Expect progress from Coyotes’ latest iteration

Sep 14, 2017, 4:28 PM
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)...
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Last season, the Coyotes unveiled a new marketing campaign dubbed Coyotes 2.0, a play on the team’s 20 years in the Valley.

In truth, the Coyotes have had multiple iterations.

There were the America West Arena years after the team’s arrival in 1996 dominated by the big personalities of Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick.

There was the move to Glendale in 2003 that ushered in Shane Doan’s captaincy and Wayne Gretzky’s ill-fated coaching career.

There was the league-ownership era in which former coach Dave Tippett took the team to three straight Stanley Cup Playoffs and the 2012 Western Conference Final. And there was a brief IceArizona era that saved the team from relocation in 2013 but failed to produce a playoff berth in four seasons.

Coyotes 5.0 began on Thursday with the first day of 2017 training camp at Gila River Arena. It may be the most extreme makeover yet.

The franchise is under the sole ownership of Andrew Barroway after he bought out IceArizona in June. General manager John Chayka traded mainstay goalie Mike Smith to Calgary, and the team also parted ways with 14-year captain Shane Doan, Tippett and right wing Radim Vrbata.

Arizona acquired center Derek Stepan and goalie Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers, added defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago, named Steve Patterson their new team president and CEO, hired Rick Tocchet as coach, and even cleaned house of their American Hockey League management and coaching staffs in Tucson.

“It’s exciting,” Chayka said. “There’s a lot of new faces and any time you have that there’s a bit of nervous energy in some ways, which is good. Obviously with a new staff now, that gives everyone kind of a clean slate and a breath of fresh air.

“We’re looking to win more games than we have in the past few years here.”

The Coyotes asked their fans to be patient as they embarked on a rebuilding project two seasons ago — one they admitted probably should have started sooner. With most of the team’s top prospects expected to make the team, however, there is a genuine belief that progress should begin this season.

Stepan adds badly needed center depth to a cast that also features a maturing Christian Dvorak, Brad Richardson and the long-awaited arrival of Dylan Strome.

Hjalmarsson gives Oliver Ekman-Larsson a suitable defensive partner with whom to play, everyone who has coached or played with Raanta showers him with praise, and young players Clayton Keller and Christian Fischer are being counted on to add speed, skill and scoring to a team that has missed the playoffs the last five years.

“For the most part, it’s all for the better,” forward Max Domi said of the roster changes. “We are confident that our team got better in the offseason and we’re moving forward with the right group of guys.”

The Coyotes finished with 70 points last season; 24 points off the playoff pace in the Western Conference. Seven of the West’s eight playoff teams should be as good or better than last season (Chicago is the lone exception) and non-playoff teams Dallas and Winnipeg should also be better.

It would take a quantum leap forward to grab one of the West’s eight postseason spots, but the Coyotes expect at least to be in the hunt.

“I think it’s up to the players, where they’re at in terms of their maturity and how quick they can buy into what Rick is trying to teach them,” Chayka said. “I’m as anxious to see as anybody.

“We’ve got a good group of talented players. If we can stay on the right side of injuries, get some bounces and young players develop as we hope they can and expect they can, then we expect to be a competitive team.

“There’s not a huge difference between winning and losing in this league. If we can get the right players to have big years then we can do it.”

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Expect progress from Coyotes’ latest iteration