30 IN 30 - ARIZONA COYOTES (28th place)
Youth has been given the reigns this year, both on the roster and in management as a full scale culture shift is underway in the desert. Injury to a player like Max Domi may have plagued this team's ability to score, but with him set return at full force and the unknown impact of top picks Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome, offence could be on the rise next season. Understandably the ability to attract free agents to Arizona is tough, but this team is in dire need of a few veterans throughout the lineup to show them how to play smart possession driven hockey. Moreover, a change to Tippett's boring 1-1-3 'trap system' would serve this offensive group of forwards well group as they shift to a more exciting brand of hockey. Personally, I have my concerns with Strome’s ability to come in and contribute immediately at the professional level after the recognizable deficiencies in his game during the World Juniors, but for the Coyotes-sake moving forward I hope he proves me wrong and becomes an important part of this teams foundation.
Protection list structure
- Reider (F)
- Burmistrov (F)
- Duclair (F)
- Ekman-Larsson (D)
- Goligoski (D)
- Murphy (D)
***Issue: Picking 2/3 of Reider, McGinn, and Richardson leaves only 1 contracted F for expansion selection - 2F are required.
- Holland ?
***Issue: Does not leave contracted F's for expansion selection - 2F are required.
The expansion draft will be a non-event for the Coyotes with respect to their current roster. I struggle to find enough forwards to protect with the 7 open spots, as most are exempt due to the lack of seasons/games played. Some of the protection picks contemplated above would be castoffs on any other team in the league - re Peter Holland - but for the sake of eligibility must be recognized under current circumstance. The obvious trio of Ekman-Larsson, Goligoski, and Murphy are a sure-thing on AZ's list, while Zybynek Michalek is a free agent and thus not a protection option without a new deal. Vegas will most likely look towards Luke Schenn and Kevin Connauton as available selection picks.
No matter how you break down this roster I would warn casual observers to take the Coyotes' individual player stats with a grain of salt. Inherently based on the system they play and the general lack of experience in the lineup, Corsi numbers are gonna be quite low and adjustments for the high percentage of defensive zone play become vulnerable to overcorrection (ex. a gap between CF% and AdjCF% of 5 or higher). Defensive systems will naturally produce elevated save percentages as shots will be driven from worse angles on average. Evident in the Coyotes ability to rank 12th, 7th, and 8th in SV% in three out of the last four seasons. Effective neutral zone play within this philosophy can lead to fewer shots against and an elevated percentage of play outside the defensive zone - evident by higher offensive zone starts (OZFO%) and an increase in opposition icing/offside infractions. Tippet's Yotes however, have not been effective in their deployment, falling well below league averages since their last playoff appearance in 2013-14.
Exposure Problem - Not Enough Contracts
An interesting dilemma exists for the Coyotes - they fall short of the 'two forwards under contract' exposure requirement within my list predictions. Only Tobias Reider, Jamie McGinn, and Brad Richardson hold eligible contracts under the expansion rules. It would be foolish to give up veteran players (*veteran for a team this young) capable of 3rd and 4th line duties. Despite McGinn's piss poor numbers - 43.23 AdjCF% and 36.92 GF% - I'd keep him locked in for the sake of NHL experience if this whole contract requirement scenario can be resolved. But if these issues persist, protecting him over both Reader and Richardson would be misguided. Even the likes of Jordan Martinook and his improving point totals (0.32 Pts/GP) rates as a more valuable contributor, meaning the former Duck/Sabre/Av/Shark McGinn could be the odd man out.
Without action taken by John Chayka to re-sign a few under-appealing expansion options like Josh Jooris or equivalent, he will be stuck leaving 1-2 of these aforementioned role players exposed. In that case Vegas' decision would be a lay-up, as they pluck a checking line forward from the Yotes instead of a very below-average defenceman.
Opportunities to be had
Counter to the contract related negatives mentioned above, Arizona's overall protection list flexibility plays heavily in their favour. With space to take on a key forward(s) before the draft, they will be a convenient option for teams left vulnerable by the expansion process and looking to obtain compensation for player's bound to be lost for nothing. This will make life for George McPhee a bit more difficult as he attempts to pry extra draft picks out of teams in exchange for selecting a roster player the target team prefers. Chayka could disrupt this dynamic in his pursuit of a top-6 forward for well under market value. It would be foolish to miss this opportunity.
Vegas goes with...
The chances of Arizona getting caught by exposure requirements are slim to none, and at this point would bet on Connauton and Schenn as the very underwhelming, yet leading options available. Neither have been able to hold down a consistent NHL gig, and thus several question marks surround their impact on a game.
When it comes down to it, I believe Kevin Connauton is the better player of the two. His ability to balloon up to 2014/15 numbers with Columbus is flat out more intriguing. With both guys signed to cheap contracts for next year, I'd rather gamble on a player next season who has at least shown glimpses of offensive impact ability - 9.72% 5v5 ice time shooting percentage, 2.91 goals for per 60 minutes - then one who's play has flatlined without the help of strong teammates. Hopefully with more ice time (only 286 minutes played in 2016/17) Connauton can find a bit more consistency in his game and compete as a bottom pair defenceman on the Golden Knights next season.
Unless Arizona runs awkwardly into the contract wall discussed above, their lot of depth forwards will find a way to be protected, leaving little choice. If a boom or bust option like Alex Burmistrov or the aforementioned McGinn happen to squeeze through the cracks, McPhee would undoubtedly pounce, but those are still 'what if' scenarios. Best not to overthink it till moves begin to happen around the list deadline. Take the card you're dealt and move on.
I can't preach the flexibility in protection structure enough. The ability to take on a top-6 forward (or even top-4 defenceman) has to be the play for the Coyotes with SO MANY young players exempt from the process. As for the draft - I think this team's window for playoff success being 2-3 year's down the line may actually be a strength for them in the selection process. They can utilize this development time on a prospect with more long term potential such as Cale Maker or Casey Mittelstadt and reap the rewards of a more well-rounded player when the team is ready to make a jump.
Next up: New Jersey Devils