After a relatively quiet offseason, the Arizona Coyotes enter the 2014-15 campaign with little fanfare and modest expectations.
Speaking with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM‘s Burns & Gambo on Wednesday, Coyotes captain Shane Doan said it looks like the front office tried to mold the team in a way that more closely resembles the hard-nosed groups that made the playoffs in each of Dave Tippett’s first three years at the helm.
Doan also said that the front office is “building the team up from within” rather than being overly active in free agency and trades. Only five players on the 23-man roster — Sam Gagner, Justin Hodgman, Joe Vitale, B.J. Crombeen and Devan Dubnyk — are new to the team as it enters the season.
“It’s kind of our identity — who we are,” the captain, who turns 38 on Friday, said. “No one’s really picking us to do anything. And that’s maybe a good thing.”
The Coyotes are coming off of two straight years where they had winning records but failed to make the playoffs. They were hot out of the gate in 2013-14, boasting a 14-4-3 record on Nov. 16, but they finished two points behind Dallas for the last wild card spot.
If the Coyotes are to return to the postseason, there is one primary obstacle that the team most overcome, and it’s an issue that plagues the Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Suns in their respective leagues: conference strength.
Seven Western Conference teams recorded 100 points or more in the standings last season — as opposed to just four in the East — and many of the West’s top clubs made key additions and arguably got even stronger over the summer.
“I think there might be three teams in the East that would be definite playoff teams in the West, but other than that, the West is so strong. It’s unbelievable,” Doan said, pointing to the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and defending-champion Los Angeles Kings in particular.
The captain said he always has a positive outlook on his own team as long as it keeps a talented trio together: defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle and goaltender Mike Smith.
“If they are on top of their games, I’d put those three up against anybody on any team,” said Doan, who is entering his 19th year in the league, all with the Coyotes franchise. “We have three guys that are as good as anybody. We have guys that are going to have to step up and contribute, and I think that (24-year-old left wing) Mikkel Boedker is on the kind of the crest of being the guy that can be your 80-point guy that has the ability to, every single night, be the difference-maker in the game.”
Doan also broke down some areas of improvement for Arizona if it’s going to better compete with the NHL’s big guns.
“We need more scoring; we know that,” he said. “We might need a little bit on the blue line — a little bit more size; we know that too. But I also think that we have the capabilities and the abilities to be as good as we’ve been in the past. It’s going to kind of have to go back to the way we used to do it, and that’s really what we’re heading for.”