Puck Daddy’s 2016-17 NHL Preview: Arizona Coyotes

Last Season: 35-39-8 (78 points), 4th in the Pacific, 10th in the West

The Coyotes were early season darlings last October, getting off to a strong start before slowly fading down the Pacific Division playoff picture. But despite a fourth-straight season without a postseason berth there were signs that the future will be brighter with the production of younger players and additional pickups to the prospect cupboard.

The off-season brought about change in the management ranks with the franchise parting with Don Maloney after nine seasons and installing 27-year-old John Chayka as its new general manager. Early front office moves by the young GM included bolstering the team’s analytics staff and hiring Dawn Braid as skating coach, making her the first woman to be employed full-time by an NHL team.

As far as player transactions go, Chayka got creative in both ensuring the team was well over the cap floor and picking up pieces for the future. First, he acquired a 2016 first rounder and the contract of Pavel Datsyuk from the Detroit Red Wings. That extra opening round pick turned into defenseman Jakob Chychrun. He then added Dave Bolland’s cap hit and prospect Lawson Crouse from the Florida Panthers in exchange for two future picks.

The cap hits of Datsyuk and Bolland will join Chris Pronger’d on the Coyotes’ books this season, and while Chayka has had to add some dollars that won’t be beneficial to what happens on the ice, he’s been able to add pieces in the process that will help in the future.

2015-16 Season, In One Picture

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

So much to look forward to for the Coyotes.

Did They Get Better, Worse, Or Are They About The Same?

With their youngsters taking the next steps in their development and off-season losses not drastically affecting progress, Arizona should be a bit improved this season while again battling in a tough division. Captain Shane Doan is back for another year, as is Radim Vrbata, who signed a one-year deal over the summer and has had his best years wearing a Coyotes jersey.

Five Most Fascinating Players

1. Mike Smith. Three months off the ice due to a core muscle injured opened the door for Louis Dominque to take the starter’s role and earn himself a two-year extension. In his 32 starts last season, Smith posted a .933 even strength save percentage and three shutouts. He was strong after returning from injury, and that play will be needed this season if the Coyotes have any hopes of making noise out west.

2. Shane Doan. The 39-year-old captain had his best goal-scoring season since 2008-09 with 28 a year ago, and after some extended negotiations he signed a one-year extension to remain with the only NHL franchise he’s ever known. Can he be the Western Conference’s version of Jaromir Jagr and continue that level of production at an older age?

3. Radim Vrbata. After spending the last three seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, Vrbata returns to Arizona hoping to get his production back to where it was just a few seasons ago. His success tailed off after his first year in Vancouver, but he’s back with the Coyotes where he’s had his best offensive seasons.

4. Alex Goligoski. The first trade of Chayka’s tenure brought the veteran defenseman to town after five and a half years in Dallas. His production last season would have made him the Coyotes’ second-leading scoring among their defensemen, behind only Ekman-Larsson. His presence will certainly help the power play unit, which finished with the ninth-worst success rate in the NHL last season.

5. Max Domi. A standout rookie season from Domi saw him finish second on the team in scoring with 18 goals and 54 points. He was in the mix for the Calder Trophy, but a strong freshman class saw the 19-year-old finish outside the top three in voting. He’s a key piece of the Coyotes’ future, and what awaits him in Year 2 is the sophomore wall that many young players hit. Will he overcome that?

Mascot Hijinks Video Break

Did you know Howler is also an accomplished drummer? Watch out, Neil Peart.

Can We Trust Them At Even Strength?

Arizona had the seventh-fewest amount of ES goals last season (131), per Corsica Hockey. Doan (16) and Domi (15) led the way, but more production will be needed in order from the rest of the lineup. They have more kids coming through the pipeline like Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak, and pickups like Vrbata (37 of his last 64 goals came at EV) and Jamie McGinn (8 EVG) should help as well.

Can We Trust Them On Special Teams?

A power play that had been in the top 10 in the league in 2013-14 (19.5 percent) and 2014-15 (20 percent) took a step back last season, falling to a 17.7 success rate. Trading away Keith Yandle hurt the power play, but bringing in Goligoski should help in that department for 2016-17. One thing for head coach Dave Tippett to be wary of this season is the extra man unit’s defensive abilities. Last season Arizona allowed 14 shorthanded goals, the second most in the NHL. They’d allowed only 12 combined between 2013-14 and 2014-15.

The penalty kill was even worse last season finishing 28th in the league at 77.3 percent.

Yahoo! Sports
Yahoo! Sports

Can We Trust Their Goaltending?

That all depends on what Mike Smith we get this season. Will we get the Mike Smith who in his final 10 games last season posted a .971 ESSV? Or will we get the Smith who before he return from injury put up a .920 ESSV and a .912 ESSV in 2014-15 and a .925 ESSV in 2013-14? Domingue had his moments last season, which helped earn him an extension. The Coyotes will need one of the two to step up on a regular basis in order to survive in the Pacific.

Player Mostly Likely To Be In Vegas Next Season

Brad Richardson. Veteran pivot who could be a part of the Las Vegas Bad Decisions Nighthawks Sand Knights Desert Hawks Black Knights Silver Knights Neon Knights Desert Hawks Definitely Not Anything That Could Be Tied To Gambling as a bottom line player.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)

Negative-10. Not only was Dave Tippett given a new five-year extension after Chayka took over as GM, he was also given more power with an Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations role and now has a say in personnel decisions. Tippett’s been with the franchise since replacing Wayne Gretzky for the 2009-10 season and has guided them through some early success before the rebuild began. The organization trusts in him to help develop this team into a playoff contender.


The playoffs aren’t in the cards for this coming season, but that’s okay. The Coyotes have done enough on and off the ice to continue to their steady rise. Chayka’s early moves have been praised and helped set the team up down the road. The prospects in the pipeline and the ones ready to win a full-time job on the NHL roster will form the foundation of what will be the franchise’s turnaround in the near future.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!