Three divisions down, one more to go — it’s on to the Pacific Division in our Three Questions series! Brendan Porter of Five For Howling answered these for us:
1. The Coyotes made waves this summer by hiring the NHL's youngest GM ever. How have you felt about John Chayka's moves so far?
So far, so good with John Chayka. He's been surprisingly bold for a very young GM, trading for Alex Goligoski's rights rather than letting him get to free agency while getting defenseman Connor Murphy to sign a relatively team friendly six-year deal. He selected or traded for five puck-moving defensemen in this year's draft, which suggests he has a good handle on the direction the game is taking. He even traded up to get Jakob Chychrun, a defenseman whose draft stock in my opinion suffered more from recency bias than any other deficiency in his game.
The big question will be how well he gets along with the other GMs in the league, especially when the Trade Deadline rolls around. I think he did a good job this summer demonstrating he has a serious vision and direction for the team, the question will be how much older GMs want to play ball.
2. The Yotes have a lot of solid young forwards, and a good mix of youth and experience in the defence. Do you think the team's current goaltending tandem is good enough to compete in the future? What is the team's long-term plan in terms of its goalies?
Mike Smith has never really been able to live up to his long-term deal, but when he returned from injury in March he looked way more like the Smith that got the Coyotes to the Western Conference Finals in 2012. In 10 appearances at the end of this season, he allowed two goals or fewer seven times. That's what the Coyotes need from him.
As for the future, Louis Domingue took a big step forward with a .912 save percentage in 39 appearances. He'll have to be better if he wants to be a consistent starter, but at 24 he still has plenty of time to improve. The best prospect in Arizona's system is Portland Winterhawks goaltender Adin Hill, who posted a .917 save percentage in 65 games played. Given the WHL is not exactly known for stingy defense, that's not bad at all. He'll start the season backing up Justin Peters in the AHL, but at 20 years old the only way for him to go is up.
3. Chayka's moves this summer seem to planning for the future, but depending on how the young players develop, the team could surprise in the West. What are you expecting from the team in 2016-17? When would you like to see them become a serious contender?
I think it's reasonable to expect the Coyotes to be in the Wild Card conversation in the Western Conference down the stretch this season. Adding Alex Goligoski should give the Coyotes some blue-line and power play depth they really haven't had since the departure of Keith Yandle. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair will have another year of experience, while at least one of Christian Dvorak or Dylan Strome should land a full-time NHL now that former Senator Antoine Vermette is plying his trade in Anaheim. It wouldn't surprise me if they miss the postseason again, but if they're healthy they should be giving Los Angeles, Winnipeg, and Minnesota a run for their money in the playoff push.
Ideally, the Coyotes would really start being competitive before 2019. which is when Oliver Ekman-Larsson's contract expires. He will only be 28 then, which means he has plenty more seasons competing at a high level. If the Coyotes are close to a Cup, it would be a lot easier to convince OEL to keep his considerable skills in the Valley rather than join another team somewhere else in the league.
Three years is not an unreasonable timeline given the realities of the NHL. At that point, both Strome and Dvorak should be playing full-time, along with Clayton Keller, Christian Fischer, Nick Merkley, and maybe even Conor Garland. On defense, OEL, Goligoski, and Murphy would be joined by the likes of Jakob Chychrun, Anthony DeAngelo, and possibly Cam Dineen.
That's a lot of firepower up and down the lineup, and all of it would be maturing at roughly the same time. That's basically the model that worked for Chicago, Los Angeles, and Tampa Bay. Should all go according to plan, Arizona's window should be wide open right at the time that the windows of major powerhouses like Washington, Los Angeles, and Chicago are closing.
Or all of this could backfire horribly and Arizona could become another Edmonton, squandering highly talented players in the primes of their careers. Either way, we'll find out soon.