One of the Arizona Coyotes major weaknesses laid within the blue line which was absolutely terrible last year. For the upcoming season the defence will be significantly better just by subtracting Nicklas Grossman who was a possession anchor and provided nothing in the way of offence. They also made a big addition along with a smaller addition which will help the team improve for this upcoming season.
The 2016-17 Arizona Coyotes Defence
Last seasons defence
The three most common pairings last season were:
These aren’t pairings which inspire much confidence, but there are pieces there which can be useful. As mentioned before, the jettisoning of Grossman was a good step forward for the team. The could have also walked away from Dahlbeck, but he was re-signed to a one-year deal at $750,000. It’s not ideal, but it shouldn’t cause too much harm as long as he isn’t given too many minutes. He certainly is not good as his -12.77% relative goals for percentage would suggest, but he was also unlucky, as his expected goals for percentage was -4.53%. Both are bad, but obviously aat different levels. Aside from those two, there’s nobody who one should be too upset about bringing back next season.
The defencemen currently under contract for next season are:
Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($5,500,000)
Alex Goligoski ($5,475,000)
Zbynek Michalek ($3,200,000)
Kevin Connauton ($1,000,000)
Klas Dahlbeck ($750,000)
Jarred Tinordi ($700,000)
Jamie McBain ($650,000)
Connor Murphy (RFA)
Michael Stone (RFA)
Obviously this is too many defensemen, and one or two are likely to hit the waiver wire. Jamie McBain is the obvious candidate because he’s 28 and a career third pairing defensemen. He’s not bad at playing on the third pair, but it would not be a big lose to see him gone on waivers. The other two candidates seem to be Jarred Tinordi and/or Dahlbeck. With a new analytics based management, neither player is likely to be very popular.
Tinordi watched most of his games from the press box in Montreal last year, who didn’t want to waive him because he was a former first round pick. Tinordi played a few games in Arizona, where he was terrible before getting suspended for using performance enhancing drugs. That suspension carries into this season. Tinordi is likely the worst of the three, but as he’s only 24 and he’s really big, so coach Dave Tippett might wish to keep him around.
Michael Stone and Connor Murphy will definitely be re-signed, and will continue to play big roles next year. Stone saw success with Ekman-Larsson last season and was part of the Coyotes best defensive pairing. He should be kept with Ekman-Larsson next season as he is one of the only good defensemen on the team. Stone is likely better suited to a second pair role, but he did play well with OEL, and there’s not a ton of other options.
On the second pairing, I believe Goligoski and Michalek could compliment each other nicely. Goligoski is really good offensively and drives shot generation nicely, whereas Michalek is great at shot suppression and not much else. This would give them Coyotes two pairings they could send out and not have to worry about being buried in their own end. Kevin Connauton would be worth a shot with Goligoski should this not work out, but wouldn’t be my first choice because they are both lefties.
This of course leaves the third pair. Kevin Connauton is the best of the remaining players, and should absolutely be featured in the top six. The two year contract extension the Coyotes gave him, at $1 million per season shows the Coyotes brass agrees. He’s been consistently pretty good wherever he’s played. He’s a good possession player and provides a decent amount of offense. Connor Murphy will probably take the other spot on the third pair, given how much Tippett played him last year. While Murphy isn’t great, he could be decent in a smaller role. This would leave a defence that looks like this:
Michael Stone – Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Zbynek Michalek – Alex Goligoski
Kevin Connauton – Connor Murphy
Extras: Klas Dahlbeck, Jarred Tinordi and Jamie McBain
This isn’t going to blow anybody away, but it’s enough that they shouldn’t get pegged down in their own zone for the whole game. Giving lots of minutes to Ekman-Larsson and Goligoski will do wonders for the team’s overall possession game.
On the man advantage, Arizona now has several defensemen capable performing capably. Keeping together the Ekman-Larsson/Stone pairing would be the best possible combination for the first unit. The second squad should feature Goligoski and Connauton, who are both good at generating offence and shot attempts. This leaves them with a powerplay that looks like this:
Stone – Ekman-Larsson
Connauton – Goligoski
This should help the powerplay which is missing its top performer from last season, Mikkel Boedker. As long as they can hold the zone, they should be okay. This is a realistic expectation from this squad.
On the penalty kill, things get a bit weaker. Ekman-Larsson is great, really great on the penalty kill, albeit in limited minutes last year. The Coyotes can’t afford to keep him off the penalty kill. Pair him with Zbynek Michalek and you’ve got a decent first squad. For the second pair, really just pick any two random guys. Goligoski and Murphy were the next best last year by a thin margin, so they make the most sense. They 4v5 pairings would look like:
Michalek – Ekman-Larsson
Murphy – Goligoski
Basically, Coyotes fans should hope that they don’t take too many penalties this season.
Reliance on Big Two
If there’s one thing which stands out, it’s that the Coyotes will be very heavily reliant on Ekman-Larsson and Goligoski next season. They are both very good, but aren’t enough to drive a great blueline. Ekman-Larsson should play close to half the game, and Goligoski should be well into the 20’s for minutes. It’s a dangerous strategy, relying so heavily on two defensemen, but it’s the only option the Coyotes have for now.
SAN JOSE, CA – FEBRUARY 13: Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Arizona Coyotes looks on during the game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on February 13, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)
(stats via Corsica.hockey, and all salary data courtesy of Generalfanager.com)