Saturday, May 07, 2016

Pool Outlook for Arizona

Showing brief flashes of what's to come just wasn't enough for the Arizona Coyotes, as the umbrella that was carried by now-former GM Don Maloney, has now been blown away and the Coyotes are under new management moving forward.  His legacy is one of a constant rebuild and what he leaves behind is numerous young players, which will either fit in as the foundation or act as chips for expediting the rebuild through trades and other various moves.

Patience is not something that is practiced very often in hockey, but that isn't to say that Maloney and his group were not benefiting from some patience, as he had seven good years of tinkering, but it may have cost players like Shane Doan and Mike Smith a good opportunity to get to the promised land of a championship in the desert as well.

The 2016 season was one where everyone knew what the Coyotes had to offer going in, it was up to those kids to show what they could actually do in the year and they did all of that, except it wasn't quite enough to help them win games and keep management employed.

The new age in Arizona now belongs to a 26-year old GM, but there is a firm belief that the head coach, Dave Tippett, who signed a 5-year extension already in their off-season, will have a much bigger say in the roster moves, but they needed a guy to play the paper pusher and use his analytics background to provide a new level of input.  We'll see how well that experiment goes.

The lacklustre 2015 Coyotes did not translate well into the 2016 pool draft, as only seven players from the team were taken in the initial 14 rounds and one of those players was a rookie selection.  Two Coyotes were dropped in Week Nine, but three more were taken in that same Waiver Draft, including some more rookie help and then in Week Eighteen, two more players were picked up, including another rookie player, as the rookie pool was getting some good contributions from the desert.  When it was all said and done, 12 Coyotes were on active pool rosters at the end of the season.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson had another good year, finishing 81st overall in pool scoring, 7th among all blueliners in the season.  He is the sort of talent that will explode, if the Coyotes can find a little bit more consistent offense from up front and I think that is a popular consensus.  The Coyotes' blueline was not short on pool-worthiness, as Michael Stone was 36th among blueliners and Connor Murphy was 100th, so they have some more upside in there.

In net, both Mike Smith and Louis Domingue finished as pool worthy goalies, ranked 33rd and 34th in pool scoring, thanks to 37 and 35-point seasons.  It will be interesting to see what the dynamic between these two goalies will be next season, as Smith has three years left on his deal and Domingue is in need of a new deal.

Up front, the Coyotes had a good showing from rookie Max Domi, who led all forwards with 52 points and then Shane Doan, Anthony Duclair, Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette, Tobias Rieder, deadline acquisition Alex Tanguay and Brad Richardson were all pool-worthy forwards.  Injuries and other inconsistencies in their lineup, certainly didn't help their cause and was one of the leading reasons why they didn't finish in the playoff picture.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The easiest of predictions for the 2016 season will be that it will be another year outside of the playoffs for the Coyotes. I think with the coaching staff that is in place, it will definitely temper some of the extreme talent that the Coyotes have in the wings, just because of the system that they play. I can't see Domi or Duclair succeeding in the rookie scoring race with the group that they have in place, as they will be relied upon a lot in their own end. The coaching staff there has also been very guarded against adding that much youth to their lineup, so it would definitely put a lot of people in an uncomfortable position, if everything was to stay the same on the bench. It isn't that Tippett isn't a good coach, rather, as a systems coach, you're going to rein in the youth and play a lot of defense. Maybe a coaching change is in order for this rebuild?

Well, the coaching staff didn't change in the 2016 season and the Coyotes' rookies didn't really pay off too heavily in the scoring race.  That isn't to say that they didn't play well, because they did, showing flashes of things to come.  You can't deny, however, that the system that the Coyotes have employed as a franchise, won't necessarily make these young guys into bonafide early picks in the hockey pool.  Instead of a coaching change, the coaching staff is now taking a little more charge on how the team is put together and that could very well be a good thing.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Antoine Vermette 3.750 Oliver Ekman-Larsson 5.500 Mike Smith 5.667
Martin Hanzal 3.100
Brad Richardson 2.080
Max Domi 0.894
Anthony Duclair 0.773
Joe Vitale 1.117 Chris Pronger 4.921 Adin Hill 0.726
Nick Merkley 0.925 Zbynek Michalek 3.200 Marek Langhamer 0.648
Brendan Perlini 0.925 Kyle Wood 0.718
Dylan Strome 0.925 Justin Hache 0.640
Henrik Samuelsson 0.894 Dakota Mermis 0.627
Christian Fischer 0.883
Christian Dvorak 0.870
Ryan MacInnis 0.828
Laurent Dauphin 0.776
Michael Bunting 0.668
Jordan Martinook 0.613
Matia Marcantuoni 0.608

As new General Managers go, the new guy coming in, John Chayka, gets an excellent framework at his disposal.  Already signed on for next season, his team is working with seven pool worthy players, including a couple of sophomores looking to make more of an impact, a franchise defenseman and a steady veteran goalie, who should still have a couple more seasons left in him.  Down below, his roster is filled with great young talent still to make the push and it will be interesting to see how his coach approaches the 2017 season with this group.

The Hockey News suggests that Dylan Strome is the guy to watch and for good reason.  Strome was excellent for Canada, during a fairly poor team performance at the World Juniors, he led the Erie Otters without Connor McDavid and just developed very well down at the junior level.  If the rookie pool comes around again next season, Strome could be an excellent option for winning your money back next season.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

As much as the Coyotes could really use another top end defenseman, it will be hard for this team not to pick a name that is a blast from the past, since they are not likely to get the hometown kid, which was the golden ticket at the end of the lottery rainbow.  Matthew Tkachuk has survived my mock draft through the outlooks to this point and his father, Keith Tkachuk, is a celebrated member of the Coyotes/Jets alumni and could be a good fit with this young core.  If anything, if a kid like Tkachuk can develop, they can use one of their other young pieces to acquire more defense help.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Not only does the incoming GM have a lot of good young talent in the cupboards, his roster is blessed with a fair bit of unrestricted free agency flexibility and quite a bit of flexibility in the restricted free agency area as well.

Starting with those potentially heading to the open market include Shane Doan and Alex Tanguay, who were pool worthy up front, not to mention a number of high cap hit players that may not have panned out in the pool rankings this season.

Tobias Rieder, Connor Murphy and Louis Domingue are the pool worthy RFAs on the list this Summer, all three of which are likely to earn priority on the list, while some decisions will have to be made on some bubble players.

I am showing 28 free agents in total, which leaves their total cap hit from their roster above at only $43.3 million, well below the salary cap floor from last season.  This will be a big Summer for the Coyotes, who will likely stress patience in a budget team scenario.

If the Coyotes are going to stress patience, like I think they will, expectations for winning are going to remain fairly low and rightfully so.  They aren't going to go out into the free agent market and drop a pile of money on a player, because they want to win now, no matter how much that would possibly improve the attendance in their building, as it doesn't have the long-term impact they are looking for.  Domi, Duclair and Domingue are all subject to the sophomore jinx, so they could be in line for a drop off, but that's okay in the long-term.  The Coyotes will likely be stressing defense, but their young core has a lot to learn, but as long as they make strides in the right direction, things should come along, as much as they will still miss the playoffs again in 2017.
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