Sure, the Arizona Coyotes are now one point ahead of the St. Louis Blues for the final playoff spot after action on April 19th, but can they get there with the roster they currently have? Good question. Although the Blues have three games in hand, they also have a tougher schedule down the stretch. It’s apparent that the Arizona Coyotes roster needs some tweaking.
Upgrade of Arizona Coyotes Roster is Necessary to Succeed
When team statistics for the recent past are evaluated, the Arizona Coyotes have not been a successful team. During the 2019-20 season the team had a .529 points percentage, ranking them 22nd in NHL. This season they have a .489 points percentage, ranking them 21st. Last season the Yotes scored 2.71 goals per game. This season they are at 2.61, falling to 23rd. Scoring has been their weakness. Another glaring weakness is their penalty kill. Last year they were ranked fifth with an 82.7 percent penalty kill rate. This year they have dropped to 19th with a 78.7 percent rate. If you can’t score yourself and allow power-play goals by your opponent, that is not a formula for success.
The other factor which displays the team’s lack of success is they just don’t shoot enough. Last season they were 14th in shots on goal with an average of 31.7 shots per game. This season they rank dead last with only 26.5 shots a game. Like the old saying, get it on the net and good things can happen.
Success in the NHL is defined by getting to the playoffs and having the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. The Coyotes have never won a Cup. Nor have they really had many chances. This their 25th year in the league and they still have yet to reach the pinnacle of hockey.
Their only realistic chance was in the 2011-12 season when they got to the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings. They failed to advance, going down in five games. So what does newly hired general manager Bill Armstrong need to do to get his team to be more competitive?
Roster Changes Seem to be One Solution
When an NHL team doesn’t show improvement, the organization needs to assess their roster to see what changes can be made to improve things. Just due to contracts expiring for 12 players on the Coyotes, their roster will change. The team chose not to trade any players before the trade deadline on April 12th.
There are two methods open to Armstrong to improve his roster. One is via the free agency route, and the other is making trades. He seemed to balk at the latter choice saying he wanted to see how the current group handles the pressure of a playoff run. So far that method may prove nothing except that he needs to upgrade his roster in the offseason.
There is a large sum of free agents for the 2021-22 season. As it stands now, the team is projected to have about $31.4 million of cap space available unless they sign some free agents on the team. That should allow Armstrong some room to add some scoring prowess sorely needed to make the team more competitive.
His other path is to make some trades, and although that may be controversial and make some fans unhappy, it is certainly needed.
Possible Free Agents to Sign or Trade Possibilities
Here’s a list of possible roster additions the Coyotes could consider either by free agency or trade. All of the following are free agents after this season.
Might as well start with one of the biggest fish in the sea. Laine just hasn’t worked out well with the Columbus Blue Jackets and may look for greener pastures. Playing for disciplinarian head coach John Tortorella may not work out long term. While Laine’s contract is up at the end of the year, he will be a restricted free agent so a trade is the most likely option. Laine has only averaged 0.46 points per game while he had a 0.82 average with the Winnipeg Jets. He would certainly add some star quality to a team needing a consistent go-to guy on offence. Remember, he just turned 23 years old and has a bright future in the NHL. Why not in Arizona?
Here’s a perfect example of a forward who can play both centre and wing. He carries a $6 million cap hit but is well worth it. He averages 0.73 points a game and could really bolster the Coyotes’ weak offence. RNH just turned 28 and has 10 years of NHL experience. The Edmonton Oilers will have $27 million of cap space so he could be re-signed. He’s quite the playmaker with 0.45 assists per game. His all-around level of play has to be attractive to the Coyotes.
Schwartz is another candidate the Desert Dogs should take a look at acquiring if possible. His cap hit is $5.35 million and he averages 0.69 points per game. He has 548 games in his NHL resume and is an above-average possession player with a 53.9 Corsi For and a Relative Corsi of 3.2. His 12.2 percent shooting accuracy is another good indicator that he should be on the Coyotes’ radar as a player they could use.
Tatar has one of the best possession statistics in the NHL. He comes in at 56.9 on his Corsi For and 6.7 on his Relative Corsi. That is an attractive player to have when your team needs to keep possession of the puck. Tatar is earning $5.3 million and has an excellent shooting percentage of 13.7 percent. Accuracy and puck possession are two attributes he can add to the Coyotes’ lineup if he can be lured to the desert.
Palmieri was recently dealt from the New Jersey Devils to the New York Islanders. He could be a pure rental for the Islanders and with his reasonable $4.65 million contract he may re-sign there. He’s good for an average of 25 goals, and that’s something the Coyotes need on their front line. He’s another sharp-shooter with a 12.6 percent shooting accuracy to his credit. With 601 games played in the NHL, his experience would assist the younger players in Arizona.
Duclair has been around, but he pretty much started his NHL journey with the Coyotes in 2015-16 when he tallied 44 points and 20 goals in 81 games. Granted, he has been with seven teams in his seven-year career but he is fast and can score. He’s had 20 goals or more twice in his career and with a reasonable contract of $1.7 million, the Coyotes need to consider bringing him back. He has played 172 games in Arizona and would instantly fit right into the lineup.
Just like Laine has to be on the top of the Coyotes’ wishlist for forwards, the same goes for right shooting Hamilton being their number-one target on the blueline. The guy can flat out play and at 6′-6″, 229 pounds the days of opponents taking liberties of physically attacking smaller players on the team would come to an end. Hamilton’s offensive game would be exceptional for the Coyotes to possess. He averages 0.56 points per game and over 20 minutes of ice time. Imagine he and Oliver Ekman-Larsson being the team’s number-one defensive unit. In his 596 career games to date, he has 623 blocks and 722 hits. His size alone has to have Armstrong salivating at the prospects of him become a Coyote. His price tag isn’t cheap with a $5.75 million commitment, but certainly he, like Laine, would bring star quality to the Arizona blue line.
Larsson is another good D-man the Coyotes should consider. He has a $4.167 million cap hit and he averages over 20 minutes of ice time. What sticks out the most about him is his physicality. In 591 games thus far, he has 1,050 blocks and 1,423 hits. He’s not an offensive player at all with just 135 points in his career, yet he is another big body at 6′-3″, 208 pounds. He is a right-hand shot, just like Hamilton, so with the team possibly losing Ilya Lyubushkin in the expansion draft and Jason Demers going to free agency (or being traded), he can fill that slot very well.
Another right shooting defenceman (see a trend here?), Barrie has a $3.75 million cap hit and has collected 383 points in his 598 games thus far. He is a workhorse averaging almost 22 minutes a game. So, he could be an adequate defenceman on the right side for the Desert Dogs. He may be a bit overpriced, but if the Oilers need to unload him, the Coyotes should consider grabbing him.
With the uncertainty of the Coyotes’ goalie situation, adding Mrazek would give the team some stability in net. He has a $3.125 million salary to consider but his stats show he has earned it. His 125-95-30 record with a .911 save percentage and 2.59 goals-against-average is something to consider. Since we don’t yet know the fate of Darcy Kuemper (he’s been rumoured to be traded) or Adin Hill (expansion draft possibilities) the Yotes need to consider a solid netminder and Mrzaek can fill that role. He’s had 24 shutouts in his nine-year career.
Another goalie who could possibly be considered would be Linus Ullmark of the Buffalo Sabres. Playing on a really poor team he has still amassed a 50-47-13 record. His .912 save percentage with a 2.78 goals-against-average tells he has potential if he can join a more defensive-minded team. At 6′-4″, 215 pounds he fits the size of what Coyotes’ goalies have been. He may be ready to join a team that can give him some better support if the team can improve the quality of their roster.
Armstrong’s Shopping List
While GM Armstrong has some choices, it will be interesting to see what he does to make his mark on his team. He also has some choices in younger players he’s brought up to the NHL level this season showing some promise. Players like Michael Bunting, Dryden Hunt, and Lane Pederson may be able to fill some gaps in the lineup for next season.
The 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes need to start becoming a team others hate to face and improving the roster will be key in their goal to get there.
Let’s see what happens.