The Coyotes stability saga is over and it will be interesting to see how certainty echoes in the dressing room. For years, the Coyotes successfully played the us-against-the-world card to help motivate a team run on a shoestring. Now that their futures are secure, will there be a temptation to exhale? Who knows?
The season will give us answers there – and answers in Dallas too, where the Stars will give Tyler Seguin a chance to renew his rivalry with Hall – Taylor vs. Tyler, the 2013-14 chapter - in the same conference.
In Calgary, it’s worse than anywhere – on paper anyway – but the hope in Cowtown is that a series of European goaltending flashes will join the NHL and make an immediate impact. As coach Bob Hartley likes to say: “A goalie can bring lots of good lipstick to an organization.”
Eight months from now, the season will have sorted itself out into winners and losers, with the usual number of surprises and disappointments and injuries wreaking havoc with somebody or other. But for now, with teams on the ice playing for keeps Tuesday night, let’s permit them all a little wishful thinking. Anyone can tell you, it never lasts too long.
AND FINALLY: The Coyotes signed centre Mike Ribiero as a free agent for a number of reasons: Newly stable ownership allowed them to increase the player budget and coach Dave Tippett has a history with Ribiero, dating back to their days together in the Dallas Stars’ organization. Ribiero was a targeted addition, added so that Martin Hanzal and Antoine Vermette could play further down the depth chart, as the team’s second and third-line centres, which is where their skill sets suggest they should play. According to Tippett, Ribiero fills an organizational void that they had ever since Ray Whitney left as a free agent, during the height of the team’s financial woes, when they were reluctant to offer a multi-year contract to a player who was 38 at the time.
Ribiero was a key player on the Washington Capitals’ highly rated power play, which scored 44 goals last year, most in the NHL. Phoenix, by contrast, had the No. 25 ranked power play, which, considering their depth on the blue line, with Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, should have been better.
According to Tippett, Ribiero “adds an element of that high skill. We had that element a couple of years ago in Whitney, a guy that could make other players around him better. Now, getting it at centre ice, it puts everybody else in the right position. We’ve had Marty Hanzal in that position for a couple of years. Marty’s a really good player, but he’s a better guy coming from the second hole, and can play against top players, or play as a shutdown guy. So he just adds an unbelievable skill set that we believe can help players like (Mikkel) Boedker, (Shane) Doan and (Radim) Vrbata; help our power play. He’s a player we didn’t have – and when you can add a player like that, it gets everybody else in the roles they should be.”
The Coyotes planned to start the year with a No. 1 line of Ribiero, Boedker and Doan. Hanzal, Vrbata were two-thirds of the second line, with a number of different players, including Lauri Korpikoski and Guillaume Latendresse, getting auditions to play a top-six role. Vermette and David Moss were penciled in as two-thirds of the third line, with the other spot also still in a state of flux.
“I don’t think we consider ourselves a powerhouse by any means,” said goaltender Mike Smith, “but obviously, adding a player like Ribs and the dynamic game he brings to our team, I think we were lacking that player before. We have a lot of underrated players that are in their right roles now. I think you’ll see we have great depth and our D, it’s a strong area of our team. Hopefully, that can transfer into some good play out there.”
But as team captain Shane Doan acknowledged, how the Coyotes adjust to their newly secure state will go a long in determining how successful their year is and ultimately, if the franchise can turn it around financially as well.
“I guess the phrase is, ‘potential’s got a lot of people fired,’” said Doan, with a laugh, “so we’ve got to make sure that the potential we think we have is displayed out on the ice. We think we have a good team and we’re capable of being good. That’s our goal – to take that next step and be consistently one of the teams that everyone has to compete with.”