Building the Arizona Coyotes Into Stanley Cup Contenders

Arizona Coyotes Stanley Cup

The Arizona Coyotes have been in existence for 25 years and have never won the Stanley Cup. In fact, today (4/8/1996) is the anniversary of when the Winnipeg Jets announced that they would be called the Phoenix Coyotes when they moved to Arizona the next season.

What we will attempt to do here is examine how they go about winning a Cup and how long it may take.

Arizona Coyotes Stanley Cup Hunt Has Been Futile

In just nine seasons since their existence in 1996 have the Arizona Coyotes been in the playoffs. That amounts to only 36 percent of the time. In 42 playoff games in their 25 years of seeking a Cup, they have only won 14 playoff games. That is a dismal .333 win percentage.

The closest the team has come to even being in the Stanley Cup Final was in 2012 when they advanced to the Western Conference Final only to lose 4-1 to the rival Los Angeles Kings. In fact, the Desert Dogs have only gone to the post-season four times since the 2001-02 season.

That wasn’t always the case. The team from its inception went to the playoffs for four consecutive years from 1997 to 2000. Unfortunately, they were eliminated each time in the Quarter Finals. So, it seems that the process of building a team capable of being a Stanley Cup contender is flawed.

Over the Years, Mediocrity Has Prevailed

For various reasons (mostly due to poor level rosters) the Arizona team has not been very successful. Sure, they’ve had issues with ownership and were run by the NHL for a bit.  What is true is, overall they just haven’t gotten it done… yet.

You see there’s a new general manager in town by the name of Bill Armstrong. He signed a five-year contract last September and has only been on the job for six months. He inherited some long-term controversial contracts handed out by former GM John Chayka.

The new ownership group headed by majority owner Alex Meruelo had given Armstrong some salary cap funds to be competitive. But. the worldwide pandemic has placed the NHL salary cap in a state of suspension. It’s stuck on $81.5 million, which limits what any GM can do to improve his team.

Armstrong Came Prepared

Armstrong is adamant about improving his new team. When he interviewed for the job, he had accumulated a detailed extensive plan to get the team there. Of course, that plan for obvious reasons has not been made public, but Armstrong’s forte has been with the draft. When he took the job in Arizona, the agreement he made with his former boss Doug Armstrong (no relation) was to not participate in the Coyotes’ 2020 draft process.

As it turned out, Arizona traded its first and third-round picks for the 2020 draft in the deal sending Taylor Hall to the desert. Then they lost their second-rounder due to violating draft scouting rules. More woes ensued as the team selected Mitchell Miller in the fourth round. They had to renounce the pick due to Miller’s off-ice behaviour. It goes without saying that Armstrong has a lot on his plate in his journey to improve the Arizona club. Much may be revealed with this year’s trade deadline. Armstrong will be facing the fact that he has nine players who have been in the lineup this season who will be unrestricted free agents.

The Arizona Coyotes’ Biggest Need

Everyone who follows the Coyotes (and I do since I’m a beat writer for them) knows that they lack a true high-scoring centre. They thought they had one in Clayton Keller whom they drafted seventh overall in the 2016 draft. But then he was relegated to the wing for various reasons. Then, they had hopes that Christian Dvorak would fill the bill in that role. He has only averaged about 16 goals a season thus far… nothing close to that high-scoring plateau.

If they could go back into a time machine and bring Keith Tkachuk back to the future (hey, that’s a great movie idea…) along with his 0.50 goals per game and 0.47 assists per game THEN, they’d have something. Unfortunately, the teams since Tkachuk’s days have not shown any great individual scoring phenoms. There was Radim Vrbata who tallied 35 goals in the 2011-12 season, and since then the team hasn’t had another player get close to that total of production.

They thought acquiring Phil Kessel in 2019 was the answer, but he has only scored 29 goals in 110 games since arriving in the desert. It seems he can be much more successful with a good centre such as Sidney Crosby or an elite winger like Evgeni Malkin playing alongside him.

The Plan to Build the Arizona Coyotes Into a Stanley Cup Contender

Bill Armstrong knew what he was getting into when he signed on as the new GM of the Coyotes. In an interview with Coyotes insider, Craig Morgan he said:

“It’s been really tricky in the planning but I’ll be honest with you, I kind of knew what I was getting into when I signed up for the job,” he said. “You’ve got COVID going on, it’s a shortened season and then you throw the expansion draft in there, so there is certainly a lot of planning — a lot of planning with the taxi squad, a lot of planning to see who is eligible and lots of little things behind the scenes.

“There was no first-rounder and no chance to pick No.1 overall if you were bad so we had to make sure that the club was competitive and we went out and signed as many guys as we could to complement the players that were here and give this organization a chance to get into the playoffs.”

Armstrong’s Challenge

So, perhaps Armstrong will attempt to move some players like Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Antti Raanta for some valuable draft picks to help the team down the road. It’s a well-known fact that if you can build your team using three factors; use draft picks, sign free agents, and extend current roster players who are doing the job. That increases your chances for success.

Another area of concern is the defence. With only Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jakob Chychrun remaining under contract after this season, the chance for Armstrong to keep his defence competitive is vital. The same goes for the goalies. Will Adin Hill be protected? Will Antti Raanta get traded or move on to free agency? What about the trade rumours concerning Darcy Kuemper will they cease or continue to be a possibility?

There is certainly a core of players who seem to be coming into their own. That provides hope for a Cup run in maybe three to five years. Stay patient Coyotes fans, it’s not soup yet.

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