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Keep playing terrible, Arizona: It's your best hope for the future

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Just as the season was dawning, I had a conversation with Arizona Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith about expectations. The Canadian Olympian laid out the battle plan for his squad pretty succinctly:

"The past couple of years, our consistency has not been where we want it to be," Smith said. "Our main focus is everyone knowing their role on the team."

Taking a peek at the team's recent results, that has not come to fruition. The Coyotes dropped their eighth straight home game last night, 5-1 to Nashville and are languishing near the bottom of the NHL standings – only Carolina and Edmonton are worse.

Should the Coyotes fire coach Dave Tippett, or make some moves to shake up the roster? Nope. From where I'm sitting, this team should just keep on keepin' on.

And here's why: Tippett is a great coach who has done everything a mortal man can do to keep an offensively-challenged roster above water the past six years. Defenseman Keith Yandle has been mentioned in trade rumors, but of course he has: Yandle is one of the team's best players, alongside fellow blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson. And to damn with faint praise, they're also Arizona's two most dangerous offensive threats.

Trading Shane Doan at this point in his career would just bum me out: The guy has been with the same Winnipeg/Phoenix/Arizona franchise his whole career and unless he wants to go to a Stanley Cup favorite, I say let him play out his contract, which ends after next season.

If you can find a taker for Martin Erat (Hey, Washington! Just kidding), go for it. Maybe you deal Antoine Vermette if you think he won't re-sign in the summer. Otherwise, just hope for a lottery win that would net the Dogs Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Because this franchise needs a blue-chip No. 1 center and someone who can bring excitement to the arena every night. It's been an incredibly long time since the Coyotes have had anyone remotely close to that description and if the team wants to win and bring in more fans, that's a big part of the equation.

In a perfect world for Arizona, the team gets McDavid or Eichel and plays that phenom right away next season. Max Domi, another offensively gifted prospect, would make the jump as well. Does that make them a playoff team? Not necessarily in one year, but I guarantee the presence of McDavid or Eichel will help draw talented free agents to town. And with Tippett behind the bench, the kids will be brought up right.

In an even more perfect world, the Coyotes would bottom out next year and win the right to draft Arizona native Auston Matthews in 2016, who for my money, doesn't look too far behind Eichel at the same age – but I recognize that's a lot of permutations to bank on.

The Coyotes have certainly been a disappointment this season and in a packed Western Conference, the playoffs are pretty much out of the question already. But if GM Don Maloney plays his cards right, the future can be bright sooner than later.


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