The Arizona Coyotes will be wise to enter the Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel NHL Draft sweepstakes by going into full rebuild mode; more news, notes.
Off The Draw
A word of advice to Coyotes GM Don Maloney: Don't stop now.
Maloney made a shrewd move on Wednesday by shipping Devan Dubnyk to the goalie-starved Wild for a third-round draft pick. Dubnyk, who will become an unrestricted free agent after the season, was not going to re-sign with Arizona. He got what he wanted from the team—a chance to get his career back on track—but with Mike Smith locked in for four more years, he needed to look elsewhere for his next deal.
Moving him before he moved on made good sense for the Coyotes. But this wasn’t simply about securing an asset before Maloney lost Dubnyk for nothing in return. In making this swap now, the GM quit pretending that Arizona will compete for a playoff spot nextd spring.
Good for him. Here we are at the midway point and it’s clear that this season promises nothing for the Coyotes but more aimless wandering in the desert. They would have to finish the regular season on something like a 25-12-3 tear to even have a chance at the postseason, and that’s a bit much to expect from a team that has won only 16 of its first 42 games. So why muddle through another three months of mediocrity on the steady back of Dubnyk when there’s a real chance to improve the team just over the horizon?
There’s no upside to staying the course. Now is the time to be bold, to follow the lead of the Sabres and embrace the concept of a complete tear-down. Put another way, now is the time to swan dive straight down into the NHL basement, where Arizona will get a lottery chance to draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel—and maybe local boy Auston Matthews—next June. Getting one of those players in the draft could set this team up to be something more than a well-coached group of overachievers who live perennially on the playoff bubble.
Playing to win the draft lottery will mean a commitment to some ugly hockey in the short term, and the sooner that happens for the Coyotes the better. It also means hanging out an open-for-business-shingle and taking bids on impact veterans like Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle. That way when the March 2 trading deadline comes around Maloney can focus on dealing support players, including Kyle Chipchura, Lauri Korpikoski and Zbynek Michalek.
Sure, it would save money, which is something that the new ownership is reportedly looking to do. But more importantly, it would also signal that the front office recognizes the team’s current core simply isn’t good enough. Maloney has some interesting pieces to work with moving forward. Oliver Ekman-Larsson might not be a future Norris Trophy winner, but he looks like he’ll be a reliable top-pairing defender for the next decade. Mikkel Boedker, Sam Gagner and Martin Hanzal are useful players who can fill top-nine roles up front. And there is some promising talent in the system, including forwards Max Domi, Lucas Lessio, Brendan Perlini, Ryan MacInnis and Christian Dvorak, and defensemen Connor Murphy and Brandon Gormley.
But as intriguing as they are, none of those players have the potential to change the course of the franchise the way that McDavid or Eichel or Matthews does. And the only way to acquire an asset like that is to fully embrace the pain and promise of a rebuild. There are no guarantees, as fans of the Oilers can attest. But at least it would be a step in the right direction.
So go on, Don. You’ve already dumped Dubnyk. Don’t stop now.
What to watch tonight
If recent history is any indication, this one should be a nail-biter. Of the past 27 games between the Original Six rivals, 21 have been decided by a single goal. Six of them have ended with a score of 1–0.
The way Boston has been playing lately, this could be the seventh. The Bruins have doubled down on defense during a 5-0-3 run, and have held their last three opponents to an average of fewer than 20 shots on net. By taking care of their own zone, Boston is creating more chances up front. Milan Lucic has burst out of a long slump in a big way, scoring three goals, with three assists, in his last four games. Rookie David Pastrnak has been electric since being recalled after the World Junior Championship, scoring twice in both of the games he’s played.
New York will be looking to bounce back from Tuesday night’s letdown against the Islanders. The Rangers allowed 44 shots in that one, a disappointing effort after three solid games on the road in California. Backup Cam Talbot, who has three shutouts in his last five starts, will get the start.
The rest of the schedule: Wild at Sabres (7 p.m. EST; FS-N, FS-WI, MSG-B, BELL TV); Canucks at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; SNP, CSN-PH); Canadiens at Senators (7:30 p.m. EST; RDS, SNE, RDS, TSN5); Oilers at Lightning (7:30 p.m. EST; SNOL, SUN); Avalanche at Panthers (7:30 p.m. EST; ALT, FS-F); Red Wings at Blues (8 p.m. EST; FS-D, FS-MW); Jets at Stars (8:30p.m. EST; TSN3, FS-SW); Flames at Coyotes (9 p.m. EST; SNW; FS-A); Maple Leafs at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; TSN4, CSN-CA)
What you missed last night
• Adding to Minnesota’s woes, Ryan Suter was given a two-game suspension for elbowing.
• A Toronto prospect was suspended after failing a PED test. Now his career outlook with the Leafs isn’t good.
• Check out this video of a New Jersey high schooler’s mad dangle through an entire team.
The numbers game
• Corey Perry and the recently retired Teemu Selanne share the Ducks’ record of three hat tricks in a season (Selanne in 1997–98; Perry in 2010–11 and again in ’14-15). Perry’s eight three-goal games for Anaheim are tied with Paul Kariya, and trail only Selanne’s 13.
• Montreal’s six straight road wins are its best such streak since Jan. 21 to Feb. 21, 1982.
• The Devils are now 7-1-2 in their last 10 visits to L.A.’s Staples Center, dating back to Jan. 21, 1999.
• Wild GM Chuck Fletcher says that Minnesota is in “a perilous position for our season.” Good to know he’s been paying attention.
• Is this the must-have fashion item of the season? Yes. Yes it is.
• According to E! Online, the real entertainment during Tuesday’s Islanders-Rangers showdown was provided by an actress making funny faces. Guess we went about covering the game all wrong.
• This Eric Duhatschek piece on the quietly excellent coaching career of Paul Maurice is a must-read.