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Season Preview: Arizona Coyotes

Veterans Alex Goligoski, Radim Vrbata brought in to help reach playoffs

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer
At a glance

2015-16 record: 35-39-8, 78 points, 4th in Pacific Division, 10th in Western Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify

Additions: F: Lawson Crouse, Jamie McGinn, Radim Vrbata, Ryan White; D: Anthony DeAngelo, Alex Goligoski, Luke Schenn

Subtractions: F: Kyle Chipchura, Steve Downie, Boyd Gordon, Jiri Sekac, Antoine Vermette, Joe Vitale; D: Nicklas Grossmann, Alex Tanguay

 
Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Max Domi - Martin Hanzal - Anthony Duclair

Jamie McGinn - Dylan Strome - Radim Vrbata

Tobias Rieder - Christian Dvorak - Shane Doan

Jordan Martinook - Brad Richardson - Ryan White

Lawson Crouse

Defensemen

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy

Alex Goligoski - Michael Stone

Kevin Connauton - Luke Schenn

Zbynek Michalek

Goalies

Mike Smith

Louis Domingue

Justin Peters

Video: ARI@SJS: Smith stops the Sharks on the doorstep

 

The Arizona Coyotes spent another offseason making moves they hope will push them closer to becoming a Stanley Cup Playoff contender.

The makeover began with the promotion of John Chayka, who turned 27 on June 9, to general manager on May 5. One of his first moves was trading for defenseman Alex Goligoski on June 16 and signing him to a five-year contract reportedly worth $27.375 million. The Coyotes also acquired center Pavel Datsyuk (who left the NHL to play in the Kontinental Hockey League) in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings at the 2016 NHL Draft, which helped them move up to select defenseman Jakob Chychrun with the No. 16 pick. Defenseman Luke Schenn, and forwards Radim Vrbata, Jamie McGinn and Ryan White, were signed as free agents, adding a veteran presence to promising young forwards Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Christian Dvorak and Dylan Strome.

Captain Shane Doan, 39, returns for his 21st NHL season, all with the Winnipeg Jets/Coyotes franchise, and restricted free agent forward Tobias Rieder signed a two-year contract Oct. 4.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, seventh among NHL defensemen with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) last season, and Goligoski lead a much improved defense, at least on paper.

 
Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Coyotes will qualify for the first time since 2011-12 because Ekman-Larsson blossoms into a Norris Trophy finalist, Doan continues to defy Father Time, Vrbata regains his 30-goal touch, goalie Mike Smith is healthy and shows he has plenty left, and coach Dave Tippett does his best work molding an upstart young group into a team nobody wants to play in the Western Conference First Round.

Video: DAL@ARI: Ekman-Larsson's shot finds a way in for lead

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Coyotes show they need at least another year of development before they can ascend the Pacific Division standings. One reason the Coyotes may not be ready is special teams. A power play that tied for sixth in 2013-14 (19.5 percent) and seventh in 2014-15 (20.0) was 20th (17.7) last season and allowed 14 shorthanded goals, one fewer than the Dallas Stars for most in the League. The penalty kill was worse, finishing 28th (77.3 percent).

 

Breakout candidate

Strome. The No. 3 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft was among the final cuts at training camp last season but this time is expected to play in the top six. Strome appears NHL ready after scoring 37 goals and 111 points in 56 regular-season games, and 10 goals and 21 points in 13 playoff games, for Erie of the Ontario Hockey League. He had four goals and six points in five games for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

 

On the hot seat

Smith. Entering the fourth season of a six-year, $34 million contract, Smith remains the No. 1 goaltender, but for how long? The 34-year-old finished strong (5-4-1, .944 save percentage, two shutouts in the final 10 games) after three months recovering from abdominal core surgery, but he had a .901 save percentage and one shutout before the injury. Consistency has been an issue for Smith since he helped the Coyotes reach the Western Conference Final by going 38-18-10 with a 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage in 67 regular-season starts during the 2011-12 season. In four seasons since, Smith has 15, 27, 14 and 15 wins without a GAA better than 2.58. Louis Domingue (15-18-5, 2.75 GAA, .912 save percentage) is the backup.

 

Trophy candidates

Ekman-Larsson (Norris); Strome (Calder); Dvorak (Calder); Tippett (Jack Adams)

 

Quotable

"[John] Chayka said that we were going to go 82-0, so that's his expectation and that's our expectation. We understand that's maybe unrealistic, but that's going to be our goal. We want to find ways to win every night. We have to be better than we were last year by quite a bit. There were times last year when we were good, and I think the goal for our group should be to consistently hold ourselves to a high standard." -- right wing Shane Doan

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