doan ekman-larsson

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

Click here for the previews you may have missed.

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-by Thomas Drance

Added: Mike Ribeiro, Ice Arizona (actual owners!), Brandon Yip
Subtracted: Boyd Gordon

The Coyotes are Going to be Good

Last year’s listless performance was an aberration. In the wake of Ray Whitney’s departure the Coyotes just didn’t have that extra offensive oomph, and it cost them.

But this is a Dave Tippett coached team, and Dave Tippett could make lemonade out of stones. Mike Ribeiro more than replaces Ray Whitney’s offense and the hiring of former Canucks assistant and power-play x’s and o’s master Newell Brown will help. Good goaltending, solid defense, and just enough offense is the Coyotes way. They’ll get back to it this season probably too, mostly because they’re among the best coached clubs in the league.

Phoenix is deep right through the line-up. Just look at their centers: you start with Ribeiro, have a couple of two-way aces in Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal on your second and third lines, and have Kyle Chipchurra holding down fourth-line duty. That’s a strong, well balanced group.

Shane Doan is pretty much ageless, Radim Vrbata is perpetually productive and under-rated, Mikkel Boedkker is coming into his own, and Lauri Korpikoski and David Moss are the quintessential useful third line wingers. And for that matter, fourth-line winger Rob Klinkhammer is looking increasingly like a player.

Combine a deep forward group with Phoenix’s ridiculously loaded blue-line group, and you can begin to understand the (non-economic) optimism in Glendale. Even if Rusty Klesla is out of the lineup to start the season, Phoenix’s blue-line should be among the league’s best.

It starts with Oliver Ekman-Larsson who is already a top-5 NHL defenseman and under-garment mogul. Rookie defenseman David Rundblad has been a revelation in the preseason and will help on the power-play at the very least. Keith Yandle is arguably the single best offensive defenseman in the league not named Erik Karlsson. Beyond that there’s a nice mix of veterans like Derek Morris, and young guys with upside like Michael Stone and David Schlemko.

Throw Mike Smith into the equation, and you’ve got a team that will be very tough to score against, even if they’re bound to be in the bottom-third of the league in goals for.

 The Coyotes are Going to be Bad

Hockey doesn’t even belong in Arizona – it never has, and it never will. Sure the ownership question is settled (for five years), and that might help the club out. On the other hand it kind of undermines the whole underdog mentality that this club has thrived off of over the past few seasons, doesn’t it? Will it be easy for Tippett to preach the whole “us against the world” thing this upcoming season when guys from the Coyotes ownership group answer fan questions on Twitter? Doubt it.

As for the Coyotes blue-line, let’s get real, outside of Ekman-Larsson and Michalek it’s an over-rated group. Morris has stuck around for a long time while contributing next to nothing, Rundblad and Yandle are defensive liabilities and the rest of the group is unproven at best.

And speaking of over-rated, how about Mike “good one year, a sieve the next” Smith?

Phoenix might be a bit better offensively, but they’ll still be reliant on straight up trap hockey (boring) and gooning it up (like always). Even then, they won’t score enough.

Flippant barstool prediction
A few words of advice: never bet against a rigid systems teams with good defensive personnel in a competitive division.

The Numbers:

Oddly enough the Coyotes were only an average defensive team last season. They allowed 2.6 goals against per game, tying for 15th out of 30 with the Minnesota Wild. They were, of course, in the bottom-third of the league in goals for (2.52 per game, or 21st out of 30). That’s not particularly good, and it’s no surprise that the Coyotes missed the playoffs.
Their big issue was play on the road where the Coyotes went 7-10-7 (the ‘Yotes were 14-8-2 in the oh so very friendly confines of Jobbing.com arena). That matches up well with the underlying data, actually. In score close situations at home the Coyotes controlled an impressive 52.5% of all shot attempts, on the road that number fell to to 48.9%.
The Phoenix Coyotes also left six total points on the board by losing in the shootout last season. That tied with Nashville for most in the West. The Coyotes missed the playoffs by four points. The shootout is the worst.
Okay, but seriously:
The Coyotes are probably in a tier below the Sharks and Kings, somewhere in the mix for a playoff birth alongside the Canucks and the Ducks (and maybe, if you squint, the Oilers). They look like your classic fringe playoff team – if they make the dance, they’re probably going one and done unless Mike Smith does something spectacular.
NHL.com Preview: