After the playoff bubble performance last season, only one thing was certain for the Coyotes, change was on the horizon. Despite the encouraging achievement of breaking a seven-year playoff drought, the series against the Avalanche shed light on the team’s deficiencies.
For the 2020-2021 season, the Arizona Coyotes and the league as a whole were prepared for some unique challenges.
Analysts and players found it difficult to compare teams across the league due to all teams playing within their own division. This leads to questions about the quality of this year’s Coyotes, compared to last season’s team.
The 2019-2020 Season
Success and failure blurred during the COVID-19-shortened season. Originally the Coyotes’ success depended on if they made the playoffs.
However, after the league shut down before completing the season, 24 teams made the postseason instead of 16. The Coyotes finished 22nd and went on to defeat the Nashville Predators in the play-in round.
The Coyotes thus technically qualified for the playoffs. Unfortunately, had the season played out normally, it was unlikely the Coyotes would have qualified for the postseason.
They finished fifth in the Pacific Division with a record of 33-29-8 and a .529 points percentage. They were on pace for about 87 points in an 82-game season.
Unless they picked up the pace, their chances of making the playoffs were slim. In the 2018-2019 season, they only totaled 86 points, and they just missed out on the final Wild Card position by 4 points.
If the Coyotes maintained their pace, their points would have closely reflected the 2018-2019 season. That is not a surprising feat because growth is often not linear. The regular season was all but forgotten after such a short postseason performance.
The 2020-2021 Season
Although they missed the playoffs, the Coyotes did not tank in any way. They kept up hope throughout the regular season and refused to sell at the deadline despite losing picks due to the prospect testing scandal.
Playoffs seemed possible until the end when the St. Louis Blues started re-establishing their status as a playoff team. Along with Minnesota’s surprising year, the Coyotes finished fifth in their new Honda West Division.
They had a below .500 (.482) points percentage and a 24-26-6 record, putting them on pace for 79 points over 82 games.
The Coyotes finished at the same place as last year in the new temporary division and overall. They were 5th in the division and 22nd in the league.
They stayed at around a .500 points percentage for much of the season, but a rough April, where they went 6-9, doomed them. Many games against two of the hottest teams, Minnesota and Vegas, made it difficult to win all the games necessary to beat out St. Louis for the fourth spot.
Arizona’s inability to make the playoffs was disappointing to many but unsurprising to most.
The main issue with comparing the two teams comes with analyzing the competition they played against.
After the fall of the California teams, the Pacific Division began to be seen as a particularly weak division. But teams were still required to play every team in the league.
Many viewed the Honda West division as below average, but it contained the two best teams in the league in the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights. The Coyotes suffered a 5-18-2 record against the top three teams in the division.
If Covid-19 hadn’t forced the league to retool their schedule, it would have been the last the Coyotes played in the Pacific Division before moving the Central. They would not have played Minnesota or Colorado nearly as many times if this had been a normal season and may have been better for it.
Further, barring the fact that there was no normal Pacific division, if the teams usually in the division were ranked by points this year, the Coyotes would finish fourth. At 54 points, they would be right behind Calgary at 55 and above Vancouver at 50.
Now that the regular season is (finally) over, here's what the NHL standings would look like in an alternate reality with the normal division standings pic.twitter.com/WNMijrbkD7— Michael (@TheLeafsIMO) May 19, 2021
There is no real way to compare the Pacific Division from the 2019-2020 season to the Honda West Division from the 2020-2021 season. Considering how the Coyotes only played seven teams this year, it makes for a difficult evaluation of their season.
While it is impossible to conclude which Coyotes team was better, one thing is certain. The team did not vastly improve or regress, and neither did the roster. Neither team was fit to compete for the cup, and Armstrong has a long road ahead to escape the mediocrity of the past two seasons.