The Arizona Coyotes managed to win twice and lose twice in the span of four games since the All-Star Break. While five of eight possible points is not bad for a team trying to stay in the playoff picture, it's not nearly enough for a team to climb back into the conversation.
It's also riddled with some of the most glaring inconsistencies the team has shown this season. Their two victories came against a reeling Toronto Maple Leafs team and a Montreal Canadiens squad with bad underlying numbers rescued by a Vezina-caliber goaltender (who didn't play that game). Their two losses were a shootout setback to the Philadelphia Flyers and a 7-2 laugher at the hands of the Ottawa Senators. Not the model of consistency.
As Arizona returns to the Valley for the first time in several weeks, the team that plays in Gila River Arena Thursday night is likely going to look very different than the one that plays at the end of the season. And an inability to consistently play fundamentally sound hockey is a big reason why.
- There were a couple of good questions about Antoine Vermette brought up by a reader earlier this morning, specifically, how likely is it that Vermette gets dealt and then returns in the offseason, and what the team plans to do without him.
- The first question is easier to answer than the second one. I would say the odds of Vermette returning to Arizona in the summer are about as good as the team's playoff chances. Yes, theoretically possible. But extraordinarily unlikely.
- The issue is that Vermette and Maloney have already been discussing a contract extension for a while. Dealing Vermette also means dealing the rights to negotiate with him in the offseason. I just think there's too much of a gulf between the two sides to make it work.
- What Arizona does without Vermette long-term is an open question. The ideal scenario (to replace Vermette) would probably be drafting Jack Eichel. Eichel would be the team's 1C almost immediately where someone like Connor McDavid probably fits better on the wing. McDavid's teammate, Dylan Strome, would also be an excellent fit.
- The reality though is that any draft choice outside of McDavid and Eichel is not necessarily a lock to make an NHL roster next year. What seems more likely is that Arizona finds a center to play one or two years as a stopgap until a player like Strome is a little more seasoned and has had a couple of training camps under his belt.
- One name that intrigues me as said stopgap is Brad Richards of the Chicago Blackhawks. He has 9 goals and 20 assists while averaging under 15 minutes of ice-time a night. And his contract with Chicago was a 1-year, $2 million deal. Arizona could offer Richards more than that for 2-3 years to ease a bit of the pressure to rush their younger prospects.
- There are going to be more than a few NHL teams looking to offload players as the salary cap doesn't rise as much as expected. Arizona could take advantage of the circumstances to make a cheap upgrade from a team up against the cap like Boston or Philadelphia.
- In any case, a rebuild is going to take time. The team is not magically going to bounce back in one offseason. Granted, some of their problems on the back end and in goal may improve the team's overall position, but getting the offense up to speed is not a one-year fix, and I think the staff and ownership are aware of this now.
This segment is a new bit for our regular Monday Musings column. Here are a couple of stories I think are worth watching over the upcoming week.
- How long is Louis Domingue going to stay? Domingue did not look his best to start the game against the Canadiens, but settled into a rhythm after the first period. How long is the coaching staff going to keep him with the parent club? And how often will he see actual NHL action?
- Will the real Mike Smith please stand up? This question will likely influence the answer to the first question. Which Mike Smith are we going to see the rest of the way? Will we see the Smith that got the Coyotes three points against the Flyers and Maple Leafs? Or will we see the Smith that got torched for five goals against the Senators?
- Are people going to show up down the stretch? The Coyotes have two home games this week: a Thursday night game versus the Carolina Hurricanes, and a Saturday night tilt against the Detroit Red Wings. The Thursday game will be interesting because it is a weeknight game against another bad team from the Eastern Conference. The Detroit game will be interesting because it's, well, Detroit. How many people are at each game, and whose colors they wear, will either bode well or ill for the franchise through April.
Who to Watch
Antoine Vermette seems to be the top Trade Deadline prize this season, but don't sleep on Martin Erat. He has seven goals and 16 assists this year, and has an extra year on his contract. If Vermette goes earlier than the deadline (and I think he will), than Erat's value may rise as teams scramble to add someone else who could help their club.
Hope you all like the new segments. I'd like to use your comments on our articles to shape this feature every week, so if you ask it, I may answer it.