After an eight-year drought, the Arizona Coyotes made their triumphant return to the playoffs. After a pandemic shortened regular season and best-of-five series against the Nashville Predators, they were promptly eliminated by the Colorado Avalanche.
The loss to the Colorado Avalanche was existential. The team wasn’t just bad against the Avalanche, they were totally outclassed and looked like they didn’t belong. They were beaten in just five games and were outscored 14-2 in the final games. If that is the effort the team is going to put forth on the brink of elimination it is hard to imagine this group being competitive.
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This would be the time where the team would look to their general manager for guidance. Someone to say “this isn’t working and we need to blow it up” or “we had a tough loss but I believe in the process and the guys we have.”
Their previous General Manager John Chayka was able to sell his vision of the team to majority owner Alex Meruelo but has since left the franchise in an extremely memorable way.
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Whoever takes over for the Coyotes is going to have three options. They can retool the team by making trades and signing free agents, they can blow up the roster, or they can move forward with the roster they have
A flat salary cap is going to leave the Coyotes with minimal room to make any deals, so retooling seems very unlikely.
They would first need to first clear cap space by moving some of the serviceable veterans like Alex Goligoski (one year, $5.475 million), Niklas Hjalmarsson (one year, $5 million), or Derek Stepan (one year, $6.5 million). They can potentially clear some room while getting
Deals to clear space likely aren’t going to get much in return. Look no further than the Coyotes previous deal sending Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames for Brandon Hickey, Chad Johnson, and a 2018 conditional third-round pick. The Coyotes then used that space to acquire Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers.
If the Coyotes can clear space, they are still going to need to send assets to acquire new players. The Coyotes don’t have much to send, either picks or can’t miss prospects. Another team may be looking to sell low on a player looking for a change of scenery, but this is not an ideal rebuild situation.
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Normally this would be a good situation for the team to bottom out and rebuild. The team has plenty of veterans they can trade away and get load up on picks.
More picks are better, and there is always a chance that one of the picks will come from a team that unexpectedly bottomed out. But teams looking to acquire veterans for first-round picks tend to be in a better position, and these picks tend to be later in the round.
A key aspect of this strategy is the team’s own picks. The team finishes close to the bottom of the league and get some high draft picks, hopefully getting players who won’t be too far away from playing professionally.
But that isn’t going to happen. The Coyotes were hit with a steep penalty for physically testing players at the combine and will be without their second-round pick this year and their first-round pick next year. Combine that with already trading away their round picks and the Coyotes likely aren’t going to be drafting much outside of the fourth round for the next two seasons.
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The Coyotes’ pipeline has some decent looking prospects. Victor Söderström could be a very good defenceman in a few years and Jan Jenik had an impressive World Juniors.
Closer to the NHL, Brayden Burke (21-31-52), Kyle Capobianco (10-27-37), and Lane Pederson (16-18-34) are all young and have been playing well in the AHL. And while they may be the next Conor Garland who came from the Roadrunners and went on to lead the team in goals.
But then we go back to the loss against the Avalanche. Even if all the Coyotes’ prospects end up being NHL players, will they be the game-breaking player that the team needs? It is tough to say.
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So the team probably won’t be able to acquire any big players through trades, they will have problems bottoming out and rebuilding, and probably doesn’t have any can’t miss prospects in the pipeline. What else is left?
Well, they could go the route the New York Islanders took. The Islanders lost their star player when John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maples, but they brought in Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz.
Like the Coyotes the Islanders don’t really have a player who is going to get 100 points in the regular season. They had only two players hit twenty goals this past regular season, compared to the Coyotes’ one. They are also currently one win away from the Conference Finals with a 3-1 series lead against the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers.
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With their options limited, the team may decide to just wait it out. Give their prospects time to develop, allow their star players like Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, and Jakob Chychrun to get closer to their prime, and see how things work out. Keller may have missed 50 points this season, but barring a serious injury he is only going to get better.
The option of starting fresh with a new coach is tempting. Seeing the Islanders turn their fortunes around so quickly is a compelling story, especially for a league like the NHL which is often considered to be a “copycat league” where teams just copy whatever was successful last season.
All they need to do is have the coach who wins the Stanley Cup this year choose not to re-sign with that team and come to the desert and start fresh. Honestly, I think the team has a better chance of drafting a player in the third round this year who can instantly make the jump to the NHL and score 30 goals than have that happen though.