The Coyotes are back for the 2017-18 season and featuring a roster and coaching staff completely renovated from the dark days of rebuilding.
This is the HYPE TRAIN, a 7-day series focused on giving you 7 reasons to get F*****G JACKED for this season’s road hopefully leading back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This is it. Opening Day. The day we have been waiting for all summer. The day we hope that things begin to actually turn themselves around.
During the last week, I’ve covered every part of this team that you should be hyped up about. I dropped some lines on why Antti Raanta is hungry to become THE guy in net for a team. I talked about how Derek Stepan is the center that will catapult Max Domi and Clayton Keller into true stardom.
I got into the other guys we need to pay attention to, the power play, the defense and the Rocket, Rick Tocchet.
We have been on, you could say, a final countdown.
But now the day is here. The ‘Yotes are on the road in Anaheim and we all have our own expectations. Some have said they could be a wild card, others think it will be the same old song and dance, yet others say improvement but another year to get back to relevance. I think it’s hard to say any of that without looking at the schedule. Everyone plays the same teams, but when you play who can make a big difference.
Let’s break that down for the final hype-ening.
October: There are two things of note about October for the Coyotes. One is that they play 5 of their 13 games against teams that you can pretty much guarantee will be worse than them (Detroit, New Jersey and Vegas). The other notable part of October is the long road trip, which usually happens early for Arizona anyway. The first East Coast swing always dictates the tone for the season. The team may get better or worse later on, but the tone and story of the team will be defined in that 5-game bender through New York, New Jersey, Philly and Detroit.
November: This may be the hardest month of the season. The Coyotes touch both coasts and hit 6 of the 7 Canadian markets. They have Washington and Pittsburgh on a short one early, then much of Canada later on. If they can come out of this month around .500, they’ll be afloat.
December: While spending a good chunk of December at home or nearby in the Pacific Division. But the weirdness of NHL scheduling continues, as the Coyotes again have to have to visit Eastern Conference contenders in Boston and Columbus. Beyond those two, they don’t stray too far from home and stand to pick up more points than they would forfeit.
January: Arizona only picks up 9 matches in January, which seems like a small set of games to play for a 31 day month. But this will be a blessing for the ‘Yotes. It gives them time to get healthy. Most of the competition is Western Conference foes, so picking up an extra win or two will pay dividends down the road in a Wild Card race.
February: This month will be the most critical in determining if Arizona is even gonna come close to swiping a divisional spot, let alone a Wild Card. Six of the 12 games fall against Pacific Division foes. Of the other 6, 5 are against Central Division opponents who could be competing for a Wild Card spot. This month will be essential in determining if we will be buyers and contenders, or sellers and pretenders.
March and April: This will be the busiest 40 or so days of the season for the Coyotes, playing a game nearly every other day. Arizona will play half of their final 20 games against Pacific Division rivals, and this will likely become a critical battle for playoff positioning or games to intentionally blow in an effort to get a better lottery spot.
All in all, the first half will determine how far this summer has brought this team and the second half will determine what kind of stamina they have against constant divisional foes fighting for only a few playoff spots.
On it’s own, there is nothing about that schedule breakdown that will hype you up. It may be useful information in segmenting the season into consumable sections to study, but it certainly makes you think of the workload more than the excitement.
The excitement I want you to take from this is the team itself. Each and every HYPE TRAIN piece I have brought you over the last week is why this schedule, for all of its challenges, will succeed.
Antti Raanta has played in the Eastern Conference the past two seasons. He will lead the team through those long and poorly planned East Coast swings.
Derek Stepan can step up and compete with those big Western Conference centers Arizona has struggled to battle in recent memory.
The defense will eat all the pucks they couldn’t stop, both on road trips against Metro teams and high scoring foes in the Central like Chicago and Dallas.
The other kids will step up in situations where we need them the most, such as in their 13 back-to-back situations over the course of the season, when injuries and strain will mean line shake ups and substituions from the scratched list.
A competent power play will be the deciding factor that keeps Arizona in the hunt with all of those Pacific Division matches positioned after the New Year.
Finally, Rick Tocchet will mastermind all of this. He knows exactly when to push players, when to stress special teams, when to flex out of his system but also when to stay stringent.
This schedule is not built for an Arizona team, but this team is built to conquer this schedule. Enjoy Opening Night, enjoy the ride, and remember that whatever ups and downs this team has, the GM and owner behind the scenes are working to make this team move in the right direction.
Winning isn’t meant to be easy. Rebuilding is even harder. Teams that aren’t handed franchise players have to earn success. Edmonton and Toronto don’t have to earn anything because they have that one player to carry them into the big dance in April. Arizona has to do work, and we are gonna get that work done. Right. Now.