GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Coyotes knew there would be little margin for error with the roster they carried into the 2014-15 season.
To have any chance of ending a two-year run of missing the playoffs, the Coyotes would need to play lockdown defense, have their goalie steal a few games and get scoring throughout the lineup.
None of that happened, leading to one of the worst seasons in franchise history and a roster overhaul.
“It’s been a rough year,” goalie Mike Smith said Monday. “No one was happy with the way it started, the way it finished and everything in between.”
The Coyotes didn’t make much of a splash on the free-agent market last offseason and lost top-line forward Radim Vrbata, yet still held out hope of a playoff run by getting back to their defensive roots.
Arizona had success with coach Dave Tippett’s grind-it-out-style a few years earlier, reaching the Western Conference finals, and figured it could work again.
It didn’t. Not even close.
The Coyotes struggled in their own end from the start of the season. Smith, who had been so good during their playoff run of 2012, foundered between the pipes, sometimes giving away games instead of stealing them.
Even with Smith playing better over the final two months, Arizona finished 28th in the NHL defensively, allowing 3.26 goals per game.
The Coyotes have struggled offensively almost since they arrived in the desert in 1996 and this season was no different; Arizona finished 29th in scoring 2.01 goals per game.
Saddled with a no-offense, no-defense combination, Arizona went on a freefall through the standings.
The Coyotes set a franchise record with nine straight home losses early in the season and matched it again late in the year. Arizona tied another dubious team record with 10 straight losses in February and finished 24-50-8, worst in the Western Conference and second only to Buffalo in the NHL lower-archy.
Arizona finished with 56 points for its worst total in a full-length season since 1980-81, and the 50 losses were the most since 1993-94. The 24 wins were fewest since 2003-04.
“The only thing we were good at was not being very good,” general manager Don Maloney said.
With the team spinning its wheels toward an ugly future, the Coyotes made the reluctant decision to overhaul the roster.
Hoping to gather assets to become younger and faster, Arizona made trade-deadline deals that sent All-Star defenseman Keith Yandle, center Antoine Vermette and stay-at-home defenseman Zbynek Michalek out of the desert.
The moves didn’t help the current team much, but they’re hoping it will pay off in the future.
Arizona has some talented players in its system who should be able to contribute next season, including dynamic forward Max Domi and forward Anthony Duclair, acquired from the Rangers in a trade that sent Yandle to New York.
The Coyotes also are holding onto big hopes for Saturday’s NHL draft lottery.
By finishing with the NHL’s second-worst record, the Coyotes have a strong shot at landing Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, considered two of the best prospects to come along since Sidney Crosby.
“To see what they’ve done, historically is pretty special,” captain Shane Doan said. “But that’s playing against boys and you come here and play against men in the NHL, they’re going to need a lot of support. Obviously, Saturday is big, but it’s a very small part of the process of getting better.”
Whatever happens, there’s a chance the Coyotes could move forward without Tippett or Doan.
Tippett has an out clause in his contract, which has three years left on it, and Doan, who is due $4.5 million on the final season of his contract, could waive his no-trade clause.
Both will be looking to see what direction the Coyotes head this summer before making any kind of decision.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go through this again,” Tippett said. “That’s the reality of it. We’re in this business to win and you don’t want to get into a situation where you want to trade players at the deadline, so the quicker we can fix those situations, the better is will be for everybody.”
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