Arizona Coyotes Facing Personnel Conundrum As Season Slips

With the playoffs likely out of reach, the Arizona Coyotes face several questions regarding their personnel moving forward.

The Arizona Coyotes sit in 29th position in the NHL after three months of play.

They are just two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche who occupy last in the standings, and the Avs have a game in-hand on Arizona.

As the 2016 half of the season shifts into 2017, there are many questions to be answered.

Will we see a shakeup in ice time distribution as the writing on the wall becomes clearer? Who will depart the team at the trade deadline? Will any of these departures result in roster player acquisitions that may impact the Coyotes in the present?

For our purposes, we’re focusing on the ice time and what would be the most prudent course of action for the Coyotes moving forward.

Specifically, should the team continue relying on veterans in big minutes to try to eke out a few more wins, or shift the focus to the youth and let come what may?

The Generational Divide

If there’s one single thing that divides the Arizona Coyotes fan base more than the individual play of Mike Smith and Martin Hanzal, it’s the team’s approach to the youth on the NHL roster.

Conventional wisdom tells us that teams that are out of a playoff position on December 1st by-and-large do not get back in the race.

However, head coach Dave Tippett is a man determined to scrape as many points as possible out of his lineup regardless of how good or bad the pieces are.

That’s exactly what you’d expect from your head coach.

We see this play out night after night with his usage of certain players.

Players like Shane Doan and Tobias Rieder are rewarded power play time for playing the way Tipp likes to see his guys play.

Alex Goligoski, though he has improved slightly since the start of the season, has been one of the worst players on the roster in 2016. He has never even sniffed the nachos in the press box, meanwhile Anthony DeAngelo and Jakob Chychrun, among others, have made a few trips.

Youngsters like Christian Dvorak have seen minimal ice time despite producing fairly well, all things considered, and being one of the few positive plus/minus players on the team.

To some degree, these moves make sense.

Tipp has typically had a fairly short leash for young players who are mistake prone in their own end, and one need only peruse past Arizona Coyotes rosters and their usage to see how much he values veterans who provide grit, character, and a strong work ethic.

DeAngelo has certainly had his share of defensive lapses. Ditto Chychrun, and it’s not like Dvorak has fans craning their neck to watch him when he’s on the ice.

Still, the time is rapidly approaching where not going full bore with the kids would seem to do more harm than good.

And in more ways than one, as the near misses on Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews show.

A New Way of Thinking

Recently on the Hockey PDOcast, Dimitri Filipovic and Micah Blake McCurdy were discussing good coaching.

One example given was in player deployment, and Sam Gagner‘s usage by John Tortorella in Columbus is an obvious candidate of good coaching.

Gagner never quite lived up to his own hype, however his ice time and deployment has been managed extremely well under Torts.

The 27-year-old former Coyote is given very sheltered minutes where he can maximize his offensive prowess. He is also provided ample power play opportunities. The result? He’s on pace for a career season thanks to Torts’ open mind and some shooting luck.

Columbus’ approach to Gagner is not commonplace in the NHL.

Unlike the other major North American sports leagues, NHL front offices and coaching staffs drill into players heads that they must be proficient both ways to get playing time or suffer the consequences.

In other leagues, specialists exist and their specialties are exploited to maximize the team’s chances.

This is the kind of man management that the Arizona Coyotes need to shift to.

Why punish a player like Sam Gagner, or more aptly, Anthony Duclair, for what are perceived as defensive deficiencies?

Those issues may be recurring, sure, but do they take away from what either player can do on the power play?

The answer is no.

There is not a good reason for Duke to be on the bench for the power play.

In a perfect world he would get around a minute of each opportunity, at least. He’s one of the Yotes’ best offensive weapons whether he’s scoring or not, and should be utilized when the Coyotes have offensive opportunities.

That isn’t how it’s working out right now, however, and so Duke’s slump continues and the power play fails to produce with lesser, but harder working talent.

Growing Pains

The Arizona Coyotes are not very good.

That is with Dave Tippett trying to wring every ounce of juice he can out of the roster.

Why not shift the other way?

Shane Doan has had an amazing career in the desert, but do the Coyotes really need him on the power play now that he’s potted his 400th goal?

He’s no longer the best option.

The same goes for Tobias Rieder, who is a monster on the penalty kill and fits the mold of a player who works hard and deserves to be rewarded. Unfortunately, he’s not the type to produce points and he lacks the ability to finish, so why put him on the power play?

Alex Goligoski was brought in, in part, to be the second man on the power play.

With the way his season has gone, however, he certainly hasn’t earned that time and the Yotes would likely be better served giving his time to Jakob Chychrun who has shown some flashes, particularly early in the season. The added experience could be huge for #6.

A power play unit that focuses on the youth, with Dvorak, Duke, DeAngelo, and company receiving ample opportunities would be a fresh look for a man advantage that has struggled mightily. It would also help the team build toward the future.

The same goes for ice time and playing time in general.

Why scratch a player like Anthony DeAngelo or Jakob Chychrun when other options have been equally error prone?

It doesn’t feel forward thinking.

With the playoffs all but out of reach, the Yotes need to begin looking toward next season and beyond.

It may result in a few more losses, or it could spark the team. Whatever the case, the current method is not producing favorable results.

Letting the kids get reps now, warts and all, will pay dividends in the future.

First, however, they have to stop being punished for making mistakes we all know they are going to make.