I’ve had about a week to stew over the 2013 Phoenix Coyotes season, and there’s really only word that comes to mind when describing it.
That may be an odd choice, but this season was odd itself, from the length of it to the weirdness of the schedule and just the overall tinge of it.
Many had the Coyotes pegged as a repeat playoff team after advancing to the Western Conference Finals last year and not having much roster turnover.
Unfortunately, that did not materialize and for the first time in the Dave Tippett era, the Coyotes are taking shots on the golf course instead of at the rink during the playoffs.
Much was left to be wanted this year. There were plenty of pitfalls and holes to blame — still no ownership (meaning no true money to spend to get better talent), an offensive lull in March that effectively cost the Coyotes a postseason berth, the injury bug and so on.
Alas, they finished four points out of a playoff spot and looking back on the schedule, you can’t help but feel a bounce here or a call there would’ve made things a whole lot different in the grand scheme of it all.
Even with all the negativity and frustration, there were still some bright spots this season. Shane Doan continues to be in the upper echelon of captainships in the league and even looked like the Doan of old with his scoring touch.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes’ franchise defenseman, was signed to a major extension and could be the face of the franchise in a few years.
Smaller pieces such as forwards Rob Klinkhammer (best last name in the league) and Chris Conner, defenseman Michael Stone and goalie Chad Johnson made a case to have jobs on this team next year, or if that does not pan out for them, at least somewhere in the NHL.
But now, more pressing issues are at hand.
There is of course the ever looming ownership cloud, though recent reports suggest that turmoil may finally end. So you know, that will be about two weeks (that’s a joke for the Twitter and HFBoards families).
Then, there is the free agent market. The Coyotes have two big ones they need to re-sign and they aren’t even players. The contracts of Tippett and general manager Don Maloney expire in July and they are the ones who deserve true credit for making this team succeed the past four years in a traditional non-hockey market.
Concerning the players, the most important free agent to get signed is Mikkel Boedker, as the Danish winger fits well on this team and is the team’s best young forward piece and will probably get heftier contract offers from other teams when he hits the open market.
And then there is the situation with goaltender Mike Smith, who many say underperformed this year but he was hurt for some time and even through that, his numbers this season compare to those he put up in the same time frame last year, which was a Vezina Trophy-caliber year.
There were reports that said he was seeking $7.5 million dollars a year, but those were exaggerated and even if the Coyotes were to let him walk, he wouldn’t get that on the market. He could easily get somewhere around $5 million a year though, and that is probably where the Coyotes draw the line on Smith.
If he wants more, they should let him go and just do what they have done the past few years — go bargain shopping and have Tippett and goaltending coach Sean Burke work their magic on another goalie like they did with Smith and former net minder Ilya Bryzgalov.
And then of course, there’s the lack of a true top-line center, a lack which will continually hurt the Coyotes in their quest to finally get over the hump and be a perennial threat for years. Try as they might through the draft, the trade market or free agency, nothing has quite worked out for them in that respect, though with Maloney hopefully getting re-upped soon, that could change.
Of course, none of the previous problems can be solved until the one gloomy shadow hanging over this organization — ownership — gets settled, one way or another.
In the coming weeks, there will be plenty of whispers and rumor-mongering and texts and calls being exchanged between the NHL, the City of Glendale, prospective owners, the media, fans, etc. You can take that to the bank.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes will have to (hopefully) bank on being in the desert next season and for the foreseeable future.