Arizona Coyotes season preview: Tough times to continue in desert
Plus: Oliver Ekman-Larsson likely will be the brightest spot in the desert after setting a franchise record for defensemen with a team-leading 23 goals last season. With the team expected to struggle again in 2015-16, the fans might enjoy the diversion of watching captain Shane Doan continue his dogged pursuit of franchise records in goals, assists and points. Entering his 20th campaign in the league, Doan – who will turn 39 on Oct. 10 – also will be looked upon to provide veteran leadership for a team fully invested in the youth movement.
Minus: Although general manager Don Maloney brazenly predicted the Coyotes would vie for a postseason spot, they won’t even be in contention if last season’s goal-scoring woes extend into 2015-16. Re-acquiring forward Antoine Vermette (Chicago) isn’t expected to provide much of a jolt to a sleeping offense, which finished second-worst in scoring in the NHL last season. The returns to health of Mikkel Boedker (spleen) and Martin Hanzal (back) are only likely to move the needle slightly.
X-Factor: Mike Smith
Signed through the 2019 season, veteran goaltender Mike Smith remains the starter on a club that traded away Devan Dubnyk to the Minnesota Wild for a third-round pick in January. While Dubnyk thrived since leaving the desert, Smith doubled his loss total from 2013-14 with an astonishing 42 last season. The Coyotes welcomed back Zbynek Michalek and added fellow defenseman Nicklas Grossmann (Philadelphia) in a deal for Sam Gagner to aid the 33-year-old Smith, who will have Anders Lindback playing the role of backup with his fifth different club in six NHL seasons.
Prediction: Routinely falling short on the scoreboard is once again expected in Arizona, as the kids maybe alright in the future – just likely not in the 2015-16 season. Third overall pick Dylan Strome is expected to be brought along slowly while former first-round selection Max Domi and Anthony Duclair – who was acquired in the Keith Yandle deal with the New York Rangers – will need time to get their feet under them. The Coyotes may win by losing this season as Arizona native Auston Matthews is expected to be the top overall pick of the 2016 NHL draft.