They have a new name and a new look, but their heated rivalry with the Los Angeles Kings certainly has not changed. The Phoenix, err, Arizona Coyotes enter the 2014-15 season looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012 when they made their run to the Western Conference Finals. But said run was ended by, you guessed it, the Los Angeles Kings. But with some key additions and prospects waiting in the wings, head coach Dave Tippett and his Desert Dogs are hoping for a much better year.
Hopefully for the Coyotes, the new look will lead to new success. Of course, it takes a lot more than that to turn things around, and Dave Tippett is not content with just merely ending his team's playoff drought.
"If a couple things go differently, we make the playoffs. But we want to be a better team than just get to the playoffs," Tippett told NHL.com. "Last year we just had too much inconsistency to push us into that last playoff spot. In this League, you know it's going to be a dogfight right down to the end and you can't afford to have any lulls."
This past summer, the Coyotes parted ways with Radim Vrbata, who was a solid piece of the team's offense in the previous five seasons. Last year, the Czech veteran scored 20 goals and added 31 assists. Plus, having played in all but two games last season, Vrbata's reliability will likely be missed. The same can be said for Mike Ribeiro who, in his only season in Arizona, played 80 games while notching 16 goals and 31 assists.
But as much as Vrbata and Ribeiro will be missed, the Coyotes have turned a page by welcoming a few names, most notably Sam Gagner.
Gagner had spent his entire seven-year career with the Edmonton Oilers and while he doesn't produce nearly as much as the aforementioned ex-Coyotes, he can show up with a big offensive game when needed. Unfortunately, consistency has been Gagner's Achilles' heel. But perhaps playing for a team that is much closer to being a playoff team than the Oilers were will give Gagner that extra bit of motivation.
In addition, the Coyotes have a pair of second-generation players waiting in the wings. Max Domi (son of Tie) was drafted by Arizona 12th overall in 2013. But at 19, he will most likely return to his junior team, the London Knights, where he has excelled thus far. There is also Henrik Samuelsson (son of Ulf), who has also excelled in junior with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings. Plus, at 20, he might be more ready for the NHL than Domi. Samuelsson's 6' 3 frame may also be a good stepping stone.
As for Arizona's rivalry with the Kings, they were 3-2-0 against the silver-and-black last season. It was a close battle last year, but don't expect anything different this year. That goes especially for agitators like veteran captain Shane Doan and goaltender Mike Smith who have certainly been instrumental in the growing animosity between these two clubs.