The Arizona Coyotes have been in existence since 1996 when they relocated from Winnipeg. That’s 23 years of hockey in the desert. But in that time, the Coyotes haven’t found much success. It’s a continuous trail of misfortune marking the Arizona Coyotes history. Call it bad luck, poor draft selections, bad coaching, or inept ownership… for whatever reason the franchise has struggled big time.
Arizona Coyotes Have Struggled as a Franchise
In the history of the Arizona Coyotes (and Phoenix Coyotes previously) the hockey club has only qualified for the playoffs eight times. That’s not a very good average, and this season has been especially strange with a pandemic halting play. While the Coyotes have made it into the 24-team play-in tournament, they are not a playoff team yet. They must defeat the Nashville Predators to get to their ninth qualification for postseason play. That computes to just a 36.2 percent success ratio for the squad to be a playoff team.
Not too great.
While they started out very well after first arriving in the desert in 1996, they have had stints of six seasons from 2003-04 to 2008-09 and seven campaigns from 2012-13 to 2018-19 without making the playoffs. They have had four years from 1996-97 to 1999-00 of making the postseason and another three-year run from 2009-10 to 2011-12 of success getting to the playoffs.
Their best year was without a doubt was the 2011-12 season where they advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals only to lose to the rival Los Angeles Kings four games to one. That team definitely was peaking at the correct time. They finished the season with five straight wins to obtain a very respectable 97 points with a 42-27-13 record. They were led in that late-season winning streak by goalie Mike Smith who had three consecutive shutouts and only allowed two goals over the five-game span.
Some of the most memorable playoff action occurred when the then Phoenix Coyotes faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. This writer was at three of the games in Phoenix and to witness five overtime games in the playoffs was nerve-racking, to say the least. Fortunately for the Coyotes, they won three of them and that pretty much decided the series. Smith again was brilliant in the net shutting out the ‘Hawks in the decisive Game Five.
They then went on to defeat the Predators in five games to advance to the Western Conference Finals against the Kings. It wasn’t meant to be as the Kings took the first two games decisively and never let up.
The 2014-15 season was by far the worst season for the Yotes. They were dead last in the Pacific Division and had a horrible 24-50-8 record accumulating only 56 points. They hit rock bottom and recovered to reach 78, 70 (twice) and 86 points in the next four seasons. This season which was shortened by COVID-19 showed them getting 74 points but they probably weren’t going to make the playoffs the way they had been playing.
The 2014-15 season was a nightmare. They could only gather a little over two goals of offence a game and that will not win you very many hockey games. Their defence wasn’t much better allowing 3.32 goals a game. Head coach Dave Tippett who led them to somewhat respectability was only around another two seasons after the disastrous results and was replaced by Rick Tocchet in 2017-18.
The Coyotes draft history is nothing to get excited about. Over the years they have had nine draft selections in the top-ten and really don’t have much to show for it. Shane Doan was by far their best selection and he was chosen the year before the team moved to Phoenix. Doan was the seventh overall choice and his career was exceptional with the team. He participated in 1,540 games with 402 goals and 570 assists for 975 points. He was their captain for most of his career and was called Captain Coyote. Doan was named captain in 2003-04 season until he retired after the 2016-17 season.
A bad mark on the organization was the way they handled Doan’s contract renewal… or the lack thereof. He was not signed after the 2016-17 season and was told by the general manager, John Chayka at Doan’s favorite breakfast restaurant that the team would not be offering him a new contract. Nonetheless, Doan’s number 19 jersey hangs from the rafters of Gila River arena.
Blake Wheeler was the Coyotes fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft. Wheeler decided he couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract with the team and signed an entry-level deal with the Boston Bruins in July of 2008. Needless to say, the organization lost what turned out to be an accomplished player due to not coming up with the salary demands he requested. Wheeler has had 931 NHL games played with 264 goals and 497 assists good for 761 points. Boy does that hurt!
Peter Mueller was selected eighth overall in the 2006 draft. The team was very excited to have a good young talented player added to their roster. Mueller just had rotten luck as he was curtailed most of his NHL career with a head injury causing concussion issues. He only managed 39 goals and 68 assists in 207 games in the desert. Another high draft pick who didn’t work out.
Kyle Turris was drafted third overall in the 2007 draft. He was the highest draft selection to this point in the team’s history and good things were expected from him. But after two full seasons of less than productive results he was traded to the Ottawa Senators by Phoenix for David Rundblad and Ottawa’s second round pick. Failure again.
Mikkel Boedker was the Coyotes eighth overall selection in the 2008 draft. He completed eight seasons with the team gathering 80 goals and 133 assists for 213 points. Boedker had two seasons where he scored 51 points, but after not advancing his numbers the team traded him to the Colorado Avalanche in February of 2016. He was traded for Alex Tanguay, Connor Bleackley and Kyle Wood. Boedker never developed into the offensive player the team needed and was signed by the San Jose Sharks for an AAV of $4 million for four years. After two years, the Sharks traded him to the Senators.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson came to the team as the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft. He took over the captaincy after Doan retired and those are huge shoes to fill. OEL has collected 125 goals and 239 assists for 364 points in 723 games. He has slipped a little from his earlier years and this season only had nine goals and 21 assists in 66 games. Still, he is their first line defenceman with 53 power play tallies and 94 assists. He also had 31 game-winning goals. He signed a lucrative eight-year $66 million deal in July of 2018. While one of the more successful draft selections in the team’s history, he has not played at all that well lately. He could find himself traded if things don’t improve.
Dylan Strome was supposed to be the top line centre the team craved. General manager Don Maloney had a chance to draft one Mitch Marner but went with Strome instead. That was perhaps the biggest draft blunder the team had ever made. Strome struggled with a capital ‘S’ and only gathered seven goals and nine assists in 48 games. The team gave him every opportunity to succeed, but he just didn’t develop into a top player as expected from a third overall pick. In November of 2018 he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks with Brendan Perlini for Nick Schmaltz. As luck would have it, Schmaltz played all of 17 games with five goals and nine assists before going down with a season-ending knee injury. Coyotes tough luck strikes again. Strome, meanwhile has done fairly well for himself in Chicago securing 29 goals and 60 assists in 116 games.
Clayton Keller was the seventh overall choice in the 2016 draft. He has added 54 goals and 104 assists in 237 games. His best year was his initial first full season in 2017-18 when he potted 23 goals and 42 assists in 82 games. Since then, he has decreased his output quite a bit. He has only 31 goals and 60 assists over the last two seasons. This, after being rewarded with an eight-year AAV contract worth $7.15 million. It was a gamble by Chayka thinking that Keller would blossom, but so far he seems to be overwhelmed by his lack of size and goes into scoring droughts that don’t help the team’s offence. The kid needs to step it up and soon.
Barrett Hayton was a surprise selection at the fifth draft spot in 2018. He just turned 20-years-old and has only played in 20 NHL games with one goal and three assists. It’s not certain if this draft selection will work out either. While Hayton is a good playmaker and is not afraid to go into the corners, he may not be the savior the team needs to escape mediocrity. He’s still young, so time will tell.
The Coyotes have recently solidified their ownership of the team with billionaire new owner Alex Meruelo taking over the reins of owning the team. For a team which has gone through a bankrupt owner, relocation rumours, and being run by the NHL, Meruelo brings stabilization to a franchise in dire need of it. Meruelo also let former CEO Ahron Cohen go and hired Xavier Gutierrez to replace him.
With a new owner may come a well needed new arena to entice east valley fans to come to games without the traffic congestions they now face getting to the Glendale west side of the valley for games. Meruelo has made Gutierrez’s first and foremost task that of getting the arena issue resolved.
Arizona Coyotes Are Ready to Move Forward
Things have really improved with new ownership and leadership of the team’s front office. Now, the team needs to show its fans that they are for real and perform on the ice. We will soon see early next month what this team is made of. Will they continue to falter? And if they do will their rotten luck leave them without the grand prize of getting the first overall pick? Alexis Lafreniere would look awfully good in a Coyotes jersey. Then again, winning in the play-in and moving on to the actual playoffs wouldn’t be bad either.
In any case, this team may be on the doorstep of being an elite team. Don’t be shocked if it happens.