Arizona Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney is in an extremely unenviable position.
On the one hand, today's NHL necessitates good drafting decisions and smart prospect development. The Coyotes need their young players coming into their own all at the same time, and in the right roles. Usually, that entails some lean years while new players adjust to their circumstances.
Unfortunately, as one Coyotes fan put it perfectly: "If they relocate before they're winning what's the point of being a fan?"
And therein lies the rub: the Phoenix sports market supports winners, regardless of sport. But when the team stops winning, the crowds don't show up. That's not just a Coyotes thing, that's a Suns, Diamondbacks, and even Cardinals thing.
But the Coyotes are far from ready to win. Did they improve their roster? Yes, on paper at least. The team should be more defensively responsible this year than last.
But the rest of the Western Conference got better too. Calgary added Dougie Hamilton to complement an already fearsome contingent of T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano. Edmonton added Connor McDavid (obviously), as well as Cam Talbot and Andrej Sekera. They have a long way to go to fix their mess on the back-end, but they made a good start.
The result is there are very few teams in the West that look like they're going to fall flat on their face this year. Vancouver? Perhaps. And maybe this is the year everything goes wrong for San Jose.
But the Coyotes have a lot of teams to jump ahead of if to get within sniffing distance of the playoffs right now. The only way to get closer in the immediate future is by going big in free agency or making some major trades.
Both of those options would make the team better now, at the cost of making them elite in the long-term. Will Milan Lucic have a better year this season than Christian Dvorak? Almost certainly. Would trading for Shea Weber stabilize the team's defense? Also almost certainly.
But the cost of doing so is that prospects that would help the team coalesce at the right time are going elsewhere. And in their place are aging forwards and defensemen whose best years are likely behind them. Maybe the Coyotes make the playoffs as a low seed now, but eventually losing out on those prospects would cost them a shot at the Cup later.
So ownership needs to fight the urge to rush the team's progress in search of a quick buck. Long-term stability in Arizona will ultimately require a perennial winner in the medium-term. Right now, there seems to be a blueprint for creating just that in Don Maloney's office at Gila River Arena. It's not time for ownership to go to the drawing board.
- Since my piece on the Coyotes' first and second round Draft success went up on Saturday, Cat Silverman of Today's Slapshot has done tremendous work comparing the Coyotes to other teams. A sampling of some of the teams who have done worse point-wise since Don Maloney came on: New Jersey, Vancouver, and San Jose.
- What separated those three teams from Arizona was the fact that they each hit the jackpot at least twice. The Devils got Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001 and Zach Parise in 2003, the Canucks got Ryan Kesler in 2003 after drafting both Daniel and Henrik Sedin in 1999, and the San Jose Sharks drafted Patrick Marleau in 1997 and Joe Pavelski in 2003. The Coyotes are still waiting for that world-class forward.
- That Quebecor is looking for new partners in its expansion bid is not terribly surprising; the company made $72.1 million in profit last quarter, which stretched over a year would equal barely more than half of the expansion fee. That's a mighty large startup cost to take on with just one company.
- I'm not wild about the hiring of Claude Loiselle from Toronto. The Randy Carlyle/Dave Nonis era in Toronto was a disaster made to look slightly better by unsustainable play in a lockout shortened season.
- As for one of Loiselle's other jobs - cap management - the most points any current player on the Leafs scored last season was 56, and yet they're only $4 million away from the cap. The team already has $27.8 million in salary committed through 2017-18.
- Now, Loiselle's voice will be counterbalanced by people like John Chayka, who has advised a more analytics-friendly direction for the team. But who is Don Maloney more likely to listen to?
- If the Coyotes continue making low-budget, short-term contract decisions in free agency, they'll probably be okay with a misfire here and there. If they start upping for the long-term however...
- Coyotes prospect Maxim Letunov appears to be heading to the University of Connecticut to play hockey. UConn visits Tempe in early-January to play ASU. So fans will likely get a second look at him assuming he comes out to training camp in September.