Every time you think the Arizona Coyotes are heading for a breakthrough, they bend over backwards to make sure they prove you wrong.
The Coyotes were on the up and up in 2019-20, building on a 2018-19 season where they didn’t qualify for the playoffs, but that elimination didn’t happen until April 4, with just one game remaining in the season.
It wasn’t an easy road, but the Coyotes kept up the fight for the middle of the pack in the Pacific until the season pause in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Then there was the big, public fallout with wunderkind general manager John Chayka in July. Then there was a first-round exit in the playoffs. Then there was a baffling draft in October and a quiet free agency where Taylor Hall made an Irish exit.
Was last year for real, or just a fluke?
Where we left off
The 2019-20 Arizona Coyotes’ regular season ended after a Western Canada road trip, during which the Coyotes defeated the Vancouver Canucks and then lost to the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. They were set to face the Canucks in Glendale when the season was suspended on March 12.
At the time of the season pause, the Coyotes had a 33-29-8 record with 74 standing points, ranking fifth in the Pacific Division. When the top 12 teams in the Western Conference returned to play, Arizona’s .529 points percentage ranked them 11th.
The Coyotes faced the Los Angeles Kings three times last season. Arizona won two games in November, a 3-0 shutout and a 3-2 back-and-forth affair. When they met in January, the Kings won 3-2 in overtime, with a hat trick and game-winning goal from Alex Iafallo.
Nick Schmaltz led the team in assists (34) and points (45), while Conor Garland led the team in goals (22). As a team, they ranked 24th in the league at 5-on-5 Corsi (unblocked shots + shot attempts) share, with 48.37 percent. However, they ranked 16th in 5-on-5 Goals For Percentage with 50.20 percent.
The team had a great showing in the Qualifying Round, beating the Nashville Predators in a best-of-five series, losing to the Predators just once in Game 2. They were then matched up against the Colorado Avalanche and were thoroughly out-matched. They were able to eke out a Game 3 win, but fell in five games, including back-to-back 7-1 losses in Games 4 and 5.
2020 NHL Draft
No one fumbled the 2020 NHL Draft quite like the Coyotes fumbled the draft. The team didn’t have a pick in the first three rounds and needed to nail their first selection at 111th overall.
Instead, they drafted defender Mitchell Miller, a player listed by Elite Prospects as “Do Not Draft,” due to an assault conviction in 2016 that was part of a documented pattern of racist and bullying behavior by Miller. When Miller’s story became publicized, the public pressure resulted in the Coyotes eventually renouncing their rights to Miller.
It left the Coyotes with just four selections total from the 2020 draft, which were used on big wingers who can’t skate, and also Swedish center Filip Barklund, who might be passable to decent in the future. The Coyotes probably could’ve gotten more value trading all of their picks this year for picks in the 2021 draft.
Needless to say, no one from the 2020 draft will be appearing on the Coyotes’ roster in 2021.
Training camp began on Sunday, Jan. 3, and this is the Coyotes’ 44-man camp roster:
Nick Schmaltz, Clayton Keller, John Hayden, Derick Brassard, Tyler Pitlick, Christian Dvorak, Johan Larsson, Hudson Fasching, Michael Chaput, Dryden Hunt, Barrett Hayton, Frederik Gauthier, Christian Fischer, Ryan McGregor, Blake Speers, Nate Sucese, Michael Bunting, Lawson Crouse, Jan Jenik, Brayden Burke, Phil Kessel, Conor Garland, Drake Caggiula, Lane Pederson
Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jakub Chychrun, Jordan Schmaltz, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Aaron Ness, Ilya Lyubushkin, Cam Dineen, Jason Demers, Dysin Mayo, Kyle Capobianco, Victor Soderstrom, Jordan Gross, Jordan Oesterle, Cam Crotty
Zane McIntyre, Adin Hill, Antti Raanta, Darcy Kuemper, Ivan Prosvetov
The team essentially swapped out 30-year-old center Derek Stepan for 33-year-old center Derick Brassard. Oh, and they lost Taylor Hall to a team only slightly less tragic than the Coyotes, the Buffalo Sabres.
What can we expect in 2021?
The Coyotes have relied heavily on goaltenders Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper last season, which explains how they were above 50 percent in goal shares, while ranking much lower in their share of unblocked shots and attempts. The Coyotes couldn’t buy a goal if they tried last season, but solid goaltending meant they didn’t need to score a lot — just enough.
Is that a winning strategy heading into this season, against teams like the Vegas Golden Knights and the same Avalanche that handily beat them in August for eight games each?
If the Coyotes make the 2021 postseason, it might just be by the skin of their teeth.