Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2021-22 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us, as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes.
2021-22 Arizona Coyotes
When describing the 2020-21 season of the Arizona Coyotes, the word ‘mediocre’ must be applied. They failed to qualify for the shortened season playoffs collecting just 54 points with a 24-26-6 record. They fell short attempting to gather the last playoff spot, as the St. Louis Blues collected 25 points in their last 20 games. The hapless Coyotes were only able to accumulate 17 points, which meant their playoff hopes were extinguished. The other drama (more on that later) was would head coach Rick Tocchet be able to rally his players to the postseason? No, he wasn’t and it meant his job was lost after the season ended.
Phil Kessel Led All Scorers/Jakob Chychrun Scored 18 Goals
Phil Kessel was able to score 20 goals and 23 assists playing in all 56 games and keeping his “iron-man” streak alive of not missing a game for 981 consecutive contests. It was a definite comeback season for Kessel, but unfortunately not enough to get them to the playoffs. The story of the 2020-21 season for the Desert Dogs had to be defenceman Jakob Chychrun. He was able to tally 18 goals, which led the NHL for a blueliner. Chychrun threw in 23 assists to be right behind Kessel in team scoring by two points. He has an amazing future with the team and may someday be named the new captain. His presence on the power play was significant and he had five goals and nine assists to prove it.
The Other Forwards
While forwards Clayton Keller (14-G, 21-A) and Nick Schmaltz (10-G, 22-A) performed well enough, Conor Garland finished third in scoring on the team with 12 goals and 27 assists. Garland was missed during five crucial games at the end of April when he was injured. The team went 2-3, losing back-to-back games to the lowly San Jose Sharks and the chances of getting to the playoffs pretty much disintegrated. Nothing new for this team, and they were only able to make the playoffs during the 2019-20 campaign due to the increased number of teams who qualified due to the pandemic.
Injuries Again Played a Role
For the second consecutive season, the Coyotes’ starting goalie Darcy Kuemper was hurt at key points near the end of the 2020-21 season. He missed eight games in the month of April and the Yotes went a miserable 3-5 without him. They started out great with three straight wins, but then dropped five in a row to seal their fate. It didn’t help that when Kuemper came back he lost the two key games against the Sharks that were must-wins.
The 2021 offseason for the Coyotes was one of, if not the busiest, they have seen in franchise history. General manager Bill Armstrong held off at the trade deadline to see if his team could rally towards a playoff berth. When that didn’t happen, he went with his backup plan. Rebuild. And, boy did he put his back into it! Gone was defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his huge eight-year $66 million contract. He was sent to the Vancouver Canucks along with forward Conor Garland to sweeten the deal. The Coyotes will retain $990,000 each year of the contract until its conclusion in 2026-27.
While this was a major move, the Coyotes received three players and three draft picks (including the #9 pick for 2021) to ease the pain. The Arizona club received Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel, all forwards with one year remaining on their deals. So, each team unloaded unwanted contracts to make the deal history.
Kuemper Dealt to Colorado Avalanche
In another rumoured move, Armstrong then pulled the trigger on a trade sending Kuemper, their starting goaltender to the Colorado Avalanche. In return, Armstrong’s growing collection of draft choices grew again. This time he got the Av’s first-rounder in 2022, plus defenceman Conor Timmins to add to his roster. The Yotes had to retain $1 million of Kuemper’s $4.5 million salary to make the deal go down. This move seemed puzzling at the time since the team had already traded backup goalie Adin Hill plus a 7th round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Josef Korenar and a 2022 second-round pick.
Christian Dvorak Dealt to Montreal
In the carousel of trade activity, the next victim was forward Christian Dvorak who was sent to the Montreal Canadiens. This was as painful as letting Garland go, but Armstrong was sticking to his plan to move the franchise out of the doldrums. Dvorak was a popular player in the locker room, as he displayed an outstanding work ethic and was an excellent two-way forward. He will be missed, and the two draft picks that the team received just adds to their treasure chest come the NHL Draft in 2022 and beyond. The Yotes now possess three first-round picks for 2022, which is slated to be the best draft in a decade. They will get either the Carolina Hurricanes or the Montreal Canadiens first-round selection next year, whichever is better. They also bagged a second-rounder for 2024.
Arena Drama Causes Much Shagrin
Over the eventful 2021 offseason, the Coyotes also learned that the city of Glendale who runs Gila River Arena would not be renewing their year-to-year lease with the team. So, after this upcoming season, the lease will expire on June 30, 2022. That means the team will be left out in the dark as to where they can play their NHL games. There are some possibilities, but the Coyotes’ management and ownership remain adamant that they are NOT moving out of Arizona. Of course, the rumours started flying as to what city they would relocate to even with the denial from the team that they are in fact moving.
Rick Tocchet is no Longer the Head Coach
Both Tocchet and GM Armstrong mutually agreed that Tocchet’s time was up behind the bench. It took a while, but the team went with Andre Tourigny, who has limited NHL experience. So, a new head coach, a new decision about where to play and numerous new players it seems like a lot to digest. It will be interesting to see if Tourigny can keep this team from self-imploding.
Clayton Keller – Nick Schmaltz – Phil Kessel
The team has been depleted of two good forwards with Garland and Dvorak both traded. It is debatable as to whether or not Hayton will be able to stay in the NHL, let alone be in the top-six. He certainly has much to prove, and this could be his chance to stay in the NHL. Dzingel could be moved up to the top-six depending on how Crouse and Fischer play. When you total up the offence that the four lines contributed last season it comes to a measly 61 goals. That seems almost at the AHL level to be honest. They seem to have at least five players who should be on the fourth checking line, so scoring will not come easily.
Again, now that Garland is gone, Keller and Schmaltz must provide additional offence to help the Coyotes from finishing dead last in the NHL. Or… maybe that’s their plan. Being able to grab a talent like Shane Wright would not be a bad way to move forward. The other question with the top-six is will Kessel even be in Arizona when the 2021 Arizona Coyotes begin to play? He has been rumoured to be moved next. We’ll see.
With the possibility that Jaskin can come through and score some goals, the other bottom-six just can’t generate enough offence and will be used to hold down opposing teams’ scoring. The bottom-six listed only accounted for 18 goals last season. That just won’t do the trick if you want to be competitive.
Jakob Chychrun – Conor Timmins
Top Four/Bottom Pair
Chychrun is going gangbusters and pairing him with Timmins will make their blueline formidable. Timmins never really got much ice time in Colorado, and he can really shine with a partner like Chychrun leading the way. Look for Chychrun to exceed his last year’s performance and come forward as the star of the team.
Newcomer Gostisbehere also has much to prove, as his play lately has declined. If he can come back to play some better hockey, the team’s blueline might be more noticeable than their forward lines.
Adding a veteran like Stralman can only assist two younger D-men Cabobianco and Soderstrom. Soderstrom may be in that last defenceman spot instead of Cabobianco if he continues the excellent play he displayed in two games near the end of last season.
This position seems to have been given very little attention especially after losing three goalies as the Yotes did. Carter Hutton seems to be pegged as the starter with newly acquired Josef Korenar backing him up. This has to be the weakest (yes even weaker than the forward lines) position for the 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes. Both goalies will have trouble matching their predecessors. It may be a very long season for the 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes. They could possibly sign another goalie off the waiver line, but that may not be much of an upgrade.
Players to Watch
As previously mentioned THE player to watch on this 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes squad has to be Chychrun. He can actually be a Norris Trophy candidate in the next couple of years. With the definite decrease in offence from the forward lines, Chychrun’s contributions may offset what seems will be a miserable season. The other player to watch is Barrett Hayton. The team has been more than patient with his development. It’s time he shows some promise and plays like a 5th overall draft choice. If he gets playing time, he must cash in on that opportunity to excel.
Prediction For 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes
Unfortunately, when you execute a rebuild the team must suffer through the tough times to get to being competitive again. With the decreased offence and goalie situation, this team will struggle to gain points. The other factor is they are moving to the much tougher Central Division and that means wins will be difficult to obtain.
It seems that the Buffalo Sabres and the Coyotes will be battling it out for the right to draft Shane Wright. Of course, with the poor luck the Desert Dogs have had acquiring a good player in the top-five selections, you never know. If they manage to exceed the 56 points they had in the 2014-15 season it will surprise most everyone… including yours truly.