NHL Pre-season Predictions: Pacific Division – No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes

THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: No. 6 in Pacific Division

2013: 21-18-9. 10th in West.

KEY DEPARTURES: Boyd Gordon, Jason Labarbera

KEY ADDITIONS: Tim Kennedy, Thomas Greiss, Mike Ribeiro

THE PROS: Keith Yandle and Oliver Eknan-Larsson make up a 1-2 defense tandem that most teams in the league would kill to have on their depth chart. Responsible defensively, the two are key conductors of an offense that lacks in depth on its forward unit. The steady hand of Shane Doan has been a constant through a tumultuous time in this franchise’s history and has a value that goes well beyond point production. The roster doesn’t look intimidating, which is why Phoenix has made a habit out of exceeding expectations in recent seasons, but coach Dave Tippett proves time and again he is one of the best at his craft. Mike Smith is one of those Canadian goalies in the hunt for the No. 1 job in Sochi, so the Coyotes should benefit from that motivation and Smith should improve on his lockout shortened season, in which he tailed off some. Mike Ribeiro was added to the team via free agency after his hugely surprising season in Washington and though it’s unlikely he’ll maintain a point-per-game pace, he’ll be a welcome infusion of offense. And, hey, ownership distractions should be gone this year for the first time in a while, so there’s one less distraction.

THE CONS: There is no flashy offense or wealth of talent, so the Coyotes will always have to keep re-proving themselves. But because this team isn’t built on offense, it’s going to feel the loss of a player like Boyd Gordon more than some. Gordon was a reliable depth line checker for the team and while the loss of one player won’t stall their steady team defense system, the loss of experience and know-how will sting. Special teams was an issue for the team last season and, surprisingly for a “system” team, shots-against have also been a problem – the totals need to come down to ease Smith’s burden over a full season.

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X-FACTOR: When Mike Smith had a monster season for the Coyotes in 2011-12, posting a .930 SP, they went to the West final and nearly put together a Cinderella run to the Cup final. But last season his percentage dipped by 20 points and suddenly the Yotes found themselves on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Tippett’s system is known for bringin out the best in goalies, but Smith didn't have the greatest track record before coming to Phoenix and still needs to show he can bring that elite level year in and year out. The Coyotes better hope he’s capable of it, because he’s signed for the next six season at a $5.6 million cap hit. As Smith goes, so go the Coyotes.

PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Paul Bissonnette (@BizNasty2point0) will play more minutes on Twitter than on the ice.