One of my favorite series of writing every year is Scott Cullen’s “Off-Season Gameplan” over at TSN.ca. I find those pieces very informative and interesting, and they always get me thinking. Outside of the Stanley Cup Final, there really isn’t much to write about when it comes to the NHL right now. So I’ve decided I’m going to look ahead to the summer, previewing each Pacific Division team’s off-season.
We’ll go in reverse order of the standings, starting today with the Arizona Coyotes.
The 2017-18 season was a total disaster for the Arizona Coyotes. The club had a double-digit losing streak to start the season, and were done by the time Veteran’s Day rolled around in the States. Credit where due, however, because this team battled back and actually played quite well from January 1st on. In fact, they started to pass team’s in the standings, catching both Buffalo and Ottawa and finished with 70 points.
Arizona finished 30th out of 31 teams in terms of goals scored with just 208, and finished 22nd of 31 teams in terms of goals against, surrendering 256 over the course of the season. There are certainly areas where this team could improve, but a stronger second half gives way for what the club hopes is a brighter future. Not only were the results better in the final 41 games, but the club was being led by young players, a very good sign.
Clayton Keller is going to be a star in the NHL, and is likely the next face of the Coyote organization. He scored 23-42-65 in 82 games as a rookie, and led the club in scoring. In a dark year, Keller was a huge bright spot for Arizona’s future.
Derek Stepan registered 14-42-56 in his first season in the desert, quietly putting together a solid season for the Yotes. He’s not an elite player by any means, but Stepan is a solid veteran piece that Arizona can build with moving forward. He’s a leader and he can still contribute on the ice, making him a valuable part of this group.
Max Domi got a lot of flak this season and still finds himself in NHL trade rumors, but he still managed to register 45 points (9-36-45) in a down year. His shooting percentage completely collapsed and he’s likely to rebound to about 15 goals in 2018-19. He’s the kind of player that you can count on for 50 points a season, and those guys have value in this league.
Pieces To Build With:
Arizona is likely to move Domi this off-season, but I wonder if they could snag a legit veteran for him. There are rumors that Pittsburgh is interested, and I can’t help but think that Domi and another piece could snag Phil Kessel out of the Steel City. Regardless, either Domi or the asset coming back for him will be a piece that Arizona can use to build.
Keller, Stepan, Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer, Brendan Perlini, Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse and Richard Panik form a decent group of veterans and youngsters up front that give the Yotes firepower and explosiveness. They’ll have to be patient in letting some guys develop, but all of these players have enough talent to be useful pieces in the NHL. Keller, Stepan, Strome, Perlini and Dvorak, in my mind, should be top-six options for this team moving forward.
Defensively, re-signing Oliver Ekman-Larsson is priority number one. Outside of him, however, I think Jason Demers is a solid top-four defender, while Alex Goligoski is another capable veteran with the ability to transition the puck. Niklas Hjalmarsson was supposed to help provide a shutdown presence last season, but he certainly looked like his best days were behind him when he was actually healthy enough to play.
In goal, Antti Raanta struggled to start the season but was solid late and earned a new contract with the club. When healthy, he looked like the goalie Arizona thought they were getting from New York in trade last June. Darcy Kuemper is slated to be the club’s backup, and he’s proven he is fine in that role at the NHL-level. Goaltending shouldn’t be the black hole for this club that it was at the start of last season.
Arizona will select fifth overall at the NHL entry draft in Dallas in just a few weeks. Among options for them there will be forward Brady Tkachuk and defenders Noah Dobson, Quinn Hughes, Evan Bouchard and Adam Boqvist. There will be a very good opportunity for Arizona to snag another major piece of the puzzle in what I believe is a pretty deep draft class. If I’m GM John Chayka, I have my sights set on one of the RHD, ideally Dobson.
I think Arizona needs to add a top-four defender who can play on the right side. OEL-Demers is a solid duo, but Alex Goligoski needs to be moved back to the left-side. The club also needs a top-six left winger, top-six right winger and two bottom-six forwards, ideally a center and a winger.
The foundation is in place in the desert, but don’t be fooled, there is still a lot of work to do.
The Ideal Off-Season:
- Trade F Max Domi, 2018 3rd round pick, RW Conor Garland to Pittsburgh for RW Phil Kessel (20% retained)
- Trade D Niklas Hjalmarsson, F Michael Bunting to Carolina for D Justin Faulk
- Sign LW Blake Comeau to a two-year, $1,500,000 per contract
- Sign C Antoine Vermette to a one-year, $950,000 per contract
Brendan Perlini – Derek Stepan – Clayton Keller
Richard Panik – Dylan Strome – Phil Kessel
Christian Dvorak – Nick Cousins – Christian Fischer
Blake Comeau – Brad Richardson – Josh Archibald
Freddie Hamilton, Antoine Vermette
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Jason Demers
Alex Goligoski – Justin Faulk
Jakob Chychurn – Kyle Wood
Antti Raanta / Darcy Kuemper
Read More: 2018 NHL Mock Draft