The Arizona Coyotes are derailing, and it may be time for the organization’s management to hit the reset button and look to the future beyond this season.
The Covid-shortened 2020/21 season benefitted the Coyotes, allowing them to feature in the post-season for the first time in eight years and even win a series against the Nashville Predators.
Making the post-season gave the team hopes for making another playoff push when the again-shortened 2020-2021 season rolled around, with new divisions shaping up and putting the Coyotes as the fourth-best team in the West on paper.
The playoffs last summer should also have set expectations lower than what they were, with the Coyotes suffering back-to-back humiliations against a team in the West Division with them, the Colorado Avalanche.
Defeating Nashville, in hindsight, is not much of an achievement when you see how they have struggled this season and are, themselves, looking ready to offload significant chunks of their roster ahead of April’s trade deadline.
Since before the season started, the Coyotes have faced much adversity, including league sanctions, questions around how the organization is run, and many more.
But now, the immediate question ahead of the team is whether or not they should tear it all down and start looking ahead to the future rather than the increasingly slim chance of reaching the post-season in 2021.
The Coyotes are currently in a five-game losing skid, suffering their most recent defeat to the Anaheim Ducks - who are currently sitting last in the West Division.
Rick Tocchet’s side currently holds a 12-13-5 record on the season and had played more games than every team in the division, except for the Ducks, with the San Jose Sharks having the opportunity to equal their points total once they play their two-game advantage.
Heading into the 2021 season, despite losing Taylor Hall, expectations were that the Coyotes would be competitive and fight vigorously for the fourth spot in the division - the last place that advances to the all-division playoff rounds.
With more than half the season played, the Coyotes have gone through highs and lows, but the lows are becoming increasingly more noticeable, and the team’s trajectory appears to be heading towards the bottom rather than turning things around.
Not all of that is the fault of the team, or the coaches, with some disappointing, but familiar, injuries to Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta leaving them with a difficult situation in net, with an aging defensive corps that is expected to be overhauled next season playing in front of whoever is fit enough to play each night.
With 26 games remaining, the Arizona Coyotes could potentially go on a run and turn things around, but with games against the Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights on the horizon, it’s seemingly unlikely that the team will even come close.
The Coyotes have just three wins in their last eleven games, with three consecutive losses to the surprising Minnesota Wild coming before their loss to the Ducks, and optimism over a playoff push is fading.
So how can the team make the best of a bad situation? They offload as best they can and try to recoup assets that can help them to rebuild and take a new direction in the future.
The Coyotes have already begun looking ahead with the recent signing of Vladislav Provolnev, who could link up with the Tucson Roadrunners if his immigration situation is resolved, meaning the team’s hierarchy could already be transitioning towards that mentality.
The first step would be to offload as many of the impending UFAs that are not likely to return next season, bringing the age of their defensive group down with the likes of Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers likely available in trades, while Niklas Hjalmarsson may stick around due to his full No-Move Clause.
Raanta, when healthy, could still be a decent piece of trade bait for a team desperate for some help between the pipes, with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs potentially seeking new avenues with the disappointing performances from Frederik Andersen.
Coaching has been a regular talking point for this team, and a new philosophy and personnel, both on and off the ice, could be the refresh the team needs also.
Tocchet doesn’t look likely to return next season, regardless of the Coyotes’ interests in keeping him or not, so the team could consider an early departure to give the likes of Jay Varaday a significant look, with the Roadrunners struggling since his promotion to the NHL.
There are very few opportunities, or moments, where a team could naturally hit the reset button and move towards a planned rebuild, with a clear goal and specific targets in mind.
For the Arizona Coyotes, this is one of those opportunities.
Bill Armstrong canmake his own mark on the team, bringing in his own people and shaping a team to play a certain style, one that fans will undoubtedly hope trends towards more offense rather than the heavy defense-first mentality of recent years.
New players, new coaches, more new staff behind the scenes, and things could start to look quite different for the Coyotes, especially if they can add to their two second-round picks in the 2021 Draft - which may be easier than expected due to the general perceptions around this year’s crop of players.
Restocking the prospect pool is a must for the team, especially after parting ways with the likes of Pierre-Olivier Joseph and even Nate Schnarr in some high-profile John Chayka trades.
To do this, it will require a shift in mentality and that may be the very best option for the Arizona Coyotes to explore with the chances of the team getting into the playoffs, let alone even being competitive once there, becomes increasingly more difficult.