Don Maloney's biggest mistake to begin the 2014-15 season was indecision.
After narrowly missing the playoffs last year, the Arizona Coyotes were seemingly close to making it back this year. At the same time, there had been two consecutive seasons of non-playoff hockey for the first time since Dave Tippett arrived. Maloney had to choose between building as strong of a roster as he could to make a run or tearing it down to start from the beginning.
In the end, he chose neither. And the decision was made for him.
As the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline lapses today, Maloney is no longer under any such delusion. He's traded his two best point scorers (Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle), and he shut down two other key cogs (Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boedker) for the entire year rather than rush their returns.
The reward for his handiwork is a terrible team. The team's leader in goals and points is now Oliver Ekman-Larsson, with just 17 and 31, respectively. He's 65th among NHLers in goals, and 156th in points. This team is going to struggle to score much of anything for the rest of the year.
But it's terrible for a purpose: to build a team loaded with talent later. The Coyotes have a glut of high round draft picks (four 1st rounders over the next two years at the time of this writing), as well as a very legitimate shot at selecting one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel this year. That is remarkable considering how utterly ineffective teams like Buffalo and Edmonton have been.
And it's all because Don Maloney finally committed himself to tearing down the roster he had. Now the hard part begins.
- If a terrible team is going to kill fan interest, we are still waiting to see it. Arizona's average attendance figures this year (13,245) are only 530 off last year's average (13,775), which included a playoff chase that came down to the wire.
- Whether or not the Valley is willing to support a "reset" is an open question. The upside for the Coyotes is that the Diamondbacks and Suns are also in the process of retooling their rosters to try and become more competitive.
- There's been virtually no discussion in Arizona about Andrew Barroway or the out-clause in the Gila River Arena management contract this whole season. That's kind of nice.
- I don't think it's possible for Maloney to have dealt so many players without Barroway and IceArizona's knowledge and/or approval beforehand. They seem willing to be patient with the team.
- There's definitely some dissatisfaction about two defensive prospects coming back to Arizona via trade when the team's offensive woes are so incredibly obvious. That's a little shortsighted.
- The biggest reason for that is that Arizona's goals against per game average is 3.32, tied with Buffalo for dead last in the league. Some of that is on Mike Smith, but the defense is not doing him any favors either. That has to change too.
- The other reason for bringing guys like Dahlbeck and Moore in is that it allows Maloney the ability to replenish his system's depth at the defensive position. With so many promotions and trades, guys like Andrew Campbell and Dylan Reese really need to be in the AHL bolstering the Pirates' blueline, not filling holes on Arizona's for weeks at a time.
- How ugly is this going to get? There's very, very little to like about this team on paper. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is good. That's about it. How many games can Arizona win down the stretch?
- What does the team do down the middle? The center position is looking even leaner than it did before. Are Sam Gagner and Mark Arcobello the 1C and 2C the rest of the way?
- How will fans respond? The depleted Coyotes play twelve home games for the rest of the season, including three this week. How many people are going to come out and see the team?
Player to Watch
Shane Doan is probably the only Coyote that will not be moved under any circumstances so long as he is under contract. This is a very tough situation for him to be in. How he leads the team in the coming weeks will set the tone for the offseason and the rebuild ahead.