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Coyotes GM Maloney will explore opportunities to improve roster

Arizona Coyotes left wing Mikkel Boedker (89) celebrates with teammates after scoring in the first period during an NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
LISTEN: Don Maloney, Coyotes general manager

Their 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators Tuesday notwithstanding, things are going pretty well for the Arizona Coyotes.

They are 13-10-1 and their 27 points are good enough for eighth-best in the Western Conference, meaning if the postseason started now, they would be a part of it.

Coming off last season’s disaster, it would be understandable if the organization was satisfied with just being average. But that’s not the goal, and general manager Don Maloney, as a guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, said Wednesday there are areas of the team he would like to improve.

“You look at our forward group and we could use a little more skill, a little more playmaking, I believe, up front,” he said.

The GM noted his entire pro staff is all together with him in Detroit and they will be meeting over the next couple of days.

“Really, you’re a little after the quarter-way mark in the season,” he said. “It’s a good time to sort of evaluate where we’re at, where other teams are at, what needs there are.”

That’s not to say the Coyotes are looking to make wholesale changes, rather Maloney said the meeting is more of a chance to determine the strengths and weaknesses of every organization in the NHL and see if there are opportunities to make something happen.

“So for us, it’s really more of a general update,” he said. “Can we improve in our playmaking ability? We’re always looking for more speed and skill. The back end, even though we’re playing well with what we have back there, we’re always looking to upgrade in that position.

“To me, the next two days are more what opportunities are out there.”

Maloney added there are specific times during the season where a deal is more likely to be made, and while anything can happen at any moment, right now the idea is mostly to formulate a plan.

“So we’re just looking around and identifying some players we can target,” he said. “Everything we do now is looking long-term. How can we help us in two, three, four years compete for a Cup?

“Right now we want to stay in the playoff run and hunt, but we’re not going to do anything that’s going to affect our long-term goal of winning a Cup.”

Seems like a reasonable approach for a team that might be a little ahead of schedule in terms of success. The team is getting outstanding production from its young stars. Rookie center Max Domi and forward Anthony Duclair have been every bit as good as advertised, with the former leading the team in points with 21 and the latter tied for second on the team with eight goals.

Veterans Mikkel Boedker, Martin Hanzal and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have also played well, and the term “veterans” is used loosely because the oldest of that group is Hanzal, who is just 28.

So really, while the Coyotes would like to improve their current roster, Maloney is not interested in doing so at the expense of what appears to be a very bright future.

“I think we’re always looking to upgrade, that’s the job,” he said. “A year ago we’re having a different conversation. We made a conscious decision to say, ‘You know what, we have to sacrifice this year to be better down the road.’ And we did that, we suffered through it, but nobody wants to go through that again. So where we’re at right now, we’re right in the playoff mix or hunt. Can we stay there in 20 and 40 games from now? Time will tell.

“But what I’m encouraged about is our young players continue to push forward. Max is leading the team in scoring and Anthony Duclair continues to have — although he wasn’t very good last night — continues to bring that skill and quickness that we have, and Tobias Rieder. The good thing is the young players will improve, they will. There’s upside and growth potential.”

Maloney added the Coyotes could use Shane Doan, who has been out with a lower body injury, back on the ice, because along with the young talent, they need the veterans to step up, too.

“I like our team, I like our mix, I like our chemistry,” he said.

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