2017-18 season preview: Arizona Coyotes

There's a new sheriff in town, and his name is Rick Tocchet. John McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Arizona Coyotes: 30-42-10, missed the playoffs, $17.5 million in cap space.

Biggest changes: It's going to be a truly bizarre feeling among Coyotes fans, who will enter this season without two franchise cornerstones. With management taking a new approach to developing its talented young prospects, gone are longtime head coach Dave Tippett and captain Shane Doan, who has been the face of the franchise since the club moved from Winnipeg in 1996. After eight seasons behind the bench, Tippett was replaced by former Pittsburgh Penguins assistant Rick Tocchet, who will lean heavily on his new top center, Derek Stepan, and starting goaltender, Antti Raanta, each of whom were acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers. "Those guys have a lot of experience and have played on some good hockey teams. Bringing that to our team and our organization is going to be huge," said forward Max Domi. "I think Rants is exciting too, just because that guy has been itching to be a starter for his whole career and now he has an opportunity to do it." The trade was necessitated after the Coyotes parted ways with another significant member of the franchise, former All-Star goalie Mike Smith, who was traded to the Calgary Flames a week earlier. The acquisition of veteran defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks and Jason Demers from the Florida Panthers will help bolster a blue line that is considered a strength for the club, despite missing Jakob Chychrun, who underwent knee surgery in August.

Case for: A young squad looking to make the playoffs for the first time since advancing to the Western Conference Finals in 2012, the Coyotes will be a sentimental pick atop the list of "Why not us?" teams this season. They'll feature one of the most compelling prospect groups in the league with Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak and Clayton Keller, who starred at Boston University last season and could be a favorite to win the Calder Trophy as top rookie. A dynamic defense led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski will be hampered by Chychrun's injury, but optimism abounds around Raanta, one of the league's top backups who is getting his chance to be The Man. The Coyotes hope the Finn can emulate the rise of Cam Talbot, another former Rangers backup, who emerged as a workhorse for the Edmonton Oilers. All that potential could flourish under Tocchet, who was hailed as a players' coach in Pittsburgh and was generally considered among the league's top assistants after capturing back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins.

Case against: Can Tocchet develop his young talent ahead of schedule, find a franchise goalie in Raanta and help the Coyotes sneak into the playoffs? Theoretically, yes. Will he? Not likely. For all the major changes and prized prospects, this is still a club short on big-game experience that has struggled mightily since finishing two points short of a wild-card berth in 2013-14. The excitement around the club is deserved, but there will be a marked leadership void with Doan retired and Tippett out. And for all that potential, this is a remarkably inexperienced club leaning on a goaltender who has never been a starter and a coach who hasn't had a top NHL job since 2009-10. The pieces are in place for this club to turn the corner and compete, but Arizona will likely need to sustain another season's worth of lumps before getting within sniffing distance of the postseason.

Trade bait: In a league that covets veteran defensemen, Arizona's collection of depth blueliners could prove intriguing to other teams. Luke Schenn and Kevin Connauton are both 27, both entering unrestricted free agency and both could likely be had for draft picks by a team in search of blue-line depth and looking to march into the postseason.

Goalie situation rating: 6. Raanta is more than ready to take on the added responsibility, but it's still his first crack at being the undisputed No. 1. Young backup Louis Domingue struggled last season when pressed into duty after Smith got hurt, so the burden is on Raanta.

Scout's take: "The biggest thing is, are they going to get the goaltending? Is Raanta going to be the guy to carry the load? I think that remains to be seen. They'll be a different team with a whole new system. I think you'll see them open their game up a little bit more. Dave Tippett was very shrewd as far as how that team played defensively. It will be interesting to see how that team performs if they let go of the reins a little bit and let them play more offense."

Prediction: Sixth in Pacific

Depth chart/Combos


Max Domi-Derek Stepan-Brendan Perlini

Clayton Keller-Christian Dvorak-Tobias Rieder

Dylan Strome-Brad Richardson-Anthony Duclair

Lawson Crouse-Nick Cousins-Jordan Martinook


Niklas Hjalmarsson-Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Alex Goligoski-Jason Demers

Kevin Connauton-Luke Schenn

Jakob Chychrun (injured)


Antti Raanta

Louis Domingue

Adin Hill