The Arizona Coyotes 2020-21 season was not successful, and as the dust settles, here are some things that need to improve going forward.
Arizona Coyotes 2020-21 Season Fell Short Without Playoff Berth
Every NHL team goes into every season with the goal of playing in the playoffs. After all, if you can make the cut, there’s always a chance you have a shot at hoisting the Cup. Since this was a pandemic shortened season of only 56 games, you can divide the season into three segments of about 19 games each. The last segment would have 18 games in it. If we chop up the season that way, it’s easier to evaluate how the team was doing as the season progressed.
First Segment of Arizona Coyotes 2020-21 Season
The team got out of the box with its best showing over the first 19 games gathering a 9-7-3 record good for 21 points. That put them one point ahead of the Minnesota Wild at that point of the season. They hadn’t played the Wild or the Colorado Avalanche yet at this point of the season. And that was probably a good thing since in 16 games against those two opponents the Coyotes only managed seven points. The math shows that’s only a .219 points percentage. That may not bode well for the Desert Dogs who will be moving to the Central Division next season and will be facing those two teams more often.
If you break their record down by opponent at this point of the season, it shows as follows: Anaheim Ducks 3-1-0, San Jose Sharks 1-2-1, Los Angeles Kings 0-1-1, Vegas Golden Knights 1-3-0, St. Louis Blues 4-2-1.
Second Segment of the 2020-21 Season
During the next 19 games, the Coyotes digressed a bit. Their record fell to 9-8-2 for 20 points and they remained in fourth place in the Western Division three points ahead of the Blues. The downfall for the Arizona club during this span of time was a five-game losing streak which included a consecutive three-game losing streak to the Wild. In those three games, the Coyotes were outscored by a 15-1 margin. Clearly playing the Wild next season will be a challenge for them if they can’t improve their roster. Another team they have trouble with is the Avalanche. They went 2-4-1 over the second segment of the season. Possessing a 3-8-1 record against the Avs and Wild will not help them get to the playoffs.
Last Segment of the 2020-21 Season
The last 18 games of the season were the downfall for the Coyotes. They went a horrible 6-11-1 during the time period. So, instead of finishing strong to grab a postseason berth, they wound up nine points behind the Blues who captured the last playoff spot. Even with a favourable schedule compared to the Blues whom they had to fight for that last playoff spot, the team could not win games they should have won. They went 2-3 against the Los Angeles Kings and even though they went 2-2 against the lowly Sharks, they lost two key games which would have given them a chance to stay in the hunt.
The Arizona Coyotes season record ended up being 24-26-6 good for 54 points. Even though they officially made the playoffs last season, it was a fluke as the league allowed 24 instead of 16 teams into the postseason games. Had the season finished, it was debatable as to whether the Coyotes would have made the playoffs. After 70 games they still trailed the eighth-place Calgary Flames by five points.
2020-21 Season Highlights
The season saw a nice comeback by Phil Kessel who scored 43 points including 20 goals while playing all 56 games. His future may still be in doubt this next season as new general manager Bill Armstrong may be making some monumental changes. Phil will be 34 in early October right before the 2021-22 season starts. He did increase his points per game from 0.54 last season to 0.77 this season. Whether that is enough to keep him employed by the team is still undecided. Now that Kessel’s whisperer Rick Tocchet is gone, Phil may even want to be traded. If the team can get some sorely needed draft picks for him, that may be a good option.
Adin Hill Shines
The play of Adin Hill has to be recognized as a plus for the season. When both Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta fell to injuries, Hill filled in admirably. It makes you wonder if the Coyotes will protect him or Kuemper in the upcoming expansion draft. Hill collected a respectable 9-9-1 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.74 goals-against-average. At 25 years old, he could be the future starter in the net if they decide to trade or expose Kuemper to the expansion draft.
Another player who came out of nowhere was Michael Bunting. After being called up from the AHL Tucson Roadrunners, he never looked back. He collected 10 goals and 13 points in 23 games. His value to the team cannot be underestimated. He crashes the net and loves to get rebounds. He’s tough and gritty and has found a spot in the lineup. He is definitely the type of player Armstrong likes, and we’ll see what Bunting can do in a full season.
Another rising star of the team Conor Garland again showed he has a future with the team. He’s getting noticed around the NHL as well as other teams were rumoured to be interested in his services. His contract is up and the Coyotes need to step up and pay him what he’s worth. He had 39 points with 12 goals in 49 games. He, like Bunting, is fearless going to the net and Garland is an exceptional player.
This young man really poured it on this season. Jakob Chychrun not only had a hat-trick, but he also added 41 points and 18 goals to end up right behind Kessel in scoring on the squad. His future is bright, and even with all the rumours of players may be moving on, Chychrun is definitely an untouchable player on the roster. He has matured, has an excellent wrist shot from the point, and may see a Norris Trophy in his future.
2020-21 Season Lowlights
Obviously not making the playoffs is not what the team’s goal was when the season began. Injuries to Kuemper and Raanta played a big role in them not succeeding, yet other teams also had injuries and played through them. The task Bill Armstrong will have is not insignificant. He started by allowing Rick Tocchet to exit his contract and now must search for a replacement. Once that is in place, perhaps we will see some well-deserved upgrades to the roster. Players are getting paid to perform and if you don’t make the playoffs, there WILL be changes made.
The team desperately needs a first-line centre and with at least several defencemen moving on, the defence will need supplementing. Armstrong has lots to do, and thus far not much has happened. He may be limited as well since the new ownership has stated they don’t want to spend more than $65 million on salaries next season. With approximately $31 million available if taken to the cap limit of $81.5 million, that leaves only $16.5 million to work with. Good luck Mr. Armstrong in getting some free agents in here with that budget! He may need to go the trade route to rebuild this team.
In any case, the 2020-21 season is history and we’ll see what the next season holds for the Arizona Coyotes.