The Coyotes are one of those franchises that exude mediocrity. Labelling them as mediocre when examining very recent results may be a bit of an exaggeration but the way they conduct hockey operations screams of a team content with just floating by and never really making a real push to reach that next plateau. Yes, they made the conference finals in 2012 on the heels of Mike Smith but even that edition had glaring weaknesses. They've made national headlines by hiring a twenty six year old General Manager in John Chayka who has a strong analytical background but the last time I checked the analytical formula is a very small chunk of the pie when building a successful hockey club. On the back-end everybody and rightfully so enamors over Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson is certainly an interesting case study as he's slowly falling into the tunnel Drew Doughty found himself in the majority of his career playing on the West Coast and that is whether he'll ever receive enough attention to challenge for a Norris? His skill-set is definitely Norris-esque but the skepticism is if the Desert Dogs will ever muster up enough offence while OEK still plays in Arizona(possible 2017 off-season trade anyone?). An underrated commodity that I have lots of time for is Michael Stone. Over the last couple seasons, I've seen a few Coyote games live and Stone has always shown up as a standout. Unlike his brother Mark in Ottawa, Michael's foot speed is not a setback, not saying it's necessarily a strength, sufficient would be an appropriate word. A newcomer to the Coyotes defensive group is Alex Goligoski. Goligoski is someone that unlike Stone that I wasn't all that impressed with in his previous stops. The unfortunate scouting report pertaining to Goligoski is that he's painfully soft like we're talking Alex Kovalev soft. His offensive numbers over the course of his career are stellar, accumulating two hundred and seventy seven career points and for a team that will be grasping at straws to find offence his presence will be a welcome addition. The more I micro analyze this ranking the more I've come to the understanding that the through thick and thin the Coyotes do have one of the better defensive lineups in the league, it's the offence that I'll get to in a second that is the real cause for concern.
Hands up if back in 1996 you would've ever speculated that a Domi would lead it's team in scoring? If your hand was truly up in 1996 then props to you but it's a real possibility heading into this season. A second year player from you guessed it, the London Knights projects to be the most dynamic scoring option this coming campaign. What Domi's claim to fame is his knack to weezle his ways into the open areas near the slot and has a cannon for a wrist shot. That's a positive spin, the negative connotation is that a second year player will hold the daunting pressure of carrying the city of Glendale on his back figuratively speaking of course. I will say to wrap my admiration for Domi up and that I think what he has to deal on a daily basis is nothing but inspirational. As a type one diabetic the fact that he can withstand the rigorous fitness regime to maintian professional athlete status provides a role model for children who may have an illness or disability but seeing what Domi does on a daily basis provides hope. The year was 2004, as a hardcore Regina Pat supporter it still burns me that Martin Hanzal declined a chance to play for the Patties as he was the teams first round selection that year. The decision hasn't exactly hindered his professional plight but its completely within my right to hold a gripe. All that aside, Hanzal is a more polished Michael McCarron, a reference you'll understand if you're following my posts in order. Someone that makes sound decisions while sprinkling in enough offence to fulfill top six status. Hanzal has been subject of mass trade speculation and I'm not naive enough to realize that he may not finish the year in the desert but if he does expect nothing less than a fifty point campaign. When I brainstorm which prospects may be ready to take full time status this year, two names come to mind. You're going to be sick of hearing about London Knight alumni by the end of this but Christian Dvorak has a real chance to crack the lineup. Aside from his obvious on ice gift, his leadership qualities have been renowned which will make the transition to the pro's seamless. The other who I foresee ready to take the next step is Laurent Dauphin. Dauphin, surprisingly to most has no connection to the London Knights but does come in with heralded defensively responsible qualities. Dauphin won't be someone you pay to watch but I guarantee to you that he's a necessity on any team because he's more then able on the penalty kill and will give a consistent effort every night, a trait that should never be overlooked., The killer D': Domi, Duclair, Dvorak,....how soon can we insert a fourth to that list in Dauphin?
Two years ago, all Coyote fans would've been bold in their support for Mike Smith. Now, not so much. Louis Domingue stepped in when Smith endured injury troubles last year and now legitimate questions need to be asked what the best course of action that needs to be taken when accounting for long term sustainability of the franchise is who should see the bulk of the action. I think a few factors favor Domingue, mainly with a new management structure taking shape it behooves the group to build for the future and let's face it, I can't imagine any scenario where Smith is still property of the Coyotes in two years. This is not a playoff team, the sooner this is realized the better off the patrons in Coyote land are.
A divisional title, a resurgence amongst the South Beach faithful, a ranking of #27 you ask? Once the shock wears off I ask that you continue to read and hopefully by the end we can share the same consensus. Aaron Ekblad is a stud, no one has or ever will question that but who are the pieces around him that make this a stable d core? I can admit a mistake when I pen one and at this time last year when I was previewing the Detroit Red Wings, I sung high praises for Jakub Kindl and from what I saw last season, the accolades were completely undeserved. He looked disinterested and could care less about the fate of the team. Fitting that he hails from "Sumperk", Czech Republic as when I broke down his game last year I came to many "knee jerk" reactions. The hot button topic when it comes to the Panthers D is the newly signed Keith Yandle I've seen my share of overpayments throughout the years but very little out does the disaster that is the Yandle contract. Seven years at forty four million dollars???? Are you kidding me. Going from an expendable piece from the Arizona Coyotes to the New York Rangers primarily used as a third pairing defenceman translates into receiving a $44 million pay cheque the following season? Absurd! I don't agree with but understand the reasoning for bringing Yandle on board. The premise is that he can act as a mentor to young Ekblad a role that Willie Mitchell previously filled but the flaw in that plan is based on the money given the expectation is that he can be Ekblad's partner on the first unit which is far from the truth. I could literally spend an eternity breaking down the deficiencies in his game, likely 44 million of them but at the sake of readability, I'll narrow it down to a couple. You know that feeling when you're at a hockey game and you notice that player who comes across more skilled then he actually is, well that's Yandle in a nutshell. To add a comedic element to this, how can you possibly want to associate with a player who while living in Moncton for a year playing for the Wildcats had no idea what Lays Ketchup chips were? Not a player, skill and self awareness related that I'd want to delve that quantity of cash to. Jason Demers was another one of their "prized" free agency possessions. Demers was reportedly choosing between Edmonton and Florida and based on my outlook heading into this year, was in a lose-lose conundrum. Go to Florida, be automatically inserted as a number three with no real chance to move up the depth charts as they have Ekblad and now Yandle who have secured the top two for the forseeable or he could've went to Edmonton and presumably been penciled in as the number two with a chance to move up to the one slot with all the current uncertainty in Oil town. If Demers came to South Beach for the chance at rings, sadly it won't have the same ending as when Lebron signed on with the Heat.
Another reason for why I suggest a high probability for major regression is there were too many forwards who flat out over achieved last season. On the theme of overachieving two names jump to the forefront in the legendary Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov. Let me preface this by saying that growing up learning the game of hockey, Jagr was unquestionably one of my favourite players. I loved the craftiness and swagger that he demonstrated going way back to his mullet wearing Pittsburgh playing days. However the craftiness that he displayed has been slowly diminishing with full disclosure that what he did in 2015-2016 was nothing shprt of extraordinary. Extraordinary or not, Jagr's statistical line is unreplicable because so many things went right last season and the Panthers as a forward group basically avoided any significant injuries which aided Jagr's performance. This is no longer the player who can singlehandedly dangle through entire teams at ease, for a lack of a better term he's a third wheel on a line now. The ageless wonder just doesn't possess the necessary speed any longer and this spring's playoffs were an alarming indicator of this that when the tough gets going, he backs away. Jagr's level of production is a ringing endorsement of a young lad who I've been a huge fan going back to his days dominating for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Q in Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau who draws a harkening resemblance to former L.A King great Luc Robitaille is certifiably a budding star in this league and if I'm correct in thinking that Barkov is trending for a regression, Gerard Gallant, Huberdeau's former junior coach will need Jonathan to reach at least a thirty goal plateau. I've given enough fair warning about the concerns I have heading into season for the Panthers but to pinpoint a positive, look no further then Vincent Trocheck. Trocheck goes about his business quietly but his penchant for delivering clutch second line scoring doesn't go unnoticed. An eighteen goal increase in production from a year ago, I expect Vincent to continue climbing the wall and who knows how high he can get. The residents of Miami need some good news after losing Dwayne Wade to the Bulls in free agency and perhaps Trocheck will silence some of those devastated Miami sport fans.
The signing of James Reimer is a puzzling one. No qualms about providing insurance behind the veteran Roberto Luongo but to sign a career back-up(he only started in Toronto at a lack of a quality National Hockey League option) to a five year deal leads me to believe that the Panther regime views Reimer as the heir apparent to Luongo which will come back and bite them in the you know what. When was the last time the Panther organization developed a goaltender properly? You could make the argument is Luongo who ironically is back in the fold after spending years in Vancouver but aside from the man fans affectionately chant "Luuuuuu" to, the lack of development is troubling. Markstrom, who like I discussed in the Vancouver Canuck preview was never given a fair shake in Miami. I will resign to the fact that I'm probably being too harsh pertaining to this development angle considering the franchise was only granted expansion in 1993 but for an organization who repeatedly states that they're headed in the right direction, the plan for the future that includes James Reimer contradicts these beliefs. Ownership best be getting on their hands and knees praying that Samuel Montembeault materializes as a top flight option in a couple years.