Although it may be brief, the Phoenix Coyotes earned a respite from the financial uncertainty that has clouded things for the franchise in recent years.
The Coyotes had been owned and operated by the NHL from 2009 until this summer, when a new ownership group finally was approved. The sale means the club will stay in Glendale, Ariz. for at least the next five seasons, giving the Coyotes more stability than they've had in quite some time.
The hope in Phoenix is the new ownership group will provide more financial stability and allow the club to open the checkbook to sign a big free agent every now and then. The Coyotes showed a glimpse of that increased spending power when they signed free agent centerman Mike Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million contract this summer.
Head coach Dave Tippett always seems to get the most out of his players even with the less than ideal circumstances. Despite the financial issues he was able to get the Coyotes to the playoffs in three straight springs from 2010-12 before the club finished 10th in the Western Conference after the lockout- shortened campaign.
Tippett's club boasts a deep defense and strong goaltending from No. 1 Mike Smith, but generating offense has been an issue for years. General manager Don Maloney hopes the playmaking Ribeiro can create for others and get the offense to produce at a higher clip.
Having an owner is not the only wrinkle for the Coyotes this season, as the club will also play in a new iteration of the Pacific Division. Along with Phoenix's old Pacific foes from Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose, the club will also battle Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver for one of the division's three automatic playoff bids. Of course, settling for one of the Western Conference's two wild card spots would also suffice for a team aching to return to the postseason.
FORWARDS - Ribeiro comes to the desert following a prolific 2013 season with the Washington Capitals, and he could create better scoring chances for a Coyotes team that finished 21st in the NHL with an average of 2.52 goals per game last season.
The 33-year-old Ribeiro, who has also played for Montreal and Dallas, has 609 points (186G, 423A) during his solid NHL career. Last season, he recorded 49 points in 48 games for the Capitals and was fifth in the league with 36 assists. It marked the second time Ribeiro notched more than a point-per-game in a season, following his 83-point campaign (76 games) with the Stars in 2007-08.
Tippett opted to pair Ribeiro on a line with wingers Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan early in training camp and the trio could stick as the club's top line.
Doan, the club's longtime captain, is aiming for a better showing in 2013-14 after recording 27 points in 48 games. The 36-year-old did tie for the team lead with 13 goals and Doan could return to the 20-goal mark for the 12th time in his career this season.
The 23-year-old Boedker already has 256 NHL games under his belt and could be ready for a breakout season in 2013-14. The eighth overall pick of the 2008 draft recorded 26 points on seven goals and 19 assists in 48 games last season.
Radim Vrbata is another first-line option after the winger finished second on the team with 28 points (12G, 16A) in 2013 despite playing in only 34 games. Antoine Vermette, the club's projected second-line center, tied Doan with 13 goals last year, but only had 21 total points over 48 games.
Lauri Korpikoski could man the left wing on the second line, but he only managed to record six goals and five assists in 36 games last season. However, he had 19 and 17 goals for the Coyotes in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively. Korpikoski, who re-signed with Phoenix for four years and $10 million this summer, also added 10 pounds in the offseason to try and become a bigger physical presence on the ice.
Martin Hanzal, a solid third-line center option, scored 11 goals and added 12 assists in 39 games last season.
Forward prospect Max Domi, son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi, will be given a shot to make the team out of training camp after being selected with the 12th overall pick at this past summer's draft. Unlike his father, Domi concentrates more on scoring than throwing fists and he could make himself useful on a Phoenix club that is always looking to add offense.
In other news, Coyotes tough guy Paul Bissonnette will miss the first 10 games of the season after being suspended for leaving the bench to stick up for his teammate Rostislav Klesla during a preseason game earlier this month.
DEFENSE - The Coyotes were ranked 15th in the NHL with 2.60 goals allowed per game last season, but this loaded defense does more than simply trying to stop the opposition from scoring.
Phoenix had two defenseman rank in the top-five in team scoring in 2013, including Keith Yandle, who posted a team-high 30 points (10G, 20A) while playing in all 48 games.
Dangerous as he is, Yandle isn't even considered to be Phoenix's best offensive talent on the blue line, a distinction that belongs to 22-year-old Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has managed to improve with every passing year.
Last season, Ekman-Larsson notched 24 points (3g, 21A) from the blue line, but he is a threat to score double-digit goals over the course of a full season. He had 13 markers in 2011-12 and could return to that scoring pace in 2013-14.
Yandle normally is paired with Derek Morris, while Ekman-Larsson primarily skates alongside Zbynek Michalek, giving both offensive-minded blueliners a steady anchor. Morris had 11 assists in 39 games last season, while Michalek recorded two helpers in 34 outings.
Klesla was scheduled to be the fifth defensemen in the rotation, but he suffered a concussion in preseason when Jordan Nolan of Los Angeles hit him with a crushing check, a hit that Bissonnette was less than pleased with. If the head injury lingers deep into the season it could cause problems for the club's defensive depth.
David Rundblad, David Schlemko and Michael Stone are battling for the sixth spot, but two of those players could see action in the early going depending on Klesla's availability.
GOALTENDING - After turning in a stellar first season in the desert in 2011-12, Smith battled injuries and inconsistency last season during a disappointing campaign.
Still, the Coyotes showed their faith in the 31-year-old this summer, agreeing to a six-year, $34 million with the goaltender.
Smith went 38-18-10 with a 2.21 goals against average in 2011-12, while also recording a .930 save percentage and eight shutouts. His hot play stretched into the playoffs, where Smith posted a 1.99 GAA to help get the Coyotes to the Western Conference finals.
However, Smith played in only 34 games in 2013 and went 15-12-5 with a 2.58 GAA, as he fell way short of the expectations set by his amazing first year in Phoenix. A return to that form in 2013-14 would be a huge step in getting this club back to the postseason.
Smith will get a new backup this season, as Maloney brought in former San Jose Sharks goaltender Thomas Greiss on a one-year, $750,000 contract. Greiss, a former third-round pick by the Sharks, is 17-16-3 with a 2.52 GAA in 44 career games and was 1-4-0 with a 2.53 GAA in 2013.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - The Coyotes never had a scary group of forwards when it made three straight trips to the playoffs under Tippett and the lack of scoring depth isn't a guarantee to derail the team's postseason chances this season. It does seem unlikely Phoenix will be able to secure one of the Pacific's three automatic bids to the postseason, but Tippett's boys should be in the thick of the race for one of the West's two wild card spots. Smith appears to be the X-factor in the equation, as a rebound season from the goaltender could be key to getting Phoenix back in the postseason.