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Jets-Coyotes Preview

A new name is already in place and a new owner may be coming, but the Arizona Coyotes are hoping a return to coach Dave Tippett's defensive philosophy can get them back to the playoffs.

The Coyotes look to remain focused on the ice as they open 2014-15 at home against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.

The Coyotes switched their franchise name from Phoenix to Arizona in June, and now a change at the top could be coming. Ownership group IceArizona is reportedly in the process of selling controlling interest in the team to Andrew Barroway, a Philadelphia hedge fund manager.

This shouldn't be new territory for the Coyotes, who endured various relocation rumors while being owned by the league for four seasons after previous owner Jerry Moyes led them into bankruptcy.

"I'm pretty sure no one's too concerned in our room," captain Shane Doan said. "This is a minor, minor, minor, minor thing compared to the previous five years. It's not a big deal."

A bigger deal could be made of Arizona (37-30-15) getting back to its identity under Tippett after missing the playoffs for a second straight year, falling two points shy while trying to become more offensive-minded. Center Mike Ribeiro was supposed to be the centerpiece of that change, but the Coyotes bought out his contract after he produced just 16 goals and 47 points in his only season in the desert.

"We need to be a very competitive team night in and night out and that's what our goal will be," said Tippett, whose defensive approach led to three straight playoff berths, including an appearance in the 2012 Western Conference finals.

The Coyotes will again rely heavily on goaltender Mike Smith, who missed the final 10 games of last season with a knee injury. He finished with a 27-21-10 record and 2.64 goals-against average - his highest in three seasons with Arizona.

Offensively, Tippett will try to replace Radim Vrbata's 20 goals and 31 assists after the forward signed a two-year, $10 million contract with Vancouver.

Filling that gap could be up to center Sam Gagner, who was acquired with right wing B.J. Crombeen in a trade from Edmonton. Gagner had 37 points in 67 games last season after getting 38 in 48 contests during the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

"We may have lost a little on pure talent, proven talent, but we brought in some people who are going to fit into the chemistry mix, that junkyard dog, hang-around-games-find-a-way-to-win mentality," general manager Don Maloney said. "And that's how we have to be right now."

That mentality could be what the Jets (37-35-10) need to compete in the Central Division after finishing in the basement last season, seven points short of returning to the playoffs for the first time since they were the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007.

"The division and the conference we're in right now, there's several teams that are certainly in the cycle to be considered Stanley Cup contenders," general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. "It's an extremely competitive conference with L.A. winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks' history of winning the Stanley Cup, with the competitive level of Anaheim, the competitive level of San Jose and certainly the competitive level of St. Louis."

Despite having to deal with such opponents, Cheveldayoff's most significant free-agent signing was center Mathieu Perreault, who had career highs of 18 goals and 43 points with Anaheim last season.

Winnipeg, though, is returning its top four scorers in Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, who had at least 20 goals each.

Byfuglien will again be used in a forward/defenseman hybrid role by coach Paul Maurice, manning the blue line on power plays. He led the Jets with 26 power-play points last season.

Maurice's biggest challenge may be getting improvement from Ondrej Pavelec, who went 22-26-7 with a 3.01 GAA and .901 save percentage.

"The numbers do speak for themselves," said Cheveldayoff, who acquired veteran Peter Budaj in a trade with Montreal in an effort to add depth behind Pavelec.

Pavelec, though, has a 0.96 GAA while winning four straight meetings with Arizona.

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