10 questions as Coyotes open training camp

Sep 23, 2016, 1:45 PM | Updated: Sep 28, 2016, 6:20 am
Arizona Coyotes' Shane Doan skates to the puck against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period o...
Arizona Coyotes' Shane Doan skates to the puck against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 5-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Craig Morgan, Arizona Sports' Reporter

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coach Dave Tippett arrived home from the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto on Friday afternoon. Center Martin Hanzal and defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Oliver Ekman-Larsson aren’t far behind, and maybe wing Tobias Rieder will join them soon.

It’s time for the Coyotes to kick off 2016 training camp and a 2016-17 season rife with anticipation. It’s time for our 10 training camp questions.

10. Will Tobias Rieder ever re-sign?

Coach Dave Tippett had dinner with Rieder in Montreal during the World Cup of Hockey and said both sides want to get a deal done, but training camp has arrived without a contract, although the Coyotes continue talks.

“It’s kind of become an unfortunate situation in the sense that we tried to get something done longer term with Tobi, but there was just no consistency in the longer-term deals,” GM John Chayka said Thursday. “Now we’re talking about a bridge deal. When you get to that point there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room or creativity involved in those discussions. You’re limited to what you have and the comparable sets to comparable sets.”

Rieder is still playing for Team Europe in the World Cup semifinals on Sunday against Sweden, and if Europe wins, his World Cup commitment could extend as late as Oct. 1. Rieder’s agent, Darren Ferris, has said that Rieder will not decide whether to accept one of a couple KHL offers he is mulling until after the tournament has ended, but he will not attend camp without a new deal.

At last check, Rieder’s camp was looking for a two-year deal in the $2.5-$2.7 million range per year; the Coyotes were likely closer to $2.2 or $2.3 million. You would think they’d be able to bridge that gap.

9. What are the chances that Pavel Datsyuk or Dave Bolland ever plays a game for the Coyotes?

Bolland failed his physical on Thursday and is headed to long-term injured reserve before the season begins. Aside from his concussion history and the torn peroneal (ankle) tendon he suffered in November 2013 while playing for Toronto, Bolland is currently rehabbing a back injury he suffered last season with Florida, his agent Anton Thun said.

“The two issues are interconnected,” Thun said. “It looked like the ankle was going to be fine but it requires a significant level of day to day care. This past season when he sustained the back injury to one of his vertebrae, it impacted his ability to do that day to day care.

“There is a vertebra that is pinching a nerve so it’s not sending an electrical signal down to the ankle to provide that impulse to activate. Until his back is fully healed, it’s difficult to rehab the ankle. There’s nothing nefarious about this. It’s just a long process.”

Thun insists Bolland wants to play again, but the Coyotes won’t have to worry about that for at least another year. In the meantime, they get 80 percent relief from his annual $5.5 million salary.

As for Datsyuk, don’t hold your breath. Even though the KHL season ends well before the NHL season, Datsyuk, who plays for SKA St. Petersburg, isn’t going to fly across the Atlantic just for the NHL postseason, and the Coyotes probably wouldn’t ask him. That didn’t stop forward Anthony Duclair from half-heartedly speculating about a Datsyuk return this summer, however.

Duclair was back at it on Thursday.

“You never know,” he said, laughing. “It’s a long season.”

8. What does Radim Vrbata have left in the tank?

It’s interesting how Vrbata transformed from a 31-goal scorer to an over-the-hill forward in the span of one year — in the eyes of some analysts, anyway. If you examine the dramatic difference in usage between his first season in Vancouver and his last, it’s easy to explain much of the drop-off.

Putting it bluntly, the Vancouver Canucks are a hot mess of poor personnel and coaching decisions. Vrbata is thrilled to be out of there and back in a place he said Thursday “feels like home.”

A 30-goal season is probably unrealistic for Vrbata this season, but 20 goals should be a reasonable goal and 25 would be a terrific season. Tippett hasn’t decided how he will use the three-time Coyote yet, but one possibility is reuniting him with center Martin Hanzal and then playing Max Domi on the left wing to reprise the role that Ray Whitney held when Vrbata tallied a career-high 35 goals in 2011-12.

When that line combination was floated again on Thursday, Vrbata grinned.

“That would be great,” he said. “That would be interesting.”

7. What’s up with that new arena?

As we have noted many times, the deadlines that the team set previously were artificial deadlines. Fans are clamoring for news but the truth is, it doesn’t matter whether the team announces an arena site now, in December or in March. Some fans believe not announcing the site will impact season ticket sales. That simply is not the case.

Getting a new arena built is a complex deal with many fits, starts and unforeseen complications. The only thing fans should be concerned about is if it doesn’t happen, but there is optimism from multiple sources on multiple sides of this deal so relax and enjoy some hockey while they sort it all out.

6. How will having their AHL team in Tucson affect the Coyotes?

Dramatically. In a hailstorm of offseason moves, Tippett cited this one as the most impactful. The team’s staffs can compare notes, meet, watch each other’s players, call-ups will be simple, conditioning stints will be simple and the Coyotes have found a way to expand their footprint into the second-largest market in the state in a manner none of the other three major pro teams in town has been able to do.

5. Will Martin Hanzal be on this roster beyond this season?

The answer is fluid and dependent on many variables. Chayka said Thursday that he had discussions about a contract extension with Hanzal’s camp last week but there is “no rush” and the talks will likely drag into the season with the Coyotes taking a wait-and-see approach.

Hanzal has a history of back problems and missing significant portions of the season. How much money do the Coyotes want to commit to a center with those issues who will also be on the wrong side of 30? Some of that will depend on Hanzal’s performance this season; some of it will depend on the development of their other prospects. Ryan MacInnis has made great progress and has the size and skill to replace Hanzal if that trend continues, but the Coyotes will also weigh the need for veteran presence in their lineup. Hanzal isn’t the only veteran leader whose contract expires after this season. The same is true of Vrbata, Shane Doan and Zbynek Michalek.

4. Is this Mike Smith’s last stand?

The Coyotes can only protect one goalie in the expansion draft next summer and Louis Domingue makes far less money than Smith. If Domingue plays well again in a backup role this season, the Coyotes would likely expose Smith, but that doesn’t mean Las Vegas will claim him, especially if there are other goalies available and they don’t want to tie up that $5.666 million cap space for the next two years.

Tippett is blunt in saying Smith has to be better over long stretches than he has been the past few seasons, but with a revamped defensive corps and more possession-driving forwards, maybe this is the year of Smith’s renaissance.

“It’s kind of a breath of fresh air to see what we’ve done in the offseason with the moves to improve the team,” Smith said. “It takes a lot of pressure off the goaltending when you make moves like we have in the offseason to shore up our defense. Mentally, I don’t feel like I have to do it all myself. I can just do what I need to do to help the team win.” 

3. Is this Shane Doan’s last season?

My best guess is yes, but that does not come from anything Doan has said. It comes from an understanding of the protracted contract talks that took place this summer that made it pretty clear the Coyotes would move on from Doan if necessary.

This year’s incentive-laden contract acts like a thank you to Doan for the priceless contributions he has made for the past 20 years to the team, the franchise and the community — on and off the ice — but as I wrote after the signing, Doan shouldn’t overstay his welcome.

It’s hard to know when to say goodbye and you can’t blame Doan for wanting to hang around as things are starting to get interesting. He can help that cause with another productive season like last season, but here’s hoping that whenever it comes, Doan’s farewell tour ends with a playoff berth. Nobody deserves a stylish sendoff more than the most genuine man I’ve ever met. 

2. Which prospects will make the roster? 

If Rieder re-signs, I see two center positions open, maybe a right wing spot open, maybe a third-pairing defensive opening and maybe a depth forward opening.

The surest bet is center Dylan Strome, who brings a level of creativity the Coyotes desperately need. If Christian Dvorak shows well in camp, he could lock down a bottom-six center role. If he doesn’t, the Coyotes could look to Laurent Dauphin, Tyler Gaudet or let veteran Ryan White fill that role. Other prospects to watch: right wing Christian Fischer, defenseman Jakob Chychrun and left wing Lawson Crouse, who would add a toughness element.  

1. Are the Coyotes a playoff team? 

Had the team been able to swing a deal for a top-four, right-handed defenseman (maybe it still will) to go along with free-agent signing Alex Goligoski, I think they would have been knocking on the doorstep. Goligoski will help the team’s zone exits, possession numbers and offensive transition, not to mention Ekman-Larsson’s hard minutes, but the Coyotes are relying on too many young faces like Domi, Duclair and Strome to carry them. Tippett has a lengthy history of keeping competent teams in the race so Arizona should be competitive, but when you consider the strength of the West, particularly the Central Division, it’s hard to find seven teams the Coyotes can outgun to qualify for the postseason for the first time since a run to the 2012 Western Conference Final.

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