The line of suspects for last season’s nonplayoff finish could wrap around the ice inside Jobing.com Arena. Among them: an abbreviated training camp and, because of the lockout, no preseason games.
“From the get-go last year, settling the work stoppage and jumping right into camp and playing real games right away, I felt our rhythm was off from Day 1,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. “Again, not to beat a dead horse, so much of our success is on team and structure and detail. I just didn’t feel we had enough time to get our game to the level it needed to be.”
The Coyotes will have plenty of time to rediscover their style before opening the 2013-14 season Oct. 3 against the New York Rangers. Training camp starts today with physicals and fitness testing for veterans, and the seven-game preseason schedule begins Sunday with a split-squad match against the Los Angeles Kings.
“It allows (coach Dave Tippett) and the staff to implement our program and really get a look at everybody in our system, who looks good, who needs work, what young players are impressing and we’re excited about it,” Maloney said.
Most of the position battles will be among the forwards. Maloney considers two to three spots up for grabs. The Coyotes are hoping winger Mikkel Boedker and captain Shane Doan develop chemistry with No.1 center Mike Ribeiro, but practices and preseason games will determine that.
The Coyotes haven’t found a left wing for center Martin Hanzal and right winger Radim Vrbata on the second line. Lauri Korpikoski, Antoine Vermette and Dave Moss could be the third line, but the possibilities on the fourth line are endless.
Winger Guillaume Latendresse and center Gilbert Brule will be in camp on a tryout basis, and the Coyotes added Brandon Yip and Tim Kennedy in the offseason. Kyle Chipchura, Rob Klinkhammer and Paul Bissonnette are back, and a crop of youngsters from rookie camp — Chris Brown, Andy Miele and Lucas Lessio — will still be around.
“I think there’s a little more intrigue to see who will emerge and see who will have that great month and win a job in the NHL or goes to another league and comes back at a later date,” Maloney said.
On defense, the competition might be tighter because only one spot is available — next to Rusty Klesla on the third pairing.
Management views Michael Stone as a regular NHLer, but so is David Schlemko. Two others, David Rundblad and Chris Summers – have NHL experience, and Brandon Gormley has been impressive in rookie camp.
The clutter on the blue line puts the Coyotes in a comfortable position when it comes to the trade market. And if Maloney sees holes in the roster during camp, he can use that depth to acquire help.
“I really would like to give it a week or two to see what we have in our own system before we pull the trigger on some sort of deal,” he said.
There’s no confusion in net where No.1 Mike Smith is back with a six-year, $34 million contract in tow. But the coaching staff will get acquainted with new backup Thomas Greiss, who was with San Jose.
“I know he’s a goaltender that’s looking to establish himself with more playing time,” Tippett said. “He’s in a situation where if he plays well, he’ll get a chance to get more playing time.”
The Coyotes have the opportunity to evaluate and experiment, and that’s a welcome change from last season.