In terms of major priorities, the Phoenix Coyotes have already crossed plenty of their offseason list.
Re-sign general manager? Check. Re-sign head coach? Check. Re-sign goaltender Mike Smith? Check. Get the Glendale City Council to approve a new 15-year arena lease agreement? CHECK, CHECK!
While Renaissance Sports & Entertainment still must finalize both its lease agreement with the City of Glendale and its purchase of the Coyotes by August 5, partner Anthony LeBlanc has already made one thing clear: the team’s payroll will be going up
and the business of hockey will once again be the focus rather than the secondary story to the team’s off-the-ice issues.
LeBlanc’s assurance that the team’s payroll will increase by “a real number” going into next season is music to the ears of Valley fans, especially given what lies ahead.
NHL Free Agency officially begins Friday morning, and while the Coyotes have arguably had their best stretch of success — three playoff appearances in the last four seasons — in franchise history, the team could certainly use some upgrades this summer, particularly if they want to keep fans coming to Jobing.com Arena.
A top-six forward is often a priority this time of year for the Coyotes, but even more so this summer.
During their lockout-shortened 2013 season, Phoenix finished No. 21 in goals per game (2.5) and No. 25 in power play percentage (14.8).
Plain and simple, they need playmakers on offense.
The 2013 Class of free agents isn’t exactly loaded with 30 or 40-goal scorers, but talent can still be had. And frankly given their depth defensively (Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle, Zbynek Michalek, Rostislav Klesla and David Rundblad), the Coyotes focus needs to be strictly offensive.
Keeping Boyd Gordon and Kyle Chipchura would be nice, but here’s a list of targets that could definitely bolster the team’s chances of getting back to the postseason:
THE POINT MAN – Brad Boyes, LW
Boyes, 31, is exactly what the Coyotes could use on the man advantage. The veteran winger isn’t the same player he was with the St. Louis Blues back in 2007-2008 and 2008-09 (76 goals and 61 assists), but he has no problem being the point man on the power play and is a very willing and able passer. After a down season in 2011-12 with the Buffalo Sabres, he rebounded in 2013 with an admirable 35-point campaign. Phoenix is still looking for the right guy to replace Ray Whitney and Boyes could be just the man for the job.
THE WILD CARD – Clarke MacArthur, LW
Sticking with the winger theme, MacArthur is a free agent with a lot of upside but not a lot of notoriety. The 28-year-old put up back-to-back 20-goal seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but because the team was so bad until last season, few have heard of the eight-year veteran. He’s a good skater, creative with the puck and has no problem fighting through checks in the offensive zone. A down year in 2013 could make him an affordable, yet attractive target.
THE TIPPETT CHOICE – David Clarkson, C/RW
When looking at the 2013 free agents, few have skill sets more tailor-made to play for Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett than Clarkson. And that’s saying something considering center Mike Ribeiro played for Tippett in Dallas. Clarkson, a seven-year veteran, does it all. He can score (30 goals in 2011-12), he can thrive on the power play, he enjoys battling in and around the net and he has plenty of postseason experience. There’s a price tag for those qualities, but in Clarkson’s case, it might be money well spent.
THE HOLIDAY BUY – Viktor Stalberg, LW
If the Coyotes want to go shopping this Fourth of July Weekend, Stalberg might be their best bang for the buck. His time didn’t end well in Chicago, but make no mistake, he’s a speedster that instantly puts pressure on defensemen when the puck’s on his stick. Twenty six points between the regular season and postseason have likely hurt his value on the open market, but he has top-6 forward written all over him, he just needs the right change of scenery.
Other potential options: Michael Ryder (RW), Tyler Bozak (C), Damien Brunner (C), Valtteri Filppula (C)