NHL 2014-15 preview: Arizona Coyotes

Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.

A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.

Arizona is our 22nd-ranked team.

Arizona Coyotes

Division: Pacific
2013-14 finish: 37-30-15, 89 points, 18th overall; missed playoffs
Leading scorer: Keith Yandle (53 points)
General manager: Don Maloney
Head coach: Dave Tippett
Captain: Shane Doan
Opening night starter: Mike Smith
Key acquisitions: Sam Gagner, B.J. Crombeen, Devan Dubnyk, Joe Vitale
Key departures: Radim Vrbata, Mike Ribeiro, Thomas Greiss

Off-season grade: C-. Already a mediocre offensive team, the Coyotes saw two of their top five scorers from 2013-14 depart this summer. Radim Vrbata signed with Vancouver, while the Coyotes used a compliance buyout on Mike Ribeiro after just one season in the desert. To offset that, the Coyotes made a trade to acquire Sam Gagner, whom the club believes will benefit from a change of scenery. Another tough loss came in the backup goalie department, with Thomas Greiss heading to Pittsburgh. Greiss provided reliable depth behind Mike Smith, while new backup Devan Dubnyk has been erratic and hard to rely on. His stats were pitiful in Edmonton last season, but playing in Dave Tippett’s goalie-friendly system should immediately help. “I think Dubnyk is a guy, of all the [backups] we’ve had here in the last little bit, with a great deal of upside,” Tippett told reporters. “He’s looking to rebound and get his game going in the right direction.” We’ll see about that.

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Greatest strengths: Through all of the chaos surrounding the ownership of the franchise in recent years, Tippett’s teams have been routinely able to produce. He’s made the playoffs in three of the past five seasons with rosters full of overachievers. That’s a testament to his coaching ability. He’s designed a system that has helped his goaltenders immensely. Former backups such as Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith put up career years under Tippett’s watch. And when Bryzgalov left the Coyotes for big money, he could barely function. Just ask Philadelphia Flyers fans.

Greatest weaknesses: Holding the lead. The Coyotes ranked 28th (.697) in the NHL last year in winning percentage when leading after two periods. That seemed to be the theme of their entire season. They struggled to win close games, finishing second in the league with 15 overtime and/or shootout losses, and lost seven of their final eight games, which ultimately cost them a playoff spot.

Biggest storyline to watch: For a team that lacks scoring punch, the Coyotes have an intriguing prospect in 2013 first-round pick Max Domi. He’s only 19 years old, so it remains to be seen if he’s ready to play at the NHL level, but the son of former Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi has been an offensive force at every level. That’s exactly what this team lacks.

2014-15 prediction: Oliver Ekman-Larsson reaches his elite potential and finally gets the recognition he deserves as a Norris Trophy candidate. At 23 years old, the Swede is one of the best young defenceman in the game.

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