At the beginning of the season, there was hype that the Arizona Coyotes could be a bubble team. But after 10 games, that was clearly not a reality. Everyone who has followed the team all season, or merely looks at the standings, knows that Arizona did not have a ‘bubble team’ season.
However, they have a had a contender-like push in the back half of the season, giving every team they play a run for their money. Antti Raanta would be a Vezina candidate if he didn’t struggle with injury early on in the season, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has finally found his stride again after almost a season and a half of personal and performance strife. Max Domi has even put the pieces back together after essentially being a ghost in a jersey for the first 30 games.
The team you see playing this weekend is not the same one you saw start the season off. They’ll be playing the same opponent, the Anaheim Ducks, and have only had minimal roster turnover, yet the team is totally different. From the opening night roster, the Coyotes have:
- traded goaltender Louis Domingue after an atrocious start to the season
- traded forward Tobias Rieder to Los Angeles for current and long term backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper
- traded forward Anthony Duclair to Chicago for forwards Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin
- optioned Dylan Strome back and forth between Tucson and Glendale
All in all, that isn’t a ton of turnover. If you can go through a losing season feeling confident enough to only move two top-9 wingers and a backup goalie, then maybe you already know you have the building blocks on the team to succeed.
And surely, that must be the case from a management and coaching standpoint.
Head coach Rick Tocchet came under heavy fire after the season’s start, and his sub-.500 win percentage as a coach was tossed around by fans and media alike. But if anyone is to credit for the 2018 turn around, it is him. He adjusted, he developed on the fly, and he lead this team back from the worst start ever to being a competitive team again. They may not finish within 20 points of a playoff spot, but it is surely a work of art that the Coyotes are not the worst team in the league given that start.
This team underwent a developmental renaissance in 5 months. Most teams take years to plug in those pieces. When Corey Perry and the Ducks step onto the ice at Gila River Arena Saturday night for the season finale, Anaheim will see the same Coyotes for the most part, but a different team.
A team they’d be wise to not take lightly now, or for seasons to come.
Other 'Yotes Notes
- Your projected goaltender for the Coyotes tonight is Antti Raanta, who just re-signed with Arizona for another 3 seasons. Raanta has had a phenomenal season, and is looking to become a solidified number one under this new contract moving forward.
He's blown our minds.— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) April 6, 2018
He's won over our hearts.
And he's here for 3 more years. pic.twitter.com/tyOUhY8fSK
- Anaheim has already clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but is still jockeying for position. If they lose tonight and Los Angeles wins, they will be the first Wild Card and play Vegas. If they win and San Jose loses in regulation or OT, they will clinch home ice advantage for the first round as the Pacific’s two seed. If everyone loses or wins (San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles), then they will be the Pacific’s 3 seed.
- Former Coyote Antoine Vermette has been held out of a lot of games recently, so look to see in warm ups if Vermette gets the nod against his former team as the Ducks may favor resting top players for the playoffs.
- Arizona has been undermanned on defense recently and Dakota Mermis was called up from Tucson after a strong season thus far. he struggled against Vancouver on Thursday night, often drawing time agains the Sedins due to how Vancouver rotated their lines. It will be interesting to see if the prospect rebounds tonight against a speedy Anaheim.
Arizona: D Jakob Chychrun (Knee-Out), F Laurent Dauphin (LBI-Out), D Jason Demers (UBI-Out), F Christian Dvorak (LBI-Out), D Niklas Hjalmarsson (LBI-Out)
Anaheim: D Kevin Bieksa (Hand-Questionable), F Patrick Eaves (Illness-Out), D Cam Fowler (Shoulder-Out), G John Gibson (UBI-Questionable), F Troy Terry (Undisclosed injury-Day to Day)
How to Watch:
In-market fans can watch this game on Fox Sports Arizona or on the Fox Sports Go app. It can be heard over radio on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. As always, out of market fans can watch the game via NHL.tv.