GLENDALE – Center Martin Hanzal set career highs for assists (28) and points (41) in 2015-16 despite missing 18 games because of various injuries.
“It’s always great when you have a good season, but I always put that in second place,” Hanzal said. “First place is the team, and we didn’t make the playoffs, but I’m happy with what I’ve done this season and hopefully I can be better next year. Obviously, it’s a disappointing season. We didn’t make the playoffs but I think we were a little bit better than last year, which wasn’t that hard to do. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Coyotes fans worried that Hanzal’s back, which he had surgically repaired in February of 2015, would be problematic again this season, but he said that it wasn’t. The injuries that cost him 18 games this season, including the last five, were minor. In fact, he said he could have played in the season finale vs. San Jose on April 9 had he been with the team on the road.
“People always think it’s my back, but my back was actually really, really good this year,” Hanzal said. “I didn’t have any issues with my back.”
Hanzal, who began the season with 18 points in his first 17 games, finished the season ranked fourth on the team in assists (28), fifth in points (41), and seventh in goals (13). No other player notched more points on the road for the Coyotes than Hanzal (21), and only Boyd Gordon was better in the face-off circles among the regulars; Hanzal won 56.0 percent of his draws, Gordon won 57.9 percent.
Perhaps the most intriguing stat regarding Hanzal, whom many teammates insist does not get proper recognition League-wide, is this one: The Coyotes posted a 6-8-4 record in the 18 games in which he did not play.
“Our team looks different when he’s not in there,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said during the season. “He’s a big, strong centerman who can play against the other team’s top players and really be a stabilizer in our lineup. When he’s not in there it hurts us."
Hanzal’s season, the fourth of his five-year contract, featured multiple milestones. He played his 500th NHL game on Oct. 22 vs. the New York Rangers, he notched a career-best three-game goal streak from Feb. 13-18, and he scored his 100th NHL goal on March 24 vs. the Dallas Stars. Only 16 other players have scored 100 goals while playing for the Coyotes/Jets franchise.
“It’s just a number, but it’s a nice number,” Hanzal said after reaching the 100-goal milestone. “It took me what, nine years? Another 35 and I might catch ‘Doaner.’”
Hanzal, 29, regularly played on a line with rookie Anthony Duclair, and at times he played with Duclair and rookie Max Domi. It was fun, he said, matching their energy and hustle during games. He said the team’s young players would be a big factor as the Coyotes seek to end a four-year playoff drought next season.
“We have to make sure we start from the beginning next year and go all year,” Hanzal said. “We were in the playoffs by the All-Star break this year and then we had some bad games. That’s what has to change. We have to be consistent all year… not just some games, or some nights, but bring it every night.”
Hanzal’s off-season will be unique. His training for 2016-17 will start early because he has been selected to play for Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey in September.
“It’s a great honor,” Hanzal said. “I’m excited and looking forward to being part of it… It’s always special when you step on the ice with your Czech teammates and compete against the best teams like Sweden, Canada and U.S.”
The World Cup of Hockey is returning to the hockey calendar for the first time in 12 years. The first two World Cups were eight years apart, in 1996 and 2004.