The Arizona Coyotes, by most measures, exceeded expectations this year. They improved dramatically over last season's record. They got solid rookie debuts from Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. They got a glimpse of what a healthy Mike Smith is capable of.
And yet, could all not be well?
Last night Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that there were "rumblings" of a possible change in the front office. Now, Friedman is one of the more reliable sources for league-wide news in North America, but "rumblings" is very non-specific.
So how safe are General Manager Don Maloney and Head Coach Dave Tippett? And how safe should they be?
Dave Tippett's Status
There aren't many professional sports franchises that tolerate keeping the same staff through prolonged playoff droughts. Arizona has now gone four seasons in a row without a playoff appearance, and this wouldn't be the first time a possible shake-up on the coaching staff loomed over the offseason.
Yet unlike last season, Friedman's report suggest that Tippett wants to stay in Arizona. And it's not hard to see why; the future of the team up front is pretty darn bright, and it seems like a clear plan is in place for the team to follow. Whether it pans out is a totally different story, but thus far Tippett seems satisfied with the team's direction.
Don Maloney's Status
What about Don Maloney though? His last contract was a "long-term" extension signed in 2013, though nobody actually knows exactly how long that is. And it's not as though contracts offer much protection to front office personnel in the modern NHL anyways.
But if the timing of Dave Tippett rumors is odd, the timing of Don Maloney rumors is even odder. At this juncture the entire prospect pool has been shaped by Maloney, and so far ownership and management seem to be on the same page; during the second period Coyotes' CEO Anthony LeBlanc echoed Don Maloney's comments about a possible Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade.
Anthony LeBlanc doubling down on the "We're not trading OEL" comments.— Five For Howling (@Five4Howling) April 10, 2016
It certainly doesn't sound like there's any discord, but nobody benefits from a very public split. Perhaps we learn more as the offseason progresses. We shall soon find out.
Looking Towards the Future
Even assuming Maloney and Tippett are safe for now, the leash should probably be getting shorter. Maloney definitely overestimated the strength of his team after the 2012 playoffs, and only last season did the team start to address the team's issues in earnest.
And there are still many holes to fill. The defense is still allowing goals at an alarming rate. The prospect pool on defense is threadbare. Goaltending is still an open question. Arizona's special teams numbers are not good, and the basic possession stats that have trended very heavily with postseason success are lagging way behind the rest of the league.
The Coyotes risk letting the best years of Oliver Ekman-Larsson go to waste. They risk evolving into the Colorado Avalanche, whose highly talented forwards have been held back by the team's underwhelming defense and ghastly possession totals.
Arizona barely survived missing out on a talented crop of forwards in Blake Wheeler, Kyle Turris, Viktor Tikhonov, and Peter Mueller. Their underperformance cost Wayne Gretzky and Mike Barnett their jobs as much as the team's bankruptcy did. Tippett and Maloney have a much better track record than Gretzky and Barnett do, but winning is what sells in the Valley of the Sun. And not winning is only acceptable for so long.
Based on Friedman's report, Tippett's fate appears to be tied to Maloney's. The departure of either would send shockwaves throughout the Coyotes' organization and the fan community. But no matter what happens this summer, the seat under Tippett and Maloney gets hotter. The rebuild is off to a good start, but it needs to produce results soon if Arizona's head coach and general manager are going to stick around.