NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
The Arizona Coyotes finished last in the Western Conference last season and have not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since reaching the Western Conference Final in 2012. They spent the offseason trying to remedy those issues.
"Our whole organization put in a lot of work this summer," coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes website on Thursday. "There was a lot of things that we had to address. … You just don't go through a season like we did last year without trying to fix a lot of things and that was the case this summer."
Some of that work included signing former Coyotes players (defenseman Zbynek Michalek and forwards Antoine Vermette and Boyd Gordon), who are expected to have an impact this season. But the play of captain Shane Doan and goalie Mike Smith are among the factors that will influence whether the Coyotes reach the playoffs or take part in the NHL Draft Lottery again next spring.
Here are three X-factors that will determine the success of the Coyotes this season:
Face of the franchise: Doan is entering his 20th NHL season; he's spent his entire career with the Coyotes' franchise. Doan turns 39 next month and is in the final year of his contract. He played 79 games last season and had 14 goals, 22 assists and 65 penalty minutes. He had 23 goals in 2013-14 and has scored at least 20 goals in 12 seasons.
Doan isn't likely to score 20 goals this season, but he is still a serviceable player. Doan is a competitor who has never won the Stanley Cup, but if this is his final season, he won't be satisfied with another last-place finish in the Western Conference.
"There's no way we can forget about everything that happened last year, but we can't do anything about that and have to be ready for the next year," Doan told the Coyotes website Thursday when training camp opened.
Doan's leadership and the respect he commands from coaches and players alike is one of his biggest assets, and he's expected to take on a mentoring role for highly regarded young forwards Max Domi and Anthony Duclair.
"You want to help guys shortcut some of the mistakes you make as a young guy or as a rookie coming into the League and as a veteran guy, make them feel comfortable," Doan said. "Those guys, they are coming in and getting an opportunity to play and you are excited for them. You see their skill and what they are able to do, and it's exciting."
Retirement isn't on Doan's mind right now; helping to turn around the Coyotes is.
"Excited to play, excited to get out there and have chance to compete," Doan said. "I'm going to enjoy doing it and I want to keep doing it."
Rebound for Smith: As he comes off the worst season of his career, goaltender Mike Smith's play will be a big factor in how the Coyotes' season unfolds. He was 14-42-5 with a 3.16 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage in 2014-15, and he did not have a shutout for the first time in his nine-year career.
The Coyotes have relied heavily on Smith, who has started at least 62 games in each of the past three full NHL seasons. Smith was 27-21-10 in 2013-14 and led the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2011-12 with a 38-18-10 record, eight shutouts, a 2.21 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.
One problem last season was the lack of offensive support; the Coyotes ranked 29th in the League last season with 165 non-shootout goals.
"I think Mike has a whole new outlook mentally," general manager Don Maloney said. "I think we'll play better defense in front of him, which is important, I think we'll have a better structure in front of Mike so he doesn't feel like he has to be all-world every night and he can just do his thing."
Smith feels he's turned the page from last season.
"Not starting over but forgetting about what happened last year and just kind of building on my game coming into camp," he said. "I feel good where my game's at right now and am further ahead than where I've been at in the past."
Domi's impact: The Coyotes hope the third time is the charm for center Max Domi, who is attending his third training camp with Arizona and still looking to make his NHL debut.
The son of longtime NHL forward Tie Domi, selected with the 12th pick in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, has spent the past four seasons with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and has increased his scoring totals each season.
Domi, 20, scored 32 goals and finished with 102 points last season, and appears ready to make the Coyotes' opening night roster.
"Obviously Max Domi is ahead of the pack in regards to we know he's mature, we know he's got a strong body, he has a skill set that we lack," Maloney said last month.
Arizona has openings up front, and Maloney would like players such as Domi and Duclair to take them and become impact players.
"If one of these guys comes in and shows they can help us win right off the bat, then we will keep them around for a while," Maloney said at training camp this week.
Author: David Satriano | NHL.com Staff Writer