The Olympics are over and three of the five Phoenix Coyotes that played in the hockey tournament in Sochi, came home with medals. Forward Lauri Korpikoski won bronze with Finland, defenseman Oliver Eckman-Larsson won silver with Sweden and goaltender Mike Smith won gold with Team Canada. Now, it's time to refocus for the home stretch and the 2014 NHL Playoffs.
The Coyotes are tied in points with the Dallas Stars for eighth in the Western Conference, but would lose the tie-breaker so technically they are ninth. So what do the Coyotes need to do to make the playoffs this year? Well, let's break it down shall we?
First. Consistency. They have played like one of the best teams in the league one game (Pittsburgh, Kings, etc.) and one of the worst the next (swept by NHL worst, Buffalo). They can't take games off now, especially when every point is crucial.
Second: In my opinion they need two pieces either to acquire or step up. Let's start on the blueline. The Coyotes top four have been good. Morris-Yandle, OEL-Z have had a good run of it this year, when they are healthy. However, the third defensive pairing has been less than impressive. Head coach Dave Tippett has tried different combos with very little result. So, before the trade deadline they need to add a defensive-minded, physical, defenseman. Or find one in the system that can do it. Next, a third-line left winger to pair with Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal. Someone who can score and contribute on both ends of the ice. If nothing is done by the deadline, then players that are here have to sacrifice more to make this work or the season will end soon.
Now off the ice the Coyotes, under new ownership, has been nothing short of fantastic. Members of IceArizona, the Coyotes ownership group, has talked with every fan who wanted a word with them. The Saturday tailgates are fun and a big success and the vibe at games is noticeably different. From what I have heard, sponsorships are up, suite sales are up, season tickets are up and even average attendance is up from the last full season, which was 2011-12. Everything is pointing in the right direction post-NHL ownership.
The one thing the franchise needs immediately is a playoff appearance. Two extra home games minimum, likely sellouts, will help the bottom line and increase interest in the hockey club heading into next year. Any additional games/series will only help. So, lets hope General Manager Don Maloney does the necessary things in the next week, or offseason, to help shape this team into a Stanley Cup contender soon. We'll see.