A game plan for Coyotes majority owner Andrew Barroway
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Choose your perspective. New Coyotes majority owner Andrew Barroway has either told general manager Don Maloney:
A. Blow this team up and shed payroll.
B. The current group isn’t working. We need to change the mix and look to the future.
Option A is much sexier to write and report. Option B is probably more objective and also closer to what actually transpired in a series of blunt meetings between the two this week.
Barroway arrived back in town earlier this week and has rolled up his sleeves as he begins his evaluation of every aspect of the organization. He has hired an independent firm to examine the business side of the team as the Coyotes begin laying the groundwork for a long overdue long-term plan.
"We struggled to survive for so long but now, having stable ownership means we have a long-term plan," Maloney said. "That may result in some long nights ahead of us but ultimately, the goal is to get where L.A. and Anaheim and Chicago are — to become a perennial playoff team."
Barroway’s decisions over the next six months will shape the future of this franchise. As the Coyotes head out on a three-game road trip to Minnesota, Winnipeg and Chicago, what better time to examine the road map to organizational success?
Here are some areas that Barroway and the Coyotes ownership group may want to consider as they look beyond a humbling 2014-15 season.
Barroway told FOX Sports Arizona earlier this month that Maloney and coach Dave Tippett are safe for the rest of the season. What about beyond that, and what about other personnel? Tippett is widely respected around the league and would likely find work quickly if the Coyotes let him go and he wanted another job. It’s hard to get a read on every opinion in this large ownership group, but there appears to be widespread confidence in his ability to lead the team out of this dark period. Few believe coaching is the problem; most believe Tippett is an asset. Whether Tippett wants to be part of a rebuild is a separate question and likely depends on the long-term plan.
Maloney’s track record was unquestioned through the Coyotes’ run to the Western Conference Finals in 2012. He regularly plucked high-value free agents like Lee Stempniak, Wojtek Wolski, Boyd Gordon, Adrian Aucoin and Ray Whitney on a shoestring budget to keep the Coyotes more than competitive. He made sound trades for players such as Radim Vrbata, Michal Rozsival, Matthew Lombardi and Antoine Vermette. Since then, the free-agent (Mike Ribeiro, Steve Sullivan) and trade (Sam Gagner, Martin Erat) track record hasn’t been as good and there are only six players on the current roster that have been drafted in Maloney’s tenure: forwards Mikkel Boedker (2008) and Lucas Lessio (2011), defensemen Michael Stone (2008), Brandon Gormley (2010), Connor Murphy (2011) and goalie Mike Lee (2009).
It must be emphasized how much Maloney’s job has been impacted by financial constraints, from scouting to free agency. His odds at success are longer than most GMs. That makes his job performance a complex and nuanced evaluation.
IceArizona made a major investment in scouting this offseason, a critical move since drafting is the lifeblood of an organization. Hiring Tim Bernhardt as director of amateur scouting looks like a good move, but what about director of pro scouting Frank Effinger and the rest of the scouting team? Recent track records will weigh heavily in their evaluations, as it will for other members of the management and coaching staffs.
Cardinals GM Steve Keim offered some keen insight to FOX Sports Arizona late in the NFL season when we was asked why the organization has enjoyed so much recent success — 21 wins in 32 games the past two seasons — with Michael Bidwill as team president, Keim as GM and Bruce Arians as coach.
"My philosophy has always been that everybody stays in their specific lanes," Keim said. "When you cross over lanes, the lines get blurred where guys try to do each other’s jobs and then you can have organizational dysfunction."
It’s still unclear how the Coyotes power structure will shake out now that Barroway is on board, but it’s likely that an executive committee will be formed by some combination of owners that could include Barroway, Craig Stewart and Gary Drummond, with George Gosbee’s role unclear beyond serving as alternate governor. CEO Anthony LeBlanc issued an important statement late last season about ownership’s role when it was rumored that part of the group wanted to push a youth movement. LeBlanc said IceArizona would not engage in the business of making personnel decisions. It is imperative that the ownership group abide by that edict.
Pro sports are littered with ownership groups that interfere in personnel decisions, with bad results. If the ownership group doesn’t have faith in the people it has in place it should make changes. But once it does have the right people in place, it must have faith in their abilities because there isn’t a single member of this ownership group with the experience or qualifications to make NHL personnel decisions — a point LeBlanc adroitly drove home last season.
One more note: If ownership is going to make changes in key positions, it can’t do it simply for the sake of change. It must identify better, available replacements first.
It’s a growing trend in the NHL and in other pro sports. While their titles may vary, several teams have liaisons between ownership and the team in place including Toronto’s Brendan Shanahan, Columbus’ John Davidson, Vancouver’s Trevor Linden, Boston’s Cam Neely and Calgary’s Brian Burke.
Flames GM Brad Treliving (the Coyotes assistant GM until last season) said he has benefitted greatly from Burke’s presence.
"For me personally, as a young manager coming in, it’s really critical because you’re looking for confidantes, you’re looking for educated opinions and just a different perspective," Treliving said. "We’re in close communication with ownership on everything we do anyway, but the game and the business is becoming so big; there are so many moving parts, that to have that conduit to ownership on a regular basis allows you to spend your time doing the job, and doing it more effectively."
So much of a GM’s job in the NHL is day-to-day business and the duties can be overwhelming. It’s unknown whether the Coyotes are seriously considering adding a position many other organizations have added, but assistant to the GM Sean Burke could be an in-house candidate. Burke was named to the management team for Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence last year and recently served on the management team for Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the World Junior Championship. He is widely respected throughout the organization. He was teammates with Coyotes captain Shane Doan for parts of five seasons in Phoenix, he works closely with the coaching staff as the goalie coach and he also holds the current title of assistant to the GM.
The trade of backup goalie Devan Dubnyk to Minnesota on Wednesday is the likely start of a series of roster moves that will reshape the Coyotes. Members of the ownership group insist they are not blowing up the current roster, but the team’s key unrestricted free agents, Antoine Vermette, Martin Erat and Zbynek Michalek could be moved as well as key veterans such as defenseman Keith Yandle.
If the Coyotes are looking at a long-term plan, then they should identify which players will be here in three to four years. Goalie Mike Smith’s contract likely assures he is part of the immediate future while defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forwards Mikkel Boedker and Tobias Rieder have earned a part in that future. Beyond those players, however, everyone else on the roster is fair game if Maloney can procure the proper assets in return.
But a word of caution: While the Coyotes may want to inject more youth into the lineup via trades or call-ups from Portland such as forwards Henrik Samuelsson, Tyler Gaudet and goalies Louis Domingue and Mike McKenna, they have to be careful not to overload the roster with young players with limited pro experience. Young players need a balance of veteran leaders to teach them how to be pros on and off the ice. Minus that element, the Coyotes could become the Edmonton Oilers — a team loaded with young talent that still hasn’t figured out how to play, work or act at the NHL level.
Captain Shane Doan has one more year left on his contract and will earn about $4.55 million next season when he will be 39 years old. You can make the argument that Doan is making too much money (about $5 million this season) for a player who has 10 goals and 23 points in 42 games, but when you consider what Doan has meant to this organization, how much he has sacrificed for this organization, how much of his time he has given to this organization and community, and how critical he is to a fragile locker room, we still say it’s money well spent.
Here’s the problem. When Doan signed a four-year, $21.2 million deal in 2012, he said he wanted to stick around for the chance to win with the Coyotes, the only franchise for which he has ever played. Arizona isn’t going to win a Stanley Cup before his contract expires. It’s not even likely that the Coyotes will make the playoffs.
If the Coyotes haven’t already had this conversation, they should approach Doan with that grim reality. Then they should ask if he wants them to explore a trade that would give him one last shot at competing for a Cup. Then they should abide by whatever decision Doan makes. He is that rare player who has earned the right.
When Doan’s memorable career has finally come to a close, it would be a good idea to see if he has interest in joining the organization in some other capacity. Doan would roll his eyes at the suggestion he warrants his Saint Shane moniker, but it’s rare to meet a person that can positively impact everybody with whom he comes in contact (except Dustin Brown).