As October creeps closer, another NHL season creeps with it.
In the fourth of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
Amid rampant speculation of a potential arena -- or city -- relocation, which owner Andrew Barroway downplayed this summer, the Coyotes had the type of ugly season in 2016-17 that, you know, might warrant conversations about a relocation. OK, maybe it wasn't that bad, but the numbers sure weren't pretty for a team that finished 30-42-10 but, even more concerning, had the league's worst goal differential (minus-63) outside of Colorado, where the Avalanche of their own.
Things didn't settle down any after the season, either. If anything, things got crazier. In between Barroway's assurances of keeping the Coyotes in Arizona, the franchise found itself scrambling between changes in the front office and at head coach. Dave Tippett was axed just a year after landing more power and a new contract, then replaced by none other than once-exiled Coyotes assistant Rick Tocchet, an esteemed Pittsburgh Penguins assistant but, still, a rookie head coach whose last stint in Arizona ended with him being charged with illegal sports gambling.
Put all that with an unceremonious departure for longtime Coyote Shane Doan and summer moves that looked more like a playoff contender's strategies (see below), and it's easy to see why Arizona is entering 2017-18.
Key losses: F Shane Doan (free agent), F Radim Vrbata (Panthers), D Connor Murphy (trade with Blackhawks), G Mike Smith (trade with Flames), D Anthony DeAngelo (trade with Rangers), G Chad Johnson (Sabres)
It was a pretty balanced summer for Arizona in terms of adding and subtracting talent even if the way the Coyotes achieved that balance was unexpected and unpredictable. Doan and Vrbata are losses as much for their veteran presence as their offensive contributions, while Johnson was actually only with the team shortly before free agency. The big deals to bring in Stepan, Raanta and Hjalmarsson are intriguing if only because the Coyotes weren't anticipated to consider, let alone pursue, immediate veteran help, and they certainly give the Arizona roster some added pop at both ends of the ice. It remains to be seen, however, just how much they'll be able to both replace the core leadership of departed vets and overshadow an otherwise fluid (shaky?) transition from rebuilding mess to restocked Pacific Division hopeful.
The Coyotes might be the most bizarre of the NHL's lowly 2016-17 teams in that they could trend drastically upward under Tocchet's familiar but new voice -- and they could also crash rather hard after a whirlwind of mostly inexplicable offseason activity.
Doan's departure might not have been as smooth as hoped, but the arrival of Stepan should offset any offensive concerns more than most expect. Ditto for the swapping of Murphy and Hjalmarsson on defense. And yet there's still little reason to think Arizona will be vastly improved with its shuffled leadership on and off the ice unless the club's core prospects take a big step forward. That, of course, is a big "if" for a lot of franchises looking to scrape their way out of the league cellar, but it is especially true with the Coyotes considering how much the organization invested in supplementary veteran pieces this summer.
How Arizona is going to build on its rocky offseason is one question. How the Coyotes are going to climb past the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers -- even the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings -- is another. Right now, despite all the hoopla, the hope for a rebound is there. So, too, is at least a portion of the talent. Here's a boom-or-bust situation if there has ever been one.