The 2020/21 NHL season will be one of intrigue and the same can be said for the Arizona Coyotes, who have plenty of questions surrounding them.
The 2019/20 season can be characterized by supreme highs, such as sitting atop the Pacific Division at Christmas, the blockbuster trade for Taylor Hall, and defeating Nashville in the play-ins, as well as the lowest of lows, including the injuries leading to a capitulation of form in January/February, the demolishing at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche and the messy separation from then-GM John Chayka.
Next season will likely be shorter, due to the presumed January start date and desire by the league to begin the 2021/22 campaign in October - trying to get back to the regular schedule from before the Coronavirus pandemic.
A shortened season could play into the hands of the Arizona Coyotes quite nicely, with the biggest question around the team is how far they can go after some key departures in the summer - namely Hall and Carl Soderberg.
The Coyotes still have an elite goaltending tandem with Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, and the health of the pair will be crucial to their success moving forward, as is how effective the team’s newest additions can be in Rick Tocchet’s system.
Tyler Pitlick, Johan Larsson, and John Hayden were brought in during free agency to add the physical bite the team was lacking at times last season, with the hope being that they can be what helps put the team back where they were last winter.
Injuries will undoubtedly play a key role in the team’s overall success in 2021, with the organization seemingly trying to address this with the recent hiring of Devan McConnell as High Performance Director.
For context, the Coyotes finished the 19/20 regular season in 22nd place but were once sat in ninth place in the entire NHL with a 21-14-4 record by Christmas Day.
The significant collapse in the team’s form and overall standing was largely down to the numerous injuries sustained by key players on the team, including Kuemper, Raanta, Demers, Jakob Chychrun, and even Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
This will be something to keep an eye on as the season progress, as will be the way the team decides to approach the trade deadline.
The Coyotes have several expensive veterans on the books, with plenty of them becoming unrestricted free agents once next season is concluded.
Players such as Demers, Raanta, Derek Stepan, and Alex Goligoski could be viewed as ideal rentals for a playoff team genuinely looking to contend for the Stanley Cup - if the Coyotes find themselves on the outside looking in.
The team’s overall performance in the regular season will largely dictate how they manage their impending free agents ahead of the deadline, with the need to stockpile some assets likely to be a top priority for general manager Bill Armstrong if things are not looking too good.
Securing some maneuverability for the future, particularly with regards to the draft, is something the Arizona Coyotes will seriously need to consider making some move to acquire, with the team having just one pick in the first three rounds of the 2021 Draft, having made their first pick (a wasted one at that) in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft.
The 2021 season, whenever it officially begins, could also potentially set the course for the team’s long-term future, including coaches as well as players.
If Tocchet does not get this group of players back to where they were, decisions will be taken out of his hands regarding the trade deadline, but equally, so could his own job.
Tocchet’s deal with the Coyotes is up after this season and if he can’t get the team over the edge, even with players that seem tailor-made for his system, then it’s time to move on and begin a new era in the desert.
2021 could be one of great change for the Coyotes if it is not one of great success, and fans should be prepared for some interesting moves to be made along the way.