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From the editor's desk: what to do about the defense

This week we consider the current makeup of the Coyotes' defense, and look ahead to the big stories in an odd assortment of games.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Coyotes will have some difficult choices to make on defense this offseason. Four of the seven defensemen currently on the roster will no longer have contracts after the 2015/16 season. Though two of them, Michael Stone and Connor Murphy, are restricted free agents, they are likely going to command salary increases, which could become a problem.

As it currently stands, Stone will make $1.45 million next year, and Murphy will make $833k. Neither are suddenly going to be commanding Oliver Ekman-Larsson type money, but both will likely receive a considerable pay raise. For a team on an internal budget that is far below the salary cap, that is going to force some difficult decisions on a back end that is already dealing with depth issues.

The Coyotes likely need another top four defenseman and a shutdown blueliner in the mold of Adrian Aucoin or Rostislav Klesla. While the latter will probably not be terribly expensive to obtain, the former is a much bigger challenge. For a defensive corps that already looked pretty young this season, getting younger is not going to help.

Thoughts

  • Devan Dubnyk has been stellar for the Wild this year; 7-1-0 with a .948 save percentage and a 1.31 goals against average. Pretty darn good.
  • But before everyone decides that Don Maloney should not have dealt Dubnyk, keep in mind that Minnesota is 9th in the NHL in 5v5 Corsi For at 52.1% and 4th in Score Adjusted Fenwick at 53.9%. Arizona is 23rd and 21st, respectively.
  • Here's a more detailed primer on how Score Adjusted Fenwick works, but basically it seeks to address how teams tend to get outshot in larger numbers when they lead by multiple goals, as the winning team "turtles" to protect the lead while the losing team takes more shots to try and climb back into the game.
  • The idea of drafting Noah Hanifan, a defenseman, is undoubtedly making more than a few Coyotes fans who pine for offense unhappy. But the defensive corps is not as deep as it once was. David Rundblad and David Schlemko both left for other pastures, and Zbynek Michalek and potentially even Keith Yandle could be moving on within the next year.
  • As much attention as youngsters like Connor Murphy, Philip Samuelsson, and Brandon Gormley are getting, a name that also intrigues me is Andrew Campbell. The Coyotes clearly like the way he's played this season. It wouldn't surprise me if the team tries to re-sign him this summer.
  • Speaking of Gormley, I took a look at where Gormley was last season and tried to figure out if there should be concern about his slow development. Ultimately, I thought that his development was not too worrisome, considering a comparable draft pick, Dylan McIlrath of the New York Rangers, has been developing slowly too. Now McIlrath may be on the move.
  • McIlrath's circumstances this year are different than Gormley's. McIlrath is stuck behind seven solid NHL defensemen, and is in a crowded farm system. It's hard to say Arizona has either of those on defense right now. So Gormley not being with the NHL team is troubling.

Storylines

  1. Does Don Maloney pull the trigger early? With league-wide interest in players like Martin Hanzal and Antoine Vermette, Don Maloney is in all likelihood going to be making deals soon. But how soon? Obviously Maloney wants to get the biggest possible return, but waiting too long potentially allows other teams (hi there, Edmonton and Buffalo) to take suitors off the market and reduce the incentive for a bidding war. Who is going to blink first?
  2. Can the Coyotes take advantage of tired teams? Arizona plays Chicago tonight after the Blackhawks bruised out a victory over the St. Louis Blues yesterday afternoon. They will play a New York Rangers team with an unorthodox road trip that goes from Toronto, to Colorado, to Arizona, and to Uniondale. Can they steal some points from teams way ahead of them in the standings?
  3. Which forward gets back in the groove? Mikkel Boedker's absence obviously hurts, but so does the lack of recent output from players like Sam Gagner (a goal and an assist in his last five games), Martin Erat (an assist in his last five), and Tobias Rieder (a goal in his last five). Someone is going to need to start scoring.

Who to Watch

Dave Tippett has used Lucas Lessio and Brendan Shinnimin on the same line for the past couple of games, and their speed has brought a new element to Arizona's bottom six. Will Tippett stick with them for the next couple of games?