Coyotes season preview: No more excuses

GLENDALE, Ariz. — George Gosbee, Craig Stewart and Anthony LeBlanc attended their first NHL Board of Governor’s meeting on Sept. 23 in New York. 
“The simple fact of being there was pretty exhilarating,” said LeBlanc, the Coyotes’ new president and CEO. “It’s moments like that where you sit back and say, ‘wow, we actually did get this thing done and buy this team.'”
If you came along for that lengthy and bumpy ride, you know it wasn’t easy, but the task ahead may be even more daunting. The oft-repeated theme throughout training camp and the preseason is that the Coyotes are out of excuses. 
They have ownership, general manager Don Maloney carries more than hopes and prayers in his wallet, coach Dave Tippett, goalie Mike Smith and captain Shane Doan stayed put and the play-making center this franchise has coveted for so long finally arrived when Mike Ribeiro signed a four-year, $22 million deal three days after the Glendale City Council approved a 15-year, $225 million arena lease agreement.
The Coyotes may even have one more trick up their sleeves if they can acquire a left wing for the second line. This doesn’t mean the Coyotes are suddenly a free-spending cap team, but the hockey the hard way mentality is simply not reality any more. 
“There’s a lot of teams that can say they have the underdog mentality because people base that on payroll,” Tippett said “But for us, it’s about doing everything right now, from the style of play, to the players we bring and put in different roles, to how we develop players, to how our minor league system plays, to how we use our resources to the maximize our potential. 
“You have to do a good job in each of those areas if you’re going to be a good organization and a lot of those things are in place now so the pressure’s on us to do well on the ice and get results.”
The Coyotes open the season Thursday at Jobing.com Arena against the New York Rangers as members of the new and improved Pacific Division. That realignment will also present challenges but at long last, it’s finally time to talk about hockey so we’re diving into several aspects of the on-ice product.

Of course, it all

starts with goaltender

Mike Smith, he of the freshly minted six-year, $34

million contract. But one player does not a successful season

make.
>>

Here are our five keys to a prosperous 2013-14.


Roster reset
WHO’S NEW

C Mike Ribeiro: Free agency (Washington)
G Thomas Greiss: Free agency (San Jose)
RW Chris Brown: Second round (36th overall), 2009 draft
LW Lucas Lessio: Second round (56th overall) 2011 draft
D David Rundblad: From Ottawa (along with a second round pick) for Kyle Turris

PROJECTED FORWARD LINES*

1. LW Mikkel Boedker, C Mike Ribeiro, RW Shane Doan
2. LW Lauri Korpikoski, C Martin Hanzal, RW Radim Vrbata
3. LW Lucas Lessio, C Antoine Vermette, RW David Moss
4. LW Rob Klinkhammer, C Kyle Chipchura, RW Chris Brown
* – Paul Bissonnette is suspended for the first three games

PROJECTED DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS*

 
1. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zbynek Michalek
2. Keith Yandle and Derek Morris
3. David Rundblad and David Schlemko
4. Michael Stone and Chris Summers
* – Rostislav Klesla will begin the season on injured reserve

GOALTENDING TANDEM

Mike Smith and Thomas Greiss


Odds and ends 

Frequent flyers: The Coyotes will travel the second most miles in the NHL this season (52,633), second only to San Jose’s 57,612 miles, which is nearly double the miles the Coyotes’ opening night opponent, the New York Rangers (29,839) will travel.

Hybrid icing is here: Hybrid icing was tested in exhibition games and approved on Monday by the NHLPA this week. The new rule eliminates potentially dangerous races to the end boards when icing seems imminent. The linesman must judge whether the offensive player or defensive player will win a race to an imaginary line across the faceoff dots and touch the puck first. If the linesman judges that the defensive player will reach the puck first, he’ll blow his whistle, signaling icing. If he judges that the offensive player will reach the puck first, play will continue. If the play is too close to judge when the first player has reached the faceoff dots, icing will be called. Here is a link to other rules changes for the 2013-2014 season: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=684940

New rivalries: The Dallas Stars are gone, the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are in as the realigned Pacific division swells to seven teams. The additions will be interesting from a style perspective since Vancouver and Edmonton play more of a skating game, while Phoenix, Los Angles and San Jose rely on structure. From a revenue standpoint, the changes should pay dividends. The Stars never drew well; the Canadian teams do because there are lots of Canadian snowbirds in the Valley.
 
New playoff format: With realignment comes a new playoff format. The top three teams in each division will qualify for the postseason. The final two playoff spots will be filled by wild-card teams with the next best records. It’s a nice balance of ensuring the importance of finishing well in your division and making sure deserving teams don’t get cheated. When the postseason begins, the division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points. The teams finishing second and third in each division will play intra-divisional series in the first round of the playoffs. Teams will not be re-seeded after the first round.

Everybody plays everybody again: The regular season was adjusted to account for the new conference alignments. Each team plays either four or five games against the other teams in its division (29 games in the Western Conference, 30 games in the Eastern Conference) as well as playing all non-divisional teams in its own conference three times (21 games in the West, 24 games in the East). The remaining games are inter-conference play (32 in the west, 28 in the east), allowing every team in the league to play every other team twice. That means the Coyotes are guaranteed visits from all those popular teams from the East like the Rangers, Bruins and Penguins.

Six outdoor games: Watered down or more of a good thing? We think the latter as the NHL gets set to stage six outdoor games this season, building on the Winter Classic’s mass appeal. The New Year’s Day Winter Classic returns with the Toronto Maple Leafs facing the Detroit Red Wings at the Big House, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. In addition, the league announced its inaugural Stadium Series, with four games in baseball or football fields in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The Los Angeles Kings will host the Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium on January 25, the New Jersey Devils will play the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 26, the New York Islanders will face the Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 29, and the Chicago Blackhawks will host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field on March 1, The Heritage Classic also returns, with the Ottawa Senators visiting the Vancouver Canucks at B.C. Place on March 1. Maybe some day, Phoenix fans.

To Russia, with gloves: There will be no All-Star Game in 2014 due to the NHL’s participation in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where Team Canada hopes to successfully defend its 2010 gold medal. That is always good theater, but an equally big storyline will be how much the Olympics impact the NHL players who participate. The 2010 Winter Olympics were in Vancouver, which is in the Pacific time zone. Sochi is eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time; 11 hours ahead of Pacific. Talk about jet lag.

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