Don Maloney being let go wasn’t what I was expecting first thing on Getaway Day. Everyone predicted that the Arizona Coyotes would be basement dwellers with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Coyotes had eleven more wins this season and twenty-two more points than last. They also were contending for a playoff spot until All-Star Break.
But after the All-Star Break, the Coyotes didn’t add big at the deadline and only won eight games after that. While it’s still an improvement, it’s not what the beginning of the season looked like.
As the Coyotes prepare to welcome a new general manager into their ranks for the first time since 2007, let's look back at GMDM's legacy: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Maloney’s arrival to the Coyotes came during a very tumultuous time. Ownership issues and the failed Gretzky Era were on their way to a head, but Maloney played well with the hand he was dealt.
If you look at what Maloney had done for the team, the first three seasons were considered a success. The team had three consecutive play-off appearances and one Western Conference Final appearance. But, the team followed it up with four years of failing to make the playoffs and one year at the bottom of the league.
He was good at finding the value players (Brad Richardson, Radim Vrbata, Mike Smith in 2011, Ilya Bryzgalov, etc) that could come in and play with the core that was already in place. He also had some very good trades, including acquiring Lee Stempniak from the Toronto Maple Leafs for three picks, the Wojtek Wolski trade that sent Kevin Porter and Peter Mueller to Colorado, and then less than a year later flipping him for Michal Rozsival.
Or the best fleecings of last season: trading Chris Summers and Keith Yandle and a third for Anthony Duclair and a first rounder. And my personal favorite at the time, Antoine Vermette for Klas Dahlbeck and a First rounder (Nick Merkley).
Working with a limited budget seemed to suit Maloney, until recently.
The success record for the Coyotes drafting is very slim; even in the Maloney Era before Ice Arizona took over the team. Scouting was an issue during the league years and that will forever be a black eye on the team and how the team progressed as Arizona swung and missed on multiple draft picks. Would more resources in Europe had led the Coyotes to pass on Brandon Gormley at 12th overall in 2010 in favor of a Russian forward named Vladimir Tarasenko? Did sentimentality cause Don Maloney to choose Henrik Samuelsson over Tanner Pearson?
Most people blame his lack of resources on some of these underwhelming choices, but with ownership's emphasis on "communication", and reports of disharmony in the front office coming out, maybe this season could have ended with a playoff berth. Maybe 2013-14 could have too.
Even if Dougie Hamilton would have been enough to push this Coyotes team into the playoffs, at least the Coyotes defensive depth wouldn’t be as bare as it is right now. Both Michael Stone and Connor Murphy have been pushed in their development rather quickly. Murphy is only 23 and is playing top pairing minutes with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Of course that doesn’t seem like a big deal considering Ekman-Larsson is 24, but the Coyotes have one of the youngest defensive groups in the league.
Another point that bugs me is that he was set at the beginning of 2014-15 to be a winning season. Which, obviously, didn’t happen in any way, shape or form. The 2011-12 season was magical, and the team barely missed the playoffs in 2013 and 2013-14, but those years looked more and more like flukes. And they gave Don Maloney an overinflated sense of his team's competitiveness.
The 2014-15 season was my first as a season ticket holder and it was almost my last. Being sold hope of the future brought me back, and is keeping me for a third season. This time hope being sold felt truthful.
I could go on and on about this but I’ll keep it to a few prime examples. The big signings of Mike Smith and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad contract is part of the ugly. At the time Smith was the best goalie option on the market and the team had just gone to the Western Conference final. But Smith has gone back down to earth numbers wise and the fan base is wondering if a buyout is going to be needed.
The signing of Mike Ribeiro will haunt the Coyotes until they stop paying his buyout hit. For many reasons this was a horrible signing and many Coyotes fans are glad he is gone. He may have brought 60 plus points to the table but the team didn’t need the type of publicity he brought.
Since the Ribeiro debacle, they haven’t gone after big names that would get big contracts. It makes you wonder there was a bit of a fear of trying and failing again.
Maloney also brought in the ‘good enough’ players at the deadlines. Martin Erat comes to mind. Erat was brought in from Washington and was promptly concussed. He never seemed to fit with the structure of the team, but he was good enough.
The last few seasons were just about being good enough, but let’s face it, the moves he made weren’t.
Maloney will not be jobless very long. He is a smart GM, but some teams may be leery with how things went the last three seasons. What he did for the franchise was both amazing and terrible. The fanbase trusted Maloney for nine seasons. I think it’s time to give someone else their shot.
The Coyotes are looking to go more analytical in their approach of how to build the team. Like it or not, that is how hockey is heading, and if they can money puck a Stanley Cup run, I’m all for it.