The Arizona Coyotes are likely heading for another season without playoff hockey.
The competition in the Western Conference is just too strong for the desert dogs to sneak into a wildcard spot. The team will be competitive, but chances are good that they’ll end up with another high draft pick. With some younger players being given the opportunity to show what they can do, head coach Dave Tippett should concentrate on the defensive side of the game.
Tippett has always been seen as a strong defensive head coach with a good system. During his time in Arizona, the team has had slogans like “hockey the hard way” and they have been proud of the defensive prowess of the club. This defensive fundamentals were a key part in the Coyotes’ run to the Western Conference Final back in 2012.
They had great defensive pieces in Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris, Rostislav Klesla and Michal Rozsival in addition to two great offensive defensemen in Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The defensive core looks a lot different now, with Ekman-Larsson being the only remaining player from the 2011-12 lineup. To start the season, the Coyotes defense will most likely include OEL, Zbynek Michalek, Klas Dahlbeck, Connor Murphy, Nicklas Grossmann, Michael Stone, and Brandon Gormley.
Add in some of the young forwards, with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair at the forefront, that will get into the lineup this season, and it would be wise for Tippet to focus on the defensive side of the game and get the team back to the brand of hockey they played back a couple of years ago. They need to find that tenacity once more that they had on the forecheck and the work ethic that defined the team.
The Coyotes were a tough team for anyone to play, despite the fact that they didn’t have the star power like other teams had.
The offensive side of the game will come along. There are just too many talented prospects in the system now for it not to improve in the future, but teaching these youngsters to play a tough defensive game is the foundation for any future success. Forwards like Domi, Duclair, Christian Dvorak and Dylan Strome are all going to be excellent, and the Coyotes have one of the best offensive-defensemen in the NHL in Ekman-Larsson.
So fans should not be worried about the offense. It will come in time. The old cliche is that defenses wins you championships, and if the Coyotes are going to become a legitimate playoff team and a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup in the future, then their blue line will be the way to go.
Arizona allowed 272 goals last season. Only Buffalo (274) and Edmonton (283) were worse. That was a big step backwards from the previous season, when the Coyotes were 19th in the league with 231 goals allowed. That 0.5 goals more allowed per game, and that needs to be turned around. For comparison, during the 2011-2012 season they only allowed 204 goals and were seventh in the league.
Getting Boyd Gordon back, after spending the last few years in Edmonton, is a great addition. Gordon is a great defensive center that was the personification of Tippett’s system. The forwards play a huge role in this system as well, as they are asked to work their tails of every single night, but it paid off as the Coyotes won the Pacific Division and made it to the Western Conference Final.
The team is in rebuild mode, and it will most likely take a couple of years before this team will be ready to compete for a playoff spot. But if Tippett can get the new players to conform to the type of system he wants to play, and if Mike Smith can bounce back and play well for a whole season, then they would be on the right track.
“Hockey the hard way” needs to make a comeback.