Shane Doan is an absolute bulldozer – at least when he’s plowing into the numbers of a guy without the puck.
How does the team he captains compare to Edmonton?
Again, I’ve included one basic statistic at each position on the depth charts below. For forwards, I’ve used points from last season projected over an 82-game schedule, for defencemen time on ice per game in 2012-13, and for goalies their 2012-13 save percentage. Players in italics did not play a significant number of games in the NHL in 2012-13; red indicates numbers come from the AHL or Europe while green indicates a previous NHL season. And again, the same caveat: these depth charts are my best approximation of each team and the line combinations should not be seen as definitive
There are a lot of things to like in this Phoenix group, but scoring isn’t one of them.
The top line simply doesn’t compare to Edmonton’s. A 33 year-old Mike Ribeiro injects some desperately needed offence into the system, but comes with warts attached. Shane Doan is a complete player but he turns 37 in October and is in slowing down offensively – his point totals in 2011-12 were his worst in a decade, and he managed to undercut them in 2013 (there’s a case to be made that Doan and Vrbata should switch roles on this depth chart – they were neck and neck in ice-time last season – but given the centres they’re playing with I’ve left Doan at the top of the list as better complement to Ribeiro). Mikkel Boedker is a fantastic young player who looked like he had a breakout season last year, but he also isn’t in the same class as Taylor Hall.
While Phoenix has lacked top end power for ages, they’ve also boasted three good lines for a long time and the 2013-14 group is no exception. Martin Hanzal and Antoine Vermette are an excellent two/three combination; they’re both 200-foot players with some offensive punch and Hanzal finally got a chance to show what he could do in an offensive role last season. On right wing, Radim Vrbata brings scoring punch and David Moss is another superb two-way guy. Left wing is a little dicey, but Lauri Korpikoski combined for 77 points in the two seasons preceding 2013 and seems a good bet to bounce back. Rob Klinkhammer came out of nowhere and provided an excellent third-line performance; if he can keep it up the Coyotes are in good shape, but that isn’t a sure thing. Overall, the Coyotes’ middle six and the Oilers’ middle six look pretty close to me, with Phoenix stronger up the middle but the Oilers (thanks to the addition of David Perron) in better shape on the wings.
There isn’t much to choose from on the fourth line – Chipchura seems a better bet for 2013-14 than Lander, but Smyth/Joenssu/Brown looks better to me than Yip/Kennedy/ Bissonnette.
The wild card here is a player like Max Domi, who I haven’t listed based on my assumption that he’ll be returning to junior. Phoenix has been remarkably willing to fast-track high picks in the past, and if Domi can step into the top-nine and contribute right away that eases some of the question marks. To me, it’s not reasonable to bet on a 12th overall pick contributing right out of the draft, but stranger things have happened. If Domi makes the cut, he could push a guy like Antoine Vermette to left wing or move from centre to left wing himself.
Defence and Goaltending
Here’s where the Coyotes start making up the difference. Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be the number one defenceman on the Oilers’ roster without any trouble. I’m not as wild about Keith Yandle as many are – I don’t think he’d fare nearly as well playing outside Ekman-Larsson’s shadow – but he’s an awfully nice option to have on the second pairing.
Phoenix has Edmonton beat at the top end, and they’re in good shape depth-wise, too. If Mike Smith rebounds from an off-year, they’ll also have better goaltending than Edmonton. The Coyotes aren’t built to blow the doors off; they’re built to keep the other team from scoring and eke out just enough offence to beat their opposition.
Phoenix is a tough team to measure. They’ve got a solid group of NHL forwards, an excellent defence and a goaltender who at times has looked unbeatable. A lot depends on two things, though – the speed of Shane Doan’s decline and the four-year, $22 million bet the Coyotes made on Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro’s ability to be the go-to offensive centre may decide whether or not Phoenix makes the playoffs.
They certainly won’t make it easy, but this is a catchable team if the Oilers have a strong season.
Recently around the Nation Network
At Flames Nation, Rex Libris looks at some examples of NHL rebuilds and – unsurprisingly – projects things to get worse in Calgary before they get better:
Of the teams mentioned above, every one of them drafted within the top five at least twice during their rebuilding period. While the Flames have never drafted higher than 6th overall, there is a chance they could find their way into the top five sometime over the next few seasons, and arguably they will need to at least two top-5 picks to finally acquire the elite level talent which they currently lack.
Click the link above to read more, or check out some of my recent stuff: