While it seems really evident by most, Arizona Coyotes management just seems to avoid the word ‘tanking.’ Well, actions always speak louder than words, so let’s take a look at the evidence that the Coyotes are definitely tanking.
Arizona Coyotes Management May Not Call it Tanking, But it is
When one examines what general manager Bill Armstrong has done over the first year of his tenure, it becomes clear he is looking towards the future. The team has unloaded a bevy of players. That includes big names like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper, backup goalie Antti Raanta, leading assist man Conor Garland, two-way center Christian Dvorak, veteran defencemen Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jordan Oesterle. Depth players such as Michael Bunting, Adin Hill, Tyler Pitlick, Derick Brassard, Lane Pederson, Dryden Hunt, John Hayden, Michael Chaput and have also been shown the door. But, when you consider that the prize player Shane Wright will be out there for whoever gets the first draft pick, it becomes clear that motivation to lose games could be the goal.
Just looking at positional play exhibits that direction. Goaltending was downright picked clean to the bone. Giving up Kuemper, Raanta, AND Hill pretty much decided that defending the net this upcoming season was not a priority. Now when presented with the question of goaltending, and referring to new starter Carter Hutton, Armstrong told Coyotes insider, Craig Morgan: “Carter obviously got hampered a little bit by injuries lately, but I have a huge familiarity with him from my St. Louis days,” Armstrong said. “He’s just a great human being that comes to the rink every day that just wants to compete. He’s someone for us that can steal games with his energy and just the way he plays.” It seems Armstrong likes to reminisce about what players he has known in the past without even thinking how irrelevant they may be currently.
Armstrong Sounds Optimistic
Hutton’s statistics don’t seem to sway Armstrong’s bias. Hutton over the last three seasons with the Buffalo Sabres posted a miserable 31-49-10 record. His .902 save percentage and 3.12 goals-against-average are not impressive. Sure, he’s had injuries, most NHL players do. If the Coyotes management feels confident in a guy like Hutton, there is definite proof they are tanking. Then, the pure strength of any NHL team is down the middle. With the departure of a good two-way, faceoff winning centre like Dvorak, what’s left? Nick Schmaltz and Johan Larsson will be in the top-six. Ok, after that you have Jay Beagle, Ryan Dzingel, Barrett Hayton, PTO Alex Galchenyuk, or Travis Boyd. Not exactly an overwhelming offence, to say the least. Perhaps they will move Clayton Keller back to the centre position since he has not been earning his team-leading $7.15 million contract. It’s worth a shot.
Armstrong believes that he has added plenty of leadership quality players, but in reality, he is just filling rosters spots and relieving other teams of their salary cap nightmares.
Tanking Isn’t Always a Guarantee to Get the First Draft Pick
In the 25 years that the Coyotes have been in existence, the highest they have ever drafted is third in 2015. They selected centre Dylan Strome. While not getting the first pick, selecting Strome wound up to be a huge blunder. Why? Because such players as Mitch Marner (#4), Mikko Rantanen (#10), Mathew Barzal (#16), and Kyle Connor (#17) were available to then-general manager Don Maloney, and he passed on them. We have yet to see how well Armstrong can draft, but he had a good record while with the St. Louis Blues. He drafted David Perron and Jake Allen, to name a couple.
A New Head Coach Behind the Bench
Armstrong wanted an up-and-coming new head coach. He selected André Tourigny. One must feel sorry for the guy seeing that the roster he inherited is not exactly ideal. It may be ideal for a rebuild or to tank, but he feels differently about his team’s chances.
In the End, It’s About Selling Tickets
No member of any NHL team will come out and say, “yes, we’re tanking so we can get a good shot at the first draft pick.” They need to be optimistic about their team and that is understandable. They need to get fans in the arena to make the team money. They aren’t going to short sell their team. It’s about loyalty and like Tourigny said, ” we’re professionals, we want to do good for ourselves.” While that is a noble statement, when facts are applied, it becomes very partisan. To win in the NHL you need talent, drive, fortitude, and some luck. This team, as constructed, is not going to exceed their most recent terrible record of 24-50-8 for 56 points in 2014-15. In fact, it must be duly noted that 56 points are their lowest point production in a full season since they relocated to Arizona in 1996.
Call it what you like, ‘rebuild’ or ‘tank’ are now words in the Coyotes vocabulary this season.
Prediction: 52 points.
Enough to draft Wright? We’ll see.