We have reached the midway point of the Arizona Coyotes' season. To say it's going better than it expected would be a bit of an understatement.
The solid play of Arizona's rookie corps - Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, and Louis Domingue - is the prevailing storyline of the year. But let's take a look at some of the offseason moves Arizona made this summer and see how they are playing out.
The Free Agents
Antoine Vermette - Center
Antoine Vermette probably envisioned his return to the Desert as a little more triumphant than it has been so far. Vermette has just six goals and twelve assists this year, but only one goal and five assists at 5v5.
His play has picked up since a brutal start where he only had two assists in his first thirteen games this season, But he has a 45.9% 5v5 Corsi For percentage, which is the worst of his career. The good news for the Coyotes is that Vermette's deal only lasts through next season. And at $3.75M per year, it's not a dramatic overpay. But the Coyotes were definitely hoping for more out of him after he won the Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks last season.
Zbynek Michalek - Defense
Michalek was not expected to put up points when he returned to Arizona from a first round exit in St. Louis. Like Vermette, Michalek has some pretty subpar possession numbers (a 43.7 5v5 CF% and a -3.1 CF Rel%), but he tends to start shifts in the neutral and defensive zone, which makes it more challenging to generate offense.
On the eye test however, Michalek seems to have lost a step from years past. He's blocked at least 100 shots in every full season he's played in the NHL, and with 56 blocked shots in 32 games this season, he's poised to hit the 100+ mark again. One has to wonder whether all of that punishment is starting to exact its toll on Michalek's body.
Brad Richardson - Center
Brad Richardson was brought in to center the third line. He also has the longest contract of any veteran in the forward group, as he's signed through 2017-18. Overall, he has done his job admirably.
Richardson has three goals and thirteen assists this year, and only has a -1.0 CF Rel% despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. Of late, he's clicked with Shane Doan and Jordan Martinook, and is putting up solid numbers for $2.08 million a year.
John Scott - Forward
An All-Star Game selection is typically indicative of a strong season. Unless you're John Scott.
Scott has played in eleven games, recorded a single assist, taken 25 penalty minutes, and prompted a complete overhaul of the league's All-Star selection system. Now that's making an impact off the ice.
It's hard to say Scott has been good or bad for Arizona. He hasn't played enough to really make a difference on the ice, but there's no real player within the system that you could say isn't getting playing time because of Scott's presence on the roster.
Steve Downie - Forward
When reports start leaking to the media that say that you're being shopped, that's an indicator that the season is not going as planned. Downie has three goals, three assists, and 53 PIMs in 24 games, and has been in the press box more often than not recently.
Downie appears to have been signed under the expectation that Arizona would have an open spot on the bottom six. But Jordan Martinook has been faster, stronger, and younger than Downie, and so Downie doesn't really have a spot with Arizona. He's an unrestricted free agent after this summer, so Arizona doesn't urgently need to trade him.
Dustin Jeffrey - Forward
This year Jeffrey has played the role held by players like Alexandre Bolduc, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Tim Kennedy, and Nick Johnson: a veteran forward who can lead the AHL team and fill-in with the NHL team on short notice. In seven appearances, Jeffrey has one goal, one assists, and a horrifying 36.94 5v5 CF%.
Jeffrey earned himself a spot in the 2016 AHL All-Star Game thanks to a team leading 10 goals and 15 assists in 26 games. He will likely continue to bounce up and down between the AHL and NHL as injuries occur, which is all that can be asked of him really.
Anders Lindback - Goaltender
This summer was a bizarre one for Arizona's goaltenders. The Coyotes turned to Anders Lindback after trading Devan Dubnyk mid-season last year, and Louis Domingue explored a move to Europe without the team's permission to find playing time.
But Domingue ultimately stayed, and the Coyotes are reaping the benefits. Meanwhile, Lindback has a .909 5v5 save percentage to Domingue's .948. Lindback has no shutouts in 15 appearances, while Domingue has two in just 10 games. Mike Smith will return in February, which makes Lindback a prime candidate for a demotion to Springfield.
Boyd Gordon - Center
Boyd Gordon has done exactly what he was expected to do when Arizona traded Lauri Korpikoski to Edmonton to re-acquire him. He's started 33% more shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone, blocked 26 shots in 37 games, and won 56.1% of his faceoffs.
He's still looking for that first goal of the season after doinking a puck off the post versus Edmonton, but offense is not why Gordon is here. He's the prototypical defensive forward, and is doing exactly what is expected of him.
Nicklas Grossmann - Defense
Speaking of guys not brought to Arizona for offense, the Coyotes traded Sam Gagner to Philadelphia for Grossmann and the ability to take Chris Pronger's contract off of Philadelphia's hands.
In an unexpected turn of events. Grossmann actually has more goals and assists this season than Gagner does, and is still in the NHL, while Gagner was recently demoted to the AHL.
Grossmann is a slower version of Zbynek Michalek, which is a rather terrifying thought. But he is the kind of defenseman Dave Tippett likes; smart in his own zone and not prone to getting caught out of position. That's good, because his 42.7 5v5 CF% is not.
Stefan Elliott - Defense
Acquired from Colorado in exchange for Brandon Gormley, Elliott has been everything the Coyotes wanted from Gormley; consistent, productive, and healthy. Elliott has two goals and four assists in 19 appearances, and is fulfilling the seventh defenseman role quite admirably.
Equally appealing are his more advanced numbers. He has a 49.3 5v5 CF%, which is 1.3 percentage points better than the rest of the team. His positive numbers are to be expected as he starts 17% more shifts in the offensive zone than the defensive zone, but all that means is he's doing what he's supposed to: generating offense in the offensive zone.
As for Gormley? Well, he just cleared waivers for the Avs.
Viktor Tikhonov - Forward/Center
What a strange journey it's been for Tikhonov. His development in North America suffered from being rushed in the 2008-09 season. After five seasons in the KHL, he made his way back to the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks. But Artemi Panarin's explosive rookie year eliminated the need for Tikhonov in the lineup, and Arizona got a second chance with Tik.
So far, so good. He has two goals and an assist in 14 games, with the ability to play up and down the lineup where needed. Like Scott, he's inexpensive and isn't really taking up space. And his versatility is extremely valuable in case of injury.
As is the case in the NHL these days, none of Arizona's free agent signings have really been impact signings; Brad Richardson has arguably brought the best value to the team for the cost of his contract, while Stefan Elliott has been a pleasant surprise.
Still, Arizona is in contention for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division as the second half of the season begins. What Don Maloney does with his roster over the next month and a half will depend on how long this team keeps rolling, and who else falls out of the hunt.