For as long as the Coyotes have wandered in the Arizona desert, it’s peculiar that they are still without a true franchise player.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, to be sure, is an elite, young defenceman, a cornerstone for a blue line corps. But that’s different than a franchise player, a difference maker, the kind of player, for instance, that may be available next June when Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome, Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifan, Pavel Zacha, and others become available through the draft.
Over the past decade, the Coyotes have had five top 10 picks, the area where impact players might be found. Of the players selected with those picks – Ekman Larsson, Mikkel Boedker, Blake Wheeler, Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris – only Ekman Larsson and Boedker are playing for Arizona, and OEL is the closest to being a true star.
Being pretty good as a team hasn’t helped. The Coyotes haven’t drafted higher than 12th overall in the last five drafts, which makes it harder to get those high-end talents.
A spotty 4-6-1 start this fall for Arizona, that included wildly different weekend results with a loss to Carolina and a come-from-behind, 6-5 triumph over Washington last night, probably has the Coyotes slated to miss post-season play again.
If that’s the case, many are wondering if Arizona’s new ownership and GM Don Maloney might have something drastic in mind.
Like blowing it all up.
Without a bona fide gate attraction, it seems increasingly unlikely that the Coyotes will be able to generate enough interest and revenue to stay in the Phoenix era long-term.
Alexander Ovechkin once helped the Caps out of a similarly miserable situation. We’ll see if John Tavares will have a bigger gate impact in Brooklyn. Colorado has seen Nathan MacKinnon re-invigorate the team’s appeal in Denver.
Phoenix has tried to sell winning, which didn’t sell very well. Could they sell a star like McDavid or Eichel? That question has to be crossing the minds of the big thinkers with the Coyotes, and while both Carolina and Buffalo won on Sunday night, right now it seems likely those teams will be worse than Arizona and thus draft higher next June.
Unless the Coyotes start off-loading bodies, that is. Keith Yandle’s name is already coming up in trade rumours. Veterans like Martin Hanzal, Sam Gagner, Boedker and Lauri Korpikoski have value. Maybe Mike Smith, too.
The Coyotes were dead last in NHL attendance last season with an average of 13,775 fans per game, and their numbers are down this season in the early going.
They’ve tried everything else in the desert. But they haven’t tried going for the The Next Big Hope. Now might be the time.
Other weekend takeaways:
— The new AHL overtime is causing NHL folks to take notice, particularly those who believe there are too many shootouts and not enough overtime goals.
The AHL – of it’s own volition, not at the bidding of the NHL, it should be noted – went to a new OT format this season in which teams play four-on-four for three minutes, and then three-on-three thereafter. After having 65 percent of it’s OT games go to a shootout last year, there’s been a dramatic decrease to only about 15 percent this season.
That seems about the right balance, doesn’t it?
The NHL, meanwhile, has seen the percentage of OT games that go to shootouts stay in the 50-60 percent range over the last five seasons. GMs like Detroit’s Ken Holland have been pushing the three-on-three concept, and now they have some strong evidence to suggest it works.
— As first reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night in Canada this weekend, the Bruins have signed head coach Claude Julien to a new three-year deal. The timing is good. With all the injuries the B’s have, now’s a good time to give the coach a vote of confidence, and a meaningful one.
— With the news on Saturday after his ninth NHL game that Aaron Ekblad will be staying in the NHL with the Florida Panthers, it means two players from the 2014 draft, Ekblad and Edmonton centre Leon Draisatl, have managed to crack NHL rosters as 18-year-olds.
Not that it’s necessarily a measure of the comparative strengths of the two drafts, but last year five 18-year-olds – MacKinnon, Alexander Barkov, Seth Jones, Sean Monahan and Valeri Nichushkin – played the entire season in the NHL. Elias Lindholm of Carolina, the fifth pick in ’13, also played 58 games for the Hurricanes.
— It’s fair to say the Maple Leafs are happy they’ve brought back Leo Komarov, even at the seemingly inflated salary which he was able to command.
Komarov played the final 1:53 of Saturday’s 3-2 win over Chicago, and made a big shot block in the final seconds. He won’t score 50 – maybe not even 10 – but his ability to kill penalties, drive possession and play an ornery style of hockey were areas the Leafs needed to address.
— Stephane Quintal’s honeymoon is over. Not only did he hand out multiple suspensions in recent days to John Moore, John Scott, Alex Burrows, Jordan Nolan, Anton Volchenkov and Andrew Ference. Nashville, meanwhile, is squawking loudly that the four-game ban handed down to Volchenkov for his head shot on Calgary rookie Michael Ferland was excessive.
All this after a relatively quiet pre-season and opening few weeks.
— The Taylor Hall injury in Edmonton will severely test the Oilers as they head out on a long road trip. Moreover, it again highlights that Hall’s aggressive (reckless?) style is going to have consequences. He missed seven games last year, three the year before, 21 during the 2011-12 campaign and 17 in his rookie season.
It’s estimated he’ll miss 2-4 weeks with this new knee injury.
— All signs are pointing towards the likelihood that Daniel Alfredsson will retire rather than give it one last shot with the Detroit Red Wings. Wings officials haven’t heard from Alfredsson for some time, and at this point, the offer would be to join the club for two weeks of practices and a tryout, not for a guaranteed contract. The strong play of their younger players, the inability to get other veterans like Dan Cleary and Stephen Weiss in the lineup and the imminent return of top prospect Anthony Mantha all are squeezing Detroit’s interest in the veteran star.
— Carolina coach Bill Peters seemed positively jubilant after scratching $7 million winger Alexander Semin for two games for indifferent effort, and then seeing the ‘Canes win both games. That’s fine, and it was surely a mistake to give the enigmatic Russian that five-year, $35 million deal. That said, it renders him virtually untradeable, particularly with no goals this season. So what will Carolina do with him?
— Due to injuries and roster decisions, the Calgary Flames dressed three Swiss players – goalie Jonas Hill, winger Sven Baertschi and defence man Raphael Diaz – against Montreal on Sunday night. Given that Brian Burke is in charge of the hockey operation, it was a little curious that the Flames were the team to do it, and even more curious that Diaz stepped in for hard-nosed defenceman Deryk Engelland. Then again, it worked. The Flames pounded Montreal 6-2.
— Evander Kane certainly has made his presence felt for the Jets since returning from a knee injury, particularly in a Saturday visit to Manhattan. Kane drilled Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh with a clean hit that knocked McDonagh out for several weeks with a shoulder injury, and then scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. If Kane can convert all that talent into being Winnipeg’s best player on a consistent basis, the conversation changes with respect to Winnipeg’s prospects of making post-season play.