Tippett Eager to See Newcomers on the Ice
The Coyotes added veteran forwards Sam Gagner and B.J. Crombeen in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 29, then signed goaltender Devan Dubnyk and forward Joe Vitale as free agents. Gagner is expected to center one of the top two lines, and Vitale and Crombeen will battle for bottom-six roles. Dubnyk is expected to back up starter Mike Smith.
Arizona is trying to end a two-year absence from the playoffs after finishing two points behind the Dallas Stars for the final wild card in the Western Conference last season.
With center Mike Ribeiro gone after a buyout, the Coyotes are counting on Gagner to show the kind of offensive skills that convinced the Edmonton Oilers to make him the sixth player taken in the 2007 NHL Draft. Gagner turns 25 on Aug. 10 and is coming off career lows of 10 goals and 37 points with the Oilers in 2013-14. He has yet to break 20 goals or 50 points in a season; his best was in 2011-12, when he had 18 goals and 47 points.
"He's obviously a skilled player," Tippett told the Coyotes website. "He had a tough year, a couple of tough years, and we're hoping a change of scenery will do him good. He's got high skill and he played on a team where they have a lot of players with a lot of skill. He's got to come in and hopefully will establish himself as a real good NHL player, to use his skills to the best of his ability and play a real tight-checking game."
Expectations aren't as high for Vitale and Crombeen, but Tippett said each can play an important role.
Vitale, a former Pittsburgh Penguins center who got a three-year contract, will be counted on to do a lot of the little things that go into winning.
"To me, he's out of the mold of a Boyd Gordon or Jeff Halpern, one of those players on your team [that do] a lot of dirty work, play with grit, win faceoffs, things like that," Tippett said. "He plays at the bottom of your lineup and is willing to do that night in and night out.
"Those guys are invaluable in your lineup."
Crombeen's NHL career began with the Dallas Stars in 2007-08, where Tippett was his coach.
"[Crombeen] is a working guy; he goes up and down his wing," Tippett said of the 29-year-old, who had three goals, 10 points and 79 penalty minutes in 55 games last season with Tampa Bay. "He'll stand up for his teammates. He's a hard-nosed guy who's going to do a good job for us."
Dubnyk also has a connection with Tippett, who had him with Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Championship. Dubnyk is coming off the worst season of his NHL career; he went 11-18-3 with a 3.43 goals-against average and .891 save percentage with the Oilers and Nashville Predators. He finished the season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Montreal Canadiens' American Hockey League affiliate.
The Coyotes struck gold three years ago when they signed Smith who, like Dubnyk, was coming off the toughest season of his career but improved markedly under the tutelage of goaltending coach Sean Burke, who also serves as Arizona's assistant to the general manager. Tippett hopes the same will happen with Dubnyk.
"For whatever reason he had a tough season last year," Tippett said. "[Burke] looked at all the goaltenders out there and thought this was the best fit for us. He's stuck his neck out there a couple of times for players and it's worked out pretty well for him.
"Devan is very motivated. I like our chances with him."