Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 Arizona Coyotes.
2022-23 Arizona Coyotes
This past season was one to forget if you are the Arizona Coyotes. The team was a basement dweller in every aspect. Arizona went on to finish dead last in the Central Division and in the Western Conference. Finishing the season with 57 points, the Desert Dogs earned the third overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. The basement-dwelling finish led to being at the bottom in many categories. At the conclusion of the 2021-22 season, the Yotes finished 32nd in goals per game (2.51), 30th in goals against per game (3.77), finished 30th on the power play, and 28th on the penalty kill. To make matters worse, the team finished dead last in goals against (221), and the worst possession team at even strength with a CF% of 44.23%. To provide a good visual, this displays the performance of the Coyotes all year.
Despite finishing in the basement and being as bad as they were, there were a few bright spots. The Yotes had four players finish with 50+ points: Clayton Keller (63), Nick Schmaltz (59), Phil Kessel (52), and Shayne Gostisbehere (51). The emergence of Gostisbehere was a big bright spot. Arizona’s veteran blueliner had his best statistical season since his 65-point outburst in 2017-18 with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Even though the team had point producers, they were very bad. Pain will continue to set in but there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
The biggest story of the off-season is not a player that is gone or coming in, but where they are playing. Arizona will be playing in the state sharing a 5,000-seat arena with the Arizona State Sun Devils. Their temporary home is named The Mullett Arena. Imagine having Mullet Night at the Coyotes game and they hand out Jagr-like mullet wigs? Talk about an experience. Now these young kids coming through can get the college experience and play professional hockey at the same time. For shocking news, here is what the attendance looks like so far:
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) September 8, 2022
All jokes aside, the team did make additions to the club. The Coyotes locked up one of their own keeping Lawson Crouse in the fold for five more years with a $4.3 million AAV. He plays the power forward role perfectly and is coming off his best season of 20 goals and 34 points. Muscle was added in acquiring Zack Kassian and his contract from the Edmonton Oilers, along with a slew of draft picks. The team took on Patrik Nemeth from the New York Rangers to round out the back end. It was nothing flashy, but it helped form a more rounded-out club.
The team said goodbye to Phil The Thrill. He keeps his goal-scoring and hot dog-eating talents in the desert as he signed a one-year deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. One of the four 50-point producers will be missed, but it opens the door for others to elevate their game and see opportunities arise.
Nick Schmaltz – Barrett Hayton – Clayton Keller
Lawson Crouse – Travis Boyd – Jack McBain
Nick Ritchie – Nick Bjugstad – Zack Kassian
Andrew Ladd – Nathan Smith – Christian Fischer
The top six are the heart and soul of the team. They carry the workload and produce all the points. Even though that is expected of any top six units, it outweighs the group’s depth. The team looks good on the wings. Keller is the best forward in the top six and the team. Finishing in the top five in scoring the last three seasons, the offence runs with him. Schmaltz and Crouse round out the left side. Crouse has spent every season in Arizona and gotten better every season. Schmaltz has been nothing but great since coming over from Chicago. Like Crouse, he had a career year and hit career highs in goals (23), assists (36), and points (59).
The team is thin down the middle. It should be better when Logan Cooley joins the club. The third overall pick in this year’s draft will start in college at the University of Minnesota. Travis Boyd and Barret Hayton round out the top six down the middle. Boyd is coming off his best season and his first in the desert. Hayton has played three seasons and is coming into his own. After producing seven points in his first two seasons, he scored 24 in 60 games.
Overall the top six had guys hit career years themselves and looking to build upon that success going into the 2022-23 season.
The third line may be the line with the most muscle and size. Bjugstad stands at a towering 6’6, while his wingers are 6’2. Those three will bring much-needed strength and physicality to the lineup. While packing the heavy punch, they also provide the necessary depth scoring. Each player closed in on the 20-point mark this past season. It isn’t the flashiest of all third lines, but these guys play their roles effectively.
The fourth line is not great. Andrew Ladd is nowhere near the player he once was. Fischer and Smith are simply depth. Ladd and Fischer finished with 12 and 10 points, respectively, while Smith netted four. Putting it bluntly, these three make up a line that can play hockey.
Shayne Gostisbehere – Dysin Mayo
Jakob Chychrun – Troy Stecher
Patrik Nemeth – Josh Brown
Top Four/Bottom Pair
The offence can be pretty bad overall, but the Defence is worse. The team allowed the third most high-danger shots with 181. Arizona allowed the second most power-play goals with 62. Overall they just had the puck less than the other team. However, the left side of the top four is nice. Gostisbehere and Chychrun solidify the left side. Both are the team’s best point producers from the back end. After discovering his old form, Gostisbehere is what the Coyotes hoped he would be when they acquired him. Chychrun is a solid two-way defenceman that plays heavy minutes in all situations. His time could be nearing its end in the desert, but a high calibre top-four defenceman. Stecher and Mayo are not your typical top-four defenseman, but on this roster they are. After displaying his playmaking ability with the Vancouver Canucks, it never translated elsewhere. Mayo is coming off a 12-point rookie campaign.
Mayo is not afraid to sacrifice the body as he blocked a team-high 133 shots and 129 hits. While Gostisbehere provides the offence, he gives the shutdown role. Both players spent over 800 minutes together. Together they averaged 2.23 goals for per 60 minutes and 3.24 goals against per 60 minutes. As shown by Natural Stat Trick, it displays how the two played together. The bottom pair provides a pair. As shown by his chart on Evolving Hockey, he is bad in all areas and situations. Josh Brown is a physical shutdown defenceman playing his role perfectly. The top four is in good shape overall, but the team as a whole allowed the most goals all year long.
Entering the 2022-23 season, the Arizona Coyotes have goaltenders Karel Vejmelka and Ivan Prosvetov. Vejmelka got the majority of the starts last season with 52 games. In addition to the starts, he finished with 3.68 goals against average and a .898 save percentage. He finished with a brutal -23.3 goals saved above expected, ranking him among the league’s worst. Prosvetov saw a small sample size last season but is suited for the backup position. After signing a one-year extension in May, he is looking to take the next step in his hockey journey. Worse comes to worst, the team could call up Jon Gillies. He came over from the New Jersey Devils, and that team’s goaltending really paints a picture, to say the least. The goaltending will not wow anyone and will more than likely be among the league’s worst. A move could happen down the stretch, but for now, this is what the team is entering the season with.
Players To Watch
Remember when everyone got hyped about the “Ghost Bear”? Some fun times in Philly they were. The guy fell off a cliff, but this past season he emerged as the top defenceman on the team. Gostisbehere is coming off his best season since his breakout year in 2017-18. With the sun setting on Chychrun’s time in Arizona, Gostisbehere is the anchor on the back end. The blue line runs through him and if he is able to replicate this past season, the team is in good shape.
This team is not littered with superstar talent. The big names are far and in between. Nobody expects this team to be great or take the league by storm, but to have some success; the best player needs to be the best player. Keller is the best player on this team and will be counted on for offence and goal-scoring. With a thin group of goal scorers, Keller will be a player to watch for as he is the most important one in the forward group.
INJURY UPDATE: Coyotes forward Clayton Keller underwent successful surgery last night to repair a fractured leg. Keller is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery. He will be out 4-6 months. pic.twitter.com/DQbtv01tfF
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) March 31, 2022
Prediction For The 2022-23 Arizona Coyotes
The team may have one of the best jerseys and coolest logos in the league, but the team just is not good yet. Despite having some good players in the lineup, they are rebuilding. They struck gold with Logan Cooley and will be a lottery team in the running to land Connor Bedard. If the team did manage to land Bedard, a 1-2 punch down the middle with him and Cooley would make Arizona a fun hockey team to watch. Pain will remain in the Desert, but a light is at the end of the tunnel sooner than later. They will be bad, but better than the Blackhawks. Gear up for another high draft choice this coming draft.