During the offseason, General Manager Bill Armstrong decided that the Arizona Coyotes were not good enough and needed to be rebuilt.
He then proceeded to blow up the team completely. Only nine players on the opening night roster were with the organization last season, and one of them, Victor Söderström, played for the AHL last season, not the NHL.
And Armstrong didn’t think the roster was the only thing that needed restructuring. The Coyotes and Rick Tocchet agreed to mutually part ways as his contract was expiring, and this season the Coyotes will be coached by André Tourigny.
Tourigny is a choice that makes sense for the Coyotes, even if he isn’t the traditional NHL hire. Most of his experience is in Juniors, having coached multiple years in the QMJHL, OHL, and Hockey Canada during international competitions. A rebuilding team like the Coyotes will have a lot of young prospects over the next few seasons, and it makes sense to bring in a coach who has a history with coaching younger players.
Key Additions: Jay Beagle (F), Travis Boyd (F), Ryan Dzingel (F), Loui Eriksson (F), Dmitrij Jaškin (F), Andrew Ladd (F), Antoine Roussel (F), Shayne Gostisbehere (D), Vladislav Provolnev (D), Anton Stålman (D), Conor Timmins (D), Carter Hutton (G), Karel Vejmelka (G)
Key Subtractions: Derick Brassard (F), Michael Bunting (F), Christian Dvorak (F), Conor Garland (F), John Hayden (F), Tyler Pitlick (F), Jason Demers (D), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (D), Alex Goligoski (D), Niklas Hjalmarsson (D), Jordan Oesterle (D), Adin Hill (G), Darcy Kuemper (G), Antti Raanta (G)
And because of the insane amount of roster moves, we decided to delay this prediction for a few games. This is practically a different team, and there was just no way to evaluate them without seeing them play.
Something to prove
The Coyotes are full of players who are looking to show that they still have it. The team acquired veterans like Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd, and Anton Strålman, players who may be overpaid but can still play. And so far, they have been given plenty of chances to show what they can do, getting top-line minutes and being a significant part of the Coyotes’ offense.
Perhaps the most prominent new player with something to prove is forward Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk was initially signed to a professional try-out with the Coyotes before signing a one-year deal during the preseason.
Since leaving the Coyotes, Galchenyuk has been with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs. After struggling to find a place with multiple teams, he seemed to do well in Toronto and was good enough to reportedly earn a contract he turned down to play with the Coyotes.
Galchenyuk is currently out with an upper-body injury and has yet to make his regular-season debut with the Coyotes.
Additionally, the Coyotes have plenty of homegrown players looking to turn things around.
Lawson Crouse had a rough season last year where he finished with only four goals and nine assists in 51 games. This came with a career-low 5.7 shooting percentage, suggesting that Crouse is due for a bounceback year.
We will also hopefully see a lot more from Clayton Keller this season. With the Coyotes shipping out some of their biggest offensive weapons, it will come down to players like Keller to pick up the pieces.
Keller has historically been a lightning rod for criticism, which happens when you are your team’s highest-paid player. However, Keller did look better last season and was on pace for 21 goals and 31 assists over a full 82 game season. He has already scored his first goal of the regular season.
A race to the bottom
The best-case scenario for the 2021-22 season is to finish with the best odds at the Draft Lottery and get the first overall pick at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. And the Coyotes have already played two teams that will likely be joining them in that race to the bottom, the Buffalo Sabres and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both teams beat the Coyotes, the Sabres won in the shootout, and the Blue Jackets routed the Coyotes 8-2.
We have seen some crazy moves made by teams hoping to secure a high draft pick in the past. Teams will often trade players that are playing too well as they look for ways to win fewer games.
We saw a stellar goaltending performance from rookie Karel Vejmelka in the team’s second game, and if he plays too well, the Coyotes may consider moving him. And at the trade deadline, we should see teams shipping out anyone on an expiring contract who can get a return for a potential cup contender.
The race to the bottom does contain something exciting for fans, though. As veterans are shipped out, teams will often call up younger players to give them a shot. Since the team is more focused on developing their players than winning, they will be able to give time to players like Jan Jeník, Barrett Hayton, or Matias Maccelli as the season comes to an end.
Kessel watch 2021
One player who wasn’t shipped out during the offseason was forward Phil Kessel. Kessel is a 34-year-old veteran who hit the 20 goal plateau in 56 games last season.
After Kessel’s disappointing first season in the desert, it was great to see Phil the Thrill rebound and show that he still has what it takes to compete in the NHL.
But despite the bounceback, Kessel doesn’t fit with a rebuilding team like the Coyotes. His veteran presence can add something to the locker room, and the team needs someone to score, but Kessel is worth more as trade fodder.
It also seems pretty clear that Kessel does not want to spend one of his few remaining years with a rebuilding team. Kessel won’t have many chances left to win a Stanley Cup, and he plays better with skilled players who can support him.
The Coyotes also lack the main reason Kessel agreed to the trade to Arizona, former head coach Rick Tocchet. Tocchet and Kessel developed a great relationship in Pittsburgh, and since he is no longer with the organization, it makes sense that Kessel is also ready to move on.
And the best way for Kessel to get traded to a contender is for him to have a hot start and show that he still has it. Kessel has one assist so far, a primary assist on Clayton Keller’s power play goal in the first game.
The Arizona Coyotes will likely be a bottom-five NHL team. The team has enough question marks that we may see some surprising performances by individual players, but that won’t be enough to win games consistently.
Unfortunately, the lottery has historically hurt the Coyotes more than it has helped. But given how deep the 2022 draft is, maybe it won’t matter if the Coyotes don’t get to draft Shane Wright.
Barrett Hayton will get a callup midway through the season and stay with the team. It has been difficult watching issues like the CHL-NHL agreement, injuries, and Covid-19 hamper Barrett Hayton’s development.
And last season, despite finally getting to play in the AHL, the Roadrunners didn’t have their normal head coach Jay Varaday or general manager. Things will hopefully go much smoother for Hayton this year, and when the team starts shedding veterans, he will have a chance to come in and take a roster spot.
One way to watch Coyotes’ games this season is with ESPN+, which you can check out by clicking here.