On Friday, the Phoenix Coyotes officially changed their name to the Arizona Coyotes. The name change comes as no surprise, as the Coyotes moved from their shared-home in downtown Phoenix to the then-new Jobing.com Arena in the city of Glendale in 2003. However, along with the new ownership and new name change, the Arizona Coyotes could also have a new look on the ice coming into next season.
After four years with no ownership, before the start of last season, the Phoenix Coyotes were finally sold to IceArizona Acquisition Co. for $170 million. In their first year as new owners, the attendance grew at a league-high rate. Co-owner Anthony LeBlanc is a marketing guru by trade, so naturally, a change was certainly on the horizon. However, if the owners hope to hit their goal of becoming a profitable by Year Three, something more than a name and jersey change will have to occur.
The new look, although subtle in change in comparison to their current jerseys (a change of a shoulder patch and a new wordmark), will also come with a yet-to-be-unveiled third jersey. Still, jerseys and wordmarks are not the changes worth discussing. The Arizona Coyotes will be coming into this season with the possibility of having a major roster overhaul.
With the exception of Derek Morris, who is an unrestricted free agent, the Coyotes will have their defensive unit mostly intact. On the other hand, their front lines could be completely different. Forwards such as Radim Vrbata, David Moss, Paul Bissonette, Jeff Halpern, Brandon Yip and Brandon McMillan all become free agents (McMillan being the only Restricted Free Agent or RFA). According to TSN analyst, recently-acquired Mike Ribeiro might be a possible buyout candidate as well. Besides Vrbata and Moss, that list would seem rather short and not too dooming. However, the next year, stronger forwards like Martin Erat, Antoine Vermette, Rob Klinkhammer, and Mikkel Boedker all become free agents (Boedker being the only RFA).
That would make only five forwards, including 37-year-old Shane Doan, under contract over the next two seasons. Radim Vrbata, whose career in Phoenix has been marred in the hopes of becoming a breakout goal scorer for the team, would still appear to be a high priority for the Coyotes to resign, especially for roughly $3 million/year. Even with his highs and lows, Vrbata has ranked second in total points for the Coyotes in three straight seasons.
Even if the Coyotes are not able to sign Vrbata, with the enormous amount of depth on defense, combined with the amount of expiring contracts, it will be interesting to see what route general manager Don Maloney decides to take in retooling his team. The roster changes certainly make room for youngsters like centers Max Domi and H. Samuelsson to make a splash on the scene, but with the amount of talented free agents coming on the market this summer and with the Coyotes having roughly $17 million in cap space, the team will certainly have plenty of options.
Looking at what GM Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett have accomplished over the past few years with virtually no money and no owners to speak of, fans of the “Desert Dogs” have a lot to look forward to. The name may have changed from Phoenix to Arizona, and the team the state has grown to know and love may turn out to be completely different, but with change comes endless opportunity. So long as the Coyotes, their fans and their front office keep with their “pack mentality”, the future should stay incredibly bright for the now-all-encompassing Arizona Coyotes.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles