The Buffalo Sabres are now all but assured of a lock on last place in the NHL this season. The Arizona Coyotes' 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks now makes the gap between 29th and 30th in the NHL two points. Buffalo would need three of four points against the white-hot Columbus Blue Jackets and the unbelievably desperate Pittsburgh Penguins to pass Arizona, and only if Arizona took zero points for the rest of the year.
And yet, there are plenty of reasons why winning late in the year is not a bad outcome for the Coyotes. For starters, there's no way Arizona finishes out of the top five, and every single one of the projected top five selections has the potential to be an impact player in the NHL. Arizona may miss out on the top two prizes, but the consolation prizes are not half-bad.
Arizona has also demonstrated the ability to light up the scoresheet in the right circumstances. Granted, Antti Niemi has not exactly been Carey Price this year, and the Sharks' defense is not as stingy as it used to be. But the power play continues to produce despite the loss of Keith Yandle, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an absolute stud.
There's also something to be said for creating a winning culture in the locker room, especially among younger players. Young guys who work hard need to have the right habits rewarded with victories. Constant losing wears on everyone. Just ask Edmonton.
So all in all, this last week of the NHL season should provide us a glimpse into the 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes. With players like Tobias Rieder, John Moore, and the aforementioned OEL likely mainstays on the roster for the foreseeable future, the Coyotes are transitioning from a rough and tumble grit team to a speed and skill club. The cost of that transition has been high, and will continue to rise as the rebuild progresses, but it's ultimately the only way to be a contender in the modern NHL.
- The Phoenix Suns are reportedly exploring the possibility of a new downtown arena. To say the Coyotes wouldn't benefit from a more centralized location is a bit of an understatement.
- I don't think it's as simple as IceArizona walking over to Robert Sarver and throwing money his way though. The two teams are technically competing for the same entertainment dollars, don't use the same arena management company, and a partnership between multi-millionaires could very easily make any arena deal involving public financing from the City of Phoenix politically untenable, if it wasn't already.
- Coupled with the fact that the conditions of the Coyotes' stay at America West Arena prompted their move to the suburbs, and I find it highly unlikely that the two ownership groups come together to make a Phoenix arena happen.
- The other floated rumor, which has to do with a remodel to the US Airways Center seems even more unlikely. Any remodel that removes the sight-line issues USAC has on the upper level is going to gut a major portion of the building. While doable, it seems like the simpler option would just be to build a new arena altogether.
- Mark Arcobello is going to be paid by somebody this summer. He's had a nice coming out party this year, with 17 goals and 14 assists split between four different NHL clubs.
- Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona made it sound like Arcobello is not in the team's long-term plans. It's not terribly hard to see why if you dig a little deeper.
- Arcobello's shooting percentage with Arizona this year is 17%. In Edmonton this year it was 13%, while last year with the Oilers it was a mere 5.7%.
- It's very hard to say what Arcobello's true shooting percentage is going to be given the relatively small sample size of his career. But right now, Arcobello's shooting percentage is 45th in the NHL, next to the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko and Tomas Tatar.
- I think Arizona got Arcobello at a high point in his career, and he made the most of available playing time brought on by a struggling roster. Ultimately Arcobello seems like a prime candidate for statistical regression next season, so it may be wise for Arizona to pass on bringing him back.
- Brandon Gormley's demotion earlier this weekend makes me wonder if Andrew Campbell makes a run at the 7th spot on the blueline next year (assuming he re-signs, of course). Gormley should get some good playoff run experience down in Portland this season though.
- How many wins? The Coyotes have three tough teams on the calendar; two of which are fighting for their playoff lives? Can the Coyotes play spoiler?
- Can anyone pass Mikkel? Shane Doan and Sam Gagner are both tied with Mikkel Boedker with 14 goals this year. Tobias Rieder is one behind. Will any of these players pass him at the last moment?
- Who leads the team in points? Ekman-Larsson's franchise record 23 goals is impressive, but Gagner has made the point title race a bit more interesting. He sits just three points back with three games to go. Who pulls it out?
Player to Watch
Let's see what Andrew Campbell does in this final week. He has only a single assist on the year, and is still looking for that first career NHL goal.