes to further reinforce that while the Coyotes are fairly good as far as grinding lines go, their lack of top tier talent is the biggest impediment to becoming a consistent playoff team and a Stanley Cup contender.