With the advent of training camp, the Phoenix Coyotes need an immediate answer to a lagging concern.
In a word, it’s scoring.
Here’s a team which was among the lowest in goal production last season. In 48 regular season games, the Coyotes lit the red light 121 times, and that’s an average of 2.58 goals per game. The lack of scoring was a major factor in missing the playoffs and set in motion a series of off-season events.
Approaching downtime from the ice, general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett set the priority. That biggest need was to improve scoring and make sure the Coyotes would be in a position to be more competitive.
Above all, this team remains an enigma.
A quick glance of the roster indicates talent is clearly present. Last season, the Coyotes could not translate pure ability into production. The task ahead now for Tippett is to place certain players on a line which they might complement one another.
“I like to use two guys permanently together on a line and then the third would be able to work with the others,” Tippett said. “We went after some guys in the off-season we hope will be a permanent piece that we did not have last season.”
The key acquisition was center Mike Ribeiro, who has recorded 609 points in 785 NHL games. Last season with the Washington, the center was second in team scoring and tied for the league lead in power play points.
When the Capitals would not commit to a three year deal, Ribeiro got in touch with Tippett, his old coach when both were in Dallas. The reunion was a hockey match made in heaven. Ribeiro was ecstatic to rejoin his previous coach and the Coyotes were thrilled to have a legitimate center and catalyst to their struggling offense.
“This a great fit for me,” Ribeiro said at a welcoming news conference in early July. “For me, there’s a need to feel comfortable and this is the right place for me at the right time. It’s nice for me to be back in the West and it’s always a very strong conference.”
Tippett indicated he will place Ribeiro with right wing Shane Doan but is not yet sure of the left wing. Sticking with his philosophy of using at least two players as a regular linemates, Tippett said he will stay with Martin Hanzal at center along with his fellow Czech countryman Radim Vrbata on right wing.
If the Coyotes seek a boost in production, Vrbata may be the one. Yet, the 32-year-old has been inconsistent for most of his NHL career. When hot, Vrbata can terrorize opposing goaltenders but can also disappear for weeks.
The issue with Hanzal is health. The 6-6, 26-year-old needs to stay on the ice for considerable periods of time. Last season, he was in and out of the lineup with assorted injures and ended up missing 10 games.
In addition to Ribeiro, the Coyotes signed restricted free agents Lauri Korpikoski to a four-year deal and Kyle Chipchura to what the team said was “a multiple-year contract.”
In the free agent market, Phoenix inked winger Brandon Yip to a one-year deal and resigned defensemen Michael Stone (three years), Chris Summers (one year) and David Rundblad (two years).
All of which probably puts the Coyotes in better light on paper.
Missing in this equation is left winger Mikkel Boedker, whose great skating ability appears to be his marquee feature. The Coyotes hope Boedker can break from his offensive bonds and be the 30 goal scorer the franchise envisions. Until now, the 23-year-old native of Brondby, Denmark has shown flashes of pure, natural ability but limited goal-scoring production.
Still, for this team to be truly competitive, someone needs to break out with a 40-goal season. At this point, the Coyotes do not appear to have a player of that caliber and will likely rely on strong goaltending from Mike Smith and an air-tight defense.
After all, training camp is on the immediate radar screen.
Rookies report Sept. 6 and begin workouts on Sept. 7. Veterans are due in camp on Sept. 11 and workouts start the following day.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!