NHL 2017 Season: Arizona Coyotes Pre-Season Overview
The 2016 – 17 season will be one that Arizona Coyotes fans and team members will want to forget. They almost finished in the bottom of the Pacific Division, only just outranking the Canucks, and they ended the season with a forgettable 30 – 42 – 10 record. At home they only managed 18 – 18 – 5, and on the road they performed far worse with a record of 12 – 24 – 5.In what many will consider to be a knee-jerk reaction, the team owners went on to fire coach Dave Tippett for the abysmal season, replacing him with Rick Tocchet, an assistant coach who has no previous experience in the top position. If you’re familiar with the name, it’s because he’s the same man who last worked for Arizona just before he was charged for illegal gambling.With all of that drama, you would be forgiven for thinking that 2017 might be another terrible year. While there’s signs that the team is in turmoil, there is also some evidence that the Coyotes could be the surprise of the 2017 – 18 season. Let’s take a look at what they’ve done in the off season, and see if it’s enough to make any real impact in their upcoming campaign.
The Team Has Been Acquiring Proven Talent
Whereas most teams look to the off-season to get rookie picks and start developing their squads for the future, Arizona is more concerned about the short term results.One of their most important acquisitions has been Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks. Arizona wanted him so badly that they exchanged two players, Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. Hjalmarsson is considered to be one of the best defensive players in the sport. He has won Stanley Cups with Chicago, and was present for the 2010, 2013, and 2015 championship wins. He will be an important player for Arizona and he’s a solid indicator that the team means business for 2017. Hjalmarsson is excited to join the team, which will be his second in the NHL. He will likely be paired with Olver Ekman-Larsson, a fellow Swedish defensive player who is highly regarded by experts. Hjalmarsson spoke to the Arizona Republic about his latest move and the prospect of playing with Ekman-Larsson, saying that “He’s one of the better D-men in the League, so hopefully I can complement him with just playing my style of hockey. At the same time, maybe try to develop a little bit more of a puck-moving element to my game and be more involved offensively. But at the same time, playing defense first has always been my strength. That’s what I’m expecting of myself.”Even though Hjalmarsson downplays his offensive skill, he still managed to close out the previous season with five goals and thirteen assists. He’s definitely going to be an asset to this Arizona squad, and their prospects already look better with him on board.
Antti Raanta in Goaltender
Another important acquisition for the team is Antti Raanta. The Finnish player is also a previous signing for the Blackhawks, but played his most recent seasons with the New York Rangers. As goaltender he played in 30 games last season, and had a save percentage of .922 overall. Many consider him to be one of the strongest goaltenders in the NHL, and with Arizona he may get more time on the ice which will allow him to develop his skills and make a real impact on the franchise. Raanta was a member of the 2015 Blackhawks team that won the Stanley Cup, so he’s yet another player who knows what it is like to win, and like Hjalmarsson he will bring that winning drive and experience to a team that is in dire need of motivation.
Derek Stepan in Center
Stepan has had seven years of experience in the NHL, which is important to note, considering that he’s one of the favorites to be named captain for the Arizona Coyotes. Like Antti Raanta, he comes from the New York Rangers, and was traded along with Raanta in exchange for the Coyotes’ seventh round draft pick.Stepan has already had leadership experience with the New York Rangers, and served as their backup captain while he was with the team. He has been on an impressive run in recent years, and both he and the Coyotes will hope that he can continue that form into the 2017 – 18 season. For the last four seasons he has hit over 50 points, with 57, 55, 53, and 55 points since the 2013 – 14 season. Last year he scored 17 goals and 38 assists, and he’s exactly the kind of high scoring player that Arizona needs. In his history with the NHL he has never had a bad season, and even back in his first year he made 45 points from 21 goals and 24 assists.There’s no doubt that Stepan is going to be an integral part in a revamped team that is aiming to improve their embarrassing record from last season.
Have the Arizona Coyotes Done Enough to Turn Things Around?
We’ve named three important acquisitions who can make a difference to the Coyotes this season. Having conceded so many goals in the previous season, bringing in defensive and goaltending talent is exactly the right move for the team. A talented center in the form of Stepan, who can also lead, could give new direction to this team.A more controversial addition is Zac Rinaldo, a player who has had a recent history of poor discipline, both in the NHL and in the AHL. While Rinaldo can be an effective player in the wing, he’ll need to avoid any severe penalties and suspensions to prove his value to the Coyotes.This team looks like it is on an upward trajectory, with the off-season moves being solely targeted at bringing better results in 2017 – 18. Although bringing in veteran players doesn’t say anything for the long term future of the Arizona team, we can at least expect a better record this season, and a higher placement than 6th in their division. If Rick Tocchet turns out to be a competent head coach, then Arizona could even be looking at the playoffs this season.