Another season is winding down to an end, and the Arizona Coyotes improved greatly from last season, but not enough to make the playoffs. With their 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars in their 77th game, they were mathematically eliminated from the Western Conference post-season.
This team has made giant steps this season to become a better team, a team who had hoped to qualify for the white-out, but various factors, most of which included injuries to key players, it was not to be.
This writer will attempt to play GM and let you all know what I feel each player's grade is, for those players who have played at least half a season.
(Statistics listed are as of games completed on 4/3/16)
Mikkel Boedker: C-
Boedker, who was traded at the trade deadline played 62 games for the Coyotes, accumulating 13 goals, 26 assists for 39 pints. He was a streaky scorer who had two hat tricks during the first first several months of the season, and then went as dry as a desert gulch with just one goal and eight assists in his last 25 games with the team. His +/- at -26 still leads the team in that statistic. Through it all, he still managed to be sixth in scoring on the team. In the end, his salary demands for lack of performance was a key factor in him being dealt elsewhere.
Kyle Chipchura: C
Chipchura, who was a fourth line contributor was his usual tough, gritty kind of player who loves to mix it up. His 71 hits ranked him ninth on the team in that category. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the season ends. He could be back seeing as how he is a hard working forward who plays tough in the corners, and doesn't back down from an opponent. Then again, if the Coyotes continue their youth movement it would seem silly to place Chipchura ahead of such up and coming talent as Dylan Strome, or Christian Dvorak next season. We'll leave that one for the real GM, Don Maloney to decide.
Kevin Connauton: C+
Connauton has played 34 games this season, but he will be included in this evaluation anyway... gee being a pretend GM is kinda fun. He is a physical defenseman who had 38 blocks for 11th on team, and 70 hits for 10th on the squad. His play was fairly consistent, and he is a restricted free agent at season's end. Due to the lack of any good defensive prospects in the team's system, I would venture to predict that he will be re-signed for at least another year or more. Unless the Coyotes can make a deal to acquire some help on the blue-line, their quest to become a playoff team will fade like a desert mirage.
Klas Dahlbeck: C+
Dahlbeck is still young at 24, but started to show some promise, especially in his bruising physical play in the 67 games he has played thus far. His 2.54 hits per game is first on the team, with runnerup Connor Murphy having played seven more games, with one less hit (169) than Dahlbeck's 170. Dahlbeck is a consistent defensive blue-liner who still makes some mistakes, but the experience for him this season will show up in the seasons to come. Add him to the list of RFA's on the roster at the end of this season. I think the Yotes will keep him, he has much upside to his game and potential. Besides, the team is low on defensive talent.
Shane Doan: B+
Every hockey "expert" can't understand Doan's resurgence this season, but most Coyotes' fans don't care to evaluate it, just to enjoy it. At this writing, Doan is leading, (yes, I said leading) the team in goals with 27. His 395 goals, and 548 assists leads the team. He has not ruled out playing next season, after his contract expires this summer. He IS Arizona Coyotes hockey, and even if he doesn't decide to play next year, his knowledge of the team and hockey experience will be used in some capacity by the team. Who knows, he could even be Head Coach material if Tippett decides to leave.
Max Domi: A-
Domi has ignited intense interest league-wide this season, due to his magical stick handling, swift skating and true grit as a rookie. This writer certainly did not predict he would be second in team scoring with 18 goals, 33 assists through 77 games. Watch him excel next season. Let's face it folks, along with Anthony Duclair, Domi IS the future of this hockey club. He will more than likely be a 25-30 goal scorer next season... he's that good. He just added a new skill to his already long list of tricks by playing on the penalty kill. As his Head Coach Dave Tippett stated, he has a good stick, can skate well, and wants to add this to his skillset. The future of the team making the playoffs as soon as next season lays pretty much on his stick, and he's up to the task. He also showed he will NOT put up with intimidation to his teammates, and stepped up on numerous occasions to let opponents know he means business.
Louis Domingue: B-
Domingue was the surprise of the season in net. He was forced into action in December when starter Mike Smith went down with a core muscle injury that sidelined him half the season. Domingue has appeared in 38 games with a 15-17-5 record thus far. His save percentage of .914, and goals against average of 2.66 are very acceptable as a NHL goalie. He was playing above expectations until recently when the team had a seven game losing streak. Still, he and Smith will make a good one-two punch in between the pipes. When Smith returned he knew he needed to step it up with Domingue giving him the competiton for the starting job.
Anthony Duclair: A-
Duclair teamed together with Max Domi to form the affectionate duo name of "KILLER D's", has outperformed expectations in his first full season in the NHL. It has proven that GM Don Maloney pulled off an effective trade when he gave up Keith Yandle to acquire the swift forward. His deceptive speed make rushes to the net very exciting, and causes the defense to key on him allowing his linemates to get open. He was fourth in scoring on the team at this writing, with 19 goals, 24 assists. He has been lined up mostly with Max Domi and Martin Hanzal, who have been more than effective on the power play, with this line combo netting 14 goals, 26 assists. What is truly amazing is Duclair's shooting percentage of 19 per cent, which ranks him 20th in the NHL, with only one other player playing as many games as him. With that statistic he should see the puck in shooting opportunities more next season. The "Duke" has been an excellent addition to the team, increasing the excitement level to new levels. Watch him score 25-30 goals next year.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson: A
Ekman-Larsson just continues to get better and better as a player, who is destined to be the Captain of the team when Shane Doan hangs up his skates. For the second straight season he is leading the team in scoring with 21 goals, 32 assists. His 12 power play goals and eight game winning goals makes him the go-to guy on the ice. When he was out six games recently with an bruised shoulder, the Coyotes' power play puttered. He is the complete package, who has improved his +/- to a more respectable -7. If the team can find him a decent right-handed shooting blue-liner to team up with, they will be a force to be reckoned with... and feared by opposing teams. The only individual honor OEL may still acquire would be the Norris Trophy for the best defenseman in the league. Give him time, he'll get there.
Boyd Gordon: C-
Gordon was re-acquired mostly for his faceoff skills on a team lacking in puck possession. He is still awesome in the faceoff circle, winning 57.7 per cent of his faceoffs tying Jordan Martinook in that statistic. Gordon is mostly a fourth liner/penalty killer, and may not be back next season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. At age 32, he may be eliminated from the process next year to make room for the youth movement. Martinook has pretty much equaled or surpassed him in faceoff/penalty killing expertise, so his days are numbered.
Nicklas Grossmann: D+
Grossmann, a player Head Coach Dave Tippett likes, has not lived up to expectations this season. He is big, but his size tends to make him slow in getting the puck out of his own zone. And, that's a flaw the team has been fighting to overcome for two seasons now. He is also an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Something tells an avid follower of this team that the roster is going to get an overhaul this summer. In Grossmann's favor he has contributed 103 hits, placing him seventh on the team in that category. He may stay due to the fact that the team is lacking on the blue-line, and unless a better candidate becomes available, then he may be re-signed.
Martin Hanzal: B-
Hanzal was still stung with the injury bug, but as of this writing he did participate in 64 games with 13 goals, and 28 assists to his credit. Part of his success in this being his best scoring statistics as a Coyote, must go to the linemates he had playing alongside him. Domi and Duclair just were a cohesive unit, and plays like this show Hanzal loves his young rookie linemates. Hanzal remained a force in the faceoff circle with a 55.9 success rate, right behind team leader Boyd Gordon. With Hanzal's 41 points, that is his career high in scoring, if he can stay healthy he is a valuable player for the Coyotes.
Jordan Martinook: B+
Martinook has really blossomed this season as a NHL player. He won the Mr. Hustle award at the team awards prior to the Washington Capitals game. He has collected nine goals, 15 assists in 77 games thus far, and has been an excellent penalty killer, and faceoff expert. He just seems to always be around the puck, and in the face of an opposing player. It's his expertise to say the least. He personifies the "Pack" mentality which is engrained in the team's concept that they don't have a bunch of star players, just a group of hard workers who get it done collectively.
Zbynek Michalek: C+
Michalek is a steady performer who at times seems like a second goaltender. His blocked shots have tapered off a bit this season with him knocking down 114 shots headed towards his goaltender. That puts him third in a category which he once dominated. Michael Stone is the new shot block leader with 143 blocks to his credit. Connor Murphy, whose play is excelling this season, is second with 128. Michalek will be in the last year of his two-year contract next season, and his play seems to be winding downward at age 33. Perhaps he should find out what Shane Doan is doing to revitalize his game at age 39.
Connor Murphy: B-
Ever since Head Coach Dave Tippett sat Murphy down a few games for less than inspiring play, he has really shown his potential to be a defensive force on the blue-line. His physical play has always been his upside, but he's improved his overall game enough to increase his playing time from 16:48 a game last season to 20:21 this year. The coaching staff has more confidence in him, and it shows in his play. As one of the bright, young players on the Coyotes, he is helping the youth movement become a success story. There's nothing but upside to his game, and as long as he remembers what it was like to sit on the bench, he'll be inspired to continue playing and improving his game. The Coyotes in turn should be inspired to re-sign him since he will become a Restricted Free Agent at season's end.
Brad Richardson: B+
Richardson was an excellent free agent pickup by the Coyotes. His overall play resembles Martinook, in that he is great in the faceoff circle (53.1%), has an adequate number of hits (54), and blocks (52) to make him be noticed. He displays a level of tenacity which helps the team, in that he draws penalties when opposing players get frustrated by his cantankerous play. He is an excellent penalty killer, and has been lined up mostly with Shane Doan, and sometimes Max Domi. His 10 goals, 19 assists in 78 games shows he's a keeper.
Tobias Rieder: B+
Rieder has really come into his own this season with some exceptional play in his second year as a Coyote. He has propelled his offensive output to 14 goals, 23 assists in 78 games. He is an expert penalty killer, and uses his speed to push the puck up the ice. Along with speedsters Domi and Duclair, Rieder adds that level of quick play which puts pressure on the opposing team's defense. He can only get better, and the team's management knows that, and will almost certainly re-sign him since he too becomes a RFA on July 1, 2016.
Mike Smith: C+
Smith, who suffered a devastating core muscle injury which saw him miss four months of play, has only appeared in 29 games this season. The Coyotes must be satisfied that his recovery is complete since his play once he returned has been nothing short of stellar. His .961 save percentage, and 1.26 goals allowed average, along with two shutouts, one on the worst team in the league (Edmonton Oilers), and one against the best team in the league (Washington Capitals) has shown he's back. Now whether or not he can continue at that pace is debatable. The team is certainly hoping that to be the case, since they still are on the hook for the remainder of his expensive contract of $5.667 million through 2019. If he can perform well, seeing as how Louis Domingue has shown he's ready to be a NHL goalie, the net should be well protected next season.
Michael Stone: B-
Stone was having a great season when he went down with a knee injury which ended his season in the Philadelphia Flyers game on March 26, 2016 at Gila River Arena. His six goals, 30 assists show that his level of play has progressed. He also still leads the team in blocked shots with 143. He is one of the many on the Coyotes who will be a Restricted Free Agent this summer, and with his knee injury putting him on the shelf for six months, he should be ready to play around the time training camp starts, if all goes well. It's a given that the team will want to keep him. His booming shot from the point, and offensive game has nothing but upside to it.
Viktor Tikhonov: C-
Tikhonov has not performed as well as the team had expected, but he is a fourth line player who can kill penalties, and may not be back with the team next season. His three goals, three assists in 37 games is just not going to excite the management to re-sign him. He will be an UFA at the end of the season, and it looks like he may try to see what kind of deals are out there. It just doesn't seem that the Coyotes will be one of the teams pursuing his services.
Antione Vermette: C+
Vermette's play has really received a shot in the arm since the team acquired Alex Tanguay in the Mikkel Boedker trade with the Colorado Avalanche. His five goals, seven assists in the 12 games he's been lined up with Tanguay shows how his play was elevated with the right linemates. And Anthony Duclair has joined that line to form the "French Connection" line. In the 12 games they've been together they have accumulated 33 points, which means the chemistry is there. Vermette is an excellent face-off man, and an experienced veteran. With all the youth on this team his valuable knowledge of the game will serve well to aid the kids into becoming better players.
Overall Team Grade: C+
The Arizona Coyotes have made wide strides to become a better team. Last season was a train wreck, and the management, coaches, as well as the players knew things had to improve -- and they did.
Next season should see this team move into being a playoff team for the first time since the 2011-12 season. With young players like Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, and Connor Garland playing exceptional hockey, the team has much to be excited about.