Starting tomorrow, the Arizona Coyotes will play the Colorado Avalanche tomorrow to start a nine-game road trip that will also see them play the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights, and Minnesota Wild. They are currently one point behind the St. Louis Blues for a playoff spot, and the trade deadline will pass before the end of the road trip.
It is hard to overstate how important a good start for the road trip is, especially with the NHL trade deadline occurring before it ends on April 12th.
And with the Coyotes so close to a playoff spot, there are plenty of questions surrounding the deadline.
"I'll let the team lead me in that decision, whether we're buyers or sellers, with their play coming down the stretch. They'll show me where we're at, whether we're buying or selling. Right now I'm happy with the group, where we're going. .... so we're moving forward."— José M. Romero (@RomeroJoseM) March 29, 2021
And while I don’t fully believe that GM Armstrong doesn’t know what he should do for the playoffs, it does highlight the uncertainty of it all. The Coyotes have shown that they aren’t good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup, but it remains to be seen if they are so bad that the team needs to blow everything up.
The team has shown flashes of being a competent team that can score goals, maintain a lead, and get stellar goaltending. But they have also played with an inconsistency that needs addressing with significant changes.
Even if the team isn’t in full tank mode, it may be worthwhile to sell at the deadline. Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Jordan Oesterle, Ilya Lyubushkin, Drake Caggiula, Antti Raanta, and Derick Brassard are all pending unrestricted-free agents; and the team is still lacking a first-round and third-round pick at the upcoming draft.
But, if the Coyotes start bad and seem to be freefalling, General Manager Armstrong may decide it is better to blow things up. And instead of trading pending UFAs, we may see bigger pieces traded, like the rumored Conor Garland trade.
Trading Garland doesn’t make sense if the team only needs a retooling and is expected to be competitive in the next few seasons. But if things go wrong and it looks like the team needs to be completely blown up and go full tank-mode, they will be terrible for the next five seasons, and Garland could net assets that speed up that process.
Tomorrow’s game isn’t going to be the deciding factor in this decision. The Colorado Avalanche are an extremely good team, and there is no shame in losing to them.
But if there is a blowout against the Avalanche and after the Coyotes struggle against the Ducks and Kings, then a full rebuild may be necessary. But the Coyotes’ fate, and jobs, are pretty much in their hands right now. And if they can’t get enough motivation in this stretch, then a top-down rebuild makes sense.