Now that the postseason fates of GM Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett are clear, it’s time to turn our attention to the main issues facing the Coyotes this offseason. Arizona doesn’t do easy offseasons so, as usual, there are many questions to answer before the team takes the ice for the 2016-17 season — currently its last under contract at Gila River Arena.
10. What is the injury/surgery situation heading into the summer?
Center Boyd Gordon, who will be an unrestricted free agent, had a minor procedure Tuesday to remove a pin from his hand that he played with for about a month after breaking his thumb while blocking a shot Feb. 4 against Chicago. … Center Martin Hanzal (upper body) had already been cleared to play before the final game of the season. … Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s shoulder is still sore after jamming it March 7 against Colorado but he won’t need surgery. … There is no change in forward Joe Vitale’s status as he continues to suffer from concussion-like symptoms after a brutal fight with Boston’s Kevan Miller on Oct. 17 that sidelined him the rest of the season. Vitale is under contract for another year but the team has no idea when or if he’ll be able to play. … Backup goalie Anders Lindback is in a walking boot and expects to resume skating in June after surgery on his partially torn Achilles tendon in mid-February. … Defenseman Michael Stone is on crutches after surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL. The minimum estimated recovery time for Stone is six months, which would allow him to return for the end of training camp, but the rehab could take much longer.
9. Who will be the next GM?
It’s too early to say, although president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said the search should only take between two and six weeks. When asked if he had some names in mind, LeBlanc said: “I do, and we’re not going to say anything.” There have been a few names bandied about with Dallas assistant GM Les Jackson a strong candidate. Jackson has been with the Stars organization for 28 years and has a relationship with Tippett from Tippett’s time coaching there. Blackhawks assistant GM Norm Maciver might warrant consideration. He has spent nine years in Chicago; four in his current post working under GM Stan Bowman. Former Coyotes executive Sean Burke has also been mentioned.
8. What about a new arena?
LeBlanc said at his press conference on Monday that he hoped to make an announcement within a couple weeks. It’s unclear what the nature of that announcement will be, but the same locations continue to be mentioned with various advantages and hurdles cited at each one. A well-placed source told Arizona Sports that one main, but substantial concession stands between the Coyotes and an arena deal with Arizona State University.
7. What will Shane Doan do?
Doan can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He has already said he has no plans to leave the Valley so the expectation is that he will sign a new deal with the Coyotes this summer. Doan is talking things over with his family before making a decision, but he told Burns and Gambo Wednesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that he would likely make a decision around the end of this month.
6. What are the Coyotes’ greatest offseason needs?
They need to shore up their blue line. There are no prospects ready to make the leap to the NHL and the Coyotes need at least one, maybe two top-four defensemen. Michael Stone’s injury only compounds the need. Ideally, Arizona would like to find a right-handed defenseman to pair with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and then slide Connor Murphy to the second pairing with a player to be determined. Before he was fired, Don Maloney noted that the Coyotes have plenty of cap space while other teams could be in trouble since the salary cap won’t rise much this season. That could create trade opportunities with St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Nashville’s Ryan Ellis and Tampa Bay’s Anton Stralman among the most attractive options. If the Coyotes go the free-agent route, Detroit’s Kyle Quincey, L.A.’s Luke Schenn and Dallas’ Jason Demers are some of the names available in a largely uninspiring class.
5. What will the team’s strategy be at the NHL Draft?
The belief is that the organization’s greatest depth now exists at the center position with Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak possibilities to make the roster next season while Ryan MacInnis, Laurent Dauphin and Tyler Gaudet all have bottom-six potential. Maloney believes you can never have enough centers and he’s right, so the Coyotes should not ignore the position, but first and foremost, Arizona needs to begin restocking its defense. There are no top-end prospects in the system and the NHL roster is also short-handed thanks in large part to big misses on 2010 first-round pick Brandon Gormley and 2007 first-round pick Nick Ross. The Coyotes also need to add depth at the goaltending position. Louis Domingue saved them this season after injuries to Mike Smith and Anders Lindback. He probably earned the backup job in the process, but top prospects Adin Hill and Niklas Treutle are a long way from the NHL. The Coyotes could also go the free-agent route to shore up this position and find a player who can jump into part-time NHL duty in an emergency.
4. Which of the team’s free agents are most likely to return?
The Coyotes have nine restricted free agents on the current NHL roster. It’s hard to gauge their importance with a new GM coming, but the top priorities should remain forward Tobias Rieder, defensemen Connor Murphy, Stone, Klas Dahlbeck, Kevin Connauton and goalie Louis Domingue. The picture is much cloudier for suspended defenseman Jarred Tinordi (substance abuse) and forwards Sergei Plotnikov and Jiri Sekac. As for the unrestricted free agents, Doan seems like the only sure bet. Forward Boyd Gordon is facing a numbers game at center. The Coyotes could upgrade on forwards Kyle Chipchura, Viktor Tikhonov, Eric Selleck, defensemen Nicklas Grossmann, Alex Grant and goalie Anders Lindback. Veteran forward Alex Tanguay did some good things after coming over in a deadline deal for Mikkel Boedker. Tanguay was playing for another contract but he’ll be 37 in November. His chances of returning are still slim.
3. Are there any other contracts up for renewal?
Yes. Assistant coach Newell Brown’s contract expires June 30. Tippett said this week he would like Brown back and that makes sense, given the excellent work Brown has done with the power play the past few seasons — particularly this season when the Coyotes simply lacked the personnel to field an effective unit. Brown is an upbeat guy who is immensely popular with the players. If he wants a new deal it will likely happen. “Tip and I have had discussions, but I don’t have anything on paper to consider at this time so I’ll be keeping my options open,” Brown said. “The potential here is fantastic, but there are some obstacles to overcome so this is going to be a big summer.” Goalie coach Jon Elkin also needs a new deal after signing a one-year contract last summer.
2. Which top prospects will make the team out of camp and which need more seasoning?
The assumption is that centers Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak have the best shot at the roster, but Tippett will likely tap the brakes on that assumption just like he has the past two seasons. Players have to earn their spots. That said, the Coyotes could really use an infusion of top-end talent at the center position to generate more creativity on offense and improve the team’s sagging possession game. Arizona didn’t have the puck enough this season. Part of that was due to a thinly-stocked blue line; part of it was due to the center position. The Coyotes would like 2014 first-round pick Brendan Perlini to spend some time in the AHL next season so the coaching staff can get its hands on him and work through some kinks that developed playing under less than ideal tutelage with Niagara of the OHL. While center Ryan MacInnis made bigger strides than any player in the system, he still needs to add weight and could benefit from a year in the AHL. The rest of the team’s top prospects need more seasoning, but AHL players such as Laurent Dauphin and Tyler Gaudet could continue to see time at the pro level. The Coyotes have also had a training camp surprise each of the last two seasons (Tobias Rieder, Jordan Martinook).
1. Can the Coyotes contend for the playoffs next season?
It depends largely on how active they are on the market this season. If Strome and Dvorak do make the roster, they’ll still need the support among the top nine forwards. The Coyotes still need scoring depth on the wings to augment the production of Max Domi and Anthony Duclair while they wait for Perlini and others to make the leap to the NHL. LeBlanc said there is flexibility in the budget, but the money must be spent wisely. The Coyotes finished near the bottom of NHL spending again this season and at times, with their call-ups, had an absurdly low roster payroll. If they’re truly serious about contending for the postseason, this has to be a season of transition where those spending habits change.