Photo Credit: © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Preview: Arizona Coyotes

This is one part of a multi-part series profiling the 2018-19 Pacific Division. 

The Arizona Coyotes had two different seasons last year. There was the record-setting bad first half, and the surprisingly solid second half. Which team will we see next year? Are they ready to take a step forward?

Last season

29-41-12 – 70 points (8th in Pacific)

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208 goals for (30th in the NHL)

256 goals against (22nd in NHL)

The Coyotes had an absolutely miserable start to the 2017-18 season. In fact, it was probably the worst start ever seen by an NHL team. They dropped their first 11 games in a row, tying an NHL record, and they set their own league record for futility by failing to win a game in regulation until their 21st game of the season on Nov. 16 – more than a month into the season.

As bad as the Coyotes were in the first half of the year, though, they actually pulled themselves together after the turn of the New Year. After going 9-27-5 in their first 41 games, the Coyotes went 20-14-7 the rest of the way. That’s good enough for a 94-point pace over an 82-game season.

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Arizona’s improvement in the second half of the season is an indication of a young team with talent figuring life out at the NHL level under the guidance of new leadership. The Coyotes moved on from long-time head coach Dave Tippett prior to the season and replaced him with Rick Tocchet. Captain Shane Doan also retired and their starting goalie of six seasons, Mike Smith, was dealt to the Flames in the offseason. That’s a pretty substantial change in leadership to happen all at once, so the team’s tumultuous start isn’t all too unexpected.

Tocchet came from a role as an assistant coach on the Pittsburgh Penguins and had to shift to dealing with a handful of young players rather than a group of veterans. As time went along, the young players started to settle in and the team actually looked pretty good. Obviously, they were nowhere near being competitive, but there are quite a few reasons to believe the Coyotes could take a step forward this season.

Clayton Keller had a rookie season that earned him Calder Trophy consideration. Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, Christian Fischer, and Jakob Chychrun, all under the age of 22, are all already solid NHL contributors. Dylan Strome, one of the best prospects not in the NHL, was dominant at the AHL level. Antti Raanta was lights out in the second half of the season, posting a .941 save percentage in 2018. There’s a lot of young talent on this roster. At some point, it’ll translate into success.

This season

Notable additions: Alex Galchenyuk, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle,  Michael Grabner. 

Notable subtractions: Max Domi, Jordan Martinook, Luke Schenn. 

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The Coyotes had yet another busy summer. In 2017, they pulled off some shocking deals, acquiring Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago and Derek Stepan and Raanta from New York. This year, they pulled a one-for-one swap involving Max Domi and Alex Galchenyuk, added Vinnie Hinostroza and Jordan Oesterle in return for taking on Marian Hossa’s LTIR contract, and signed Michael Grabner in free agency. Adding Galchenyuk as the team’s second winger and solid depth in Hinostroza, Grabner, and Oesterle will certainly make the Coyotes a better team than they were last year.

Beyond those additions, the Coyotes had a busy summer full of housekeeping. They signed franchise defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year extension and his partner Hjalmarsson to a two-year deal, they inked skilled centre Dvorak to a six-year deal, and Raanta to a three-year deal. The Coyotes seem to be confident in the core players they’ve acquired.

Of course, nothing is a given. Despite the fact Arizona is loaded with good, skilled young players, development still isn’t linear. Even though they had a very nice finish to last season, they could struggle this year again for a variety of reasons. Their blueline is still a little underwhelming, Raanta hasn’t proved he can be a true, top-level starting goalie over the course of a full season, and the team has multiple players in their early 20s in key roles.

I think it’s reasonable to expect Arizona to look more like the team that finished the 2017-18 season than the one that started the year. That said, to expect them to jump over the entire Pacific Division and into the playoffs might be a bit much.

Arizona’s cap situation

Arizona’s projected lineups

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  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    These guys, along with the Flames, have the biggest chance to move up the division this year. They scare me a little bit if they get goaltending and Tocchet figures out how to keep the young guys playing the right way. This division sucks and if LA and Anaheim show their age and Vegas plays like retreads like they were supposed to last year then there is room in the playoffs for these guys. Not sure I would put their odds at 50% or more but they could be good.

  • Skylardog

    Lots of talk here to have Tippett replace Gulutzan last year. One of the questions was his ability to provide a culture that helped young players develop. It appears the Yotes got a guy capable of growing young talent in Tocchet. I am grateful we did not sign Tippett.

    They also got solid goaltending from Raanta to end the season. This is a guy that was on the radar for many on this site going into the expansion draft and after last year. Looks like a solid pickup of a top notch NHL starter that while unproven, appears to be a solution in Arizona, while their former goalie and the back ups here still leave question marks. Don’t get me wrong I like Mike Smith, but seldom are player solutions in the NHL solved by 35 year old acquisitions.

    • Skylardog

      They weren’t a source of wins for the Flames last year. We went 2-2, losing both at the end of the season. We should have their number this year. I expect them to leap over Vancouver, and with Edmonton’s defensive issues, should be close or ahead of the Oilers.

      • Off the wall

        I agree Skylar. I think the Galchenyuk swap will help the Coyotes.

        I believe they will finish 4th or 5th in the division ahead of Vancouver and the Oilers, perhaps even ahead of the Ducks with their aging, injured team.

        • Skylardog

          I take it you were inquiring about people going to the game on Sunday to get some feedback on how it goes? You live in BC if I remember correctly and I assume are not going.

          I have tickets to Sunday’s game. Taking Mrs Sky (if I called her Mrs Dog you know how that would go), so she will put a limit on my shaking the FlamesNation site with controversial opinions. But still looking forward to having some fun!

          They attached a $5 buck beer coupon to the ticket!

      • Flaming Glory

        Yes but we SHOULD have beaten them. Probably should have swept the series. I’m saying that if we lose against this new coyotes team it’s not as bad an offence.

  • Kevin R

    Coyotes are looking like the majority of the NHL with some of the young talent they have drafted. A team capable of beating any other NHL team in the league on a given night. You can analyze teams until the cows come home but the NHL is structured to provide parity as a league. Coyotes have been perennially below average because they dont spend & are a wasteland for bad cap dumps. This year they look to approach a little closer to parity but I dont see them as a threat for a deep playoff run. Anomalies like Vegas happen but the true contenders spend every inch of their cap space in an effort to find that right mix. I know this may be weird coming from a fan of a small market Canadian team, but I find luck plays a bigger role in a league structured with a hard Cap & as much as I hate watching the haves & have nots in Major league baseball, Im kinda getting tired of parity. I need more coffee haha. Or maybe I just need hockey.

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      I think you raise an interesting point. I wonder tho if perhaps we can link the parity system with the rapid pace of change in the nhl recently? With every team having a chance to win every night, players and teams have had to be more creative. Things like the LVGK ‘revolution’ (or so it seems for now), happen. Watching the start of this last season, I was floored with how different it seemed: the players get faster each year, we started the first month or two with a ~3.5 goals per game clip, etc etc. I’m also glad we’re all not watching the same teams in the playoffs for 20 years.

      I like the parity system for the most part, but would love to hear some more discussion of it

    • Off the wall

      Haha, Don’t get me started on MLB Kevin.

      I can’t even enjoy watching the Blue Jays anymore. Their dumping salaries as fast as they can! Now Josh Donaldson..to Cleveland, and of course, he’s almost ready to come back, after being injured the whole freakin season.

      It annoys me that Boston and the Yankees are buying their rosters. I’d rather see a cap on MLB… see NHL

      Yah, we really need some hockey to watch! ?

    • JMK

      I can see why parity might seem boring, however I’ll offer two alternatives. Growing up in Ireland we have a sport called Gaelic Football (also applicable for a sport called Hurling) where you play for the team in the region where you grew up. It creates great pride and passion but between tradition and variations in population winning the Stanley Cup equivalent is almost impossible for approx 27 out of the 32 teams (this can change over time as to which teams). One team just won 4 in a row and other teams are struggling to even get close to them. Here’s a historic roll of honour; Team A – 37 titles, Team B – 28 titles, Team C – 9 titles, Team D&E – 7 titles, the rest under 5. 19 teams have at least 1 title, so 13 have never won. I love the sport but it can be very lopsided.

      Similarly soccer in the UK or any european country, due to financial differences creates scenarios where there is a top 2 / 4 that have a chance and everyone else is just trying to keep up or survive. A straggler from the pack coming up and winning is very rare (apart from 2017 where Leicester won, prior to that you going back to the 80’s).

      Not saying which is better, just that the alternative extreme can also get boring.

      • JMK

        Also for reference you generally have 32 teams taking part every year, and throughout history. The sport didn’t start with 6 teams leading to lopsided to title quantities.

  • Brian McGrattan's Salute

    It’s just nice to see the division changing. It’ll be interesting to see what LVGK do, and how the yotes perform. I’m expecting SJ to be as tough as ever. Kane has our number.

    Like the other post, I too really dislike Anaheim, and hope they struggle mightily. They still have size and the grind/cycle game tho, and whilst the league is indeed changing, that style is still super tough to play against if they get it rollng. We will need to continue trying to figure them out. (any one have suggestions?)

    I think LA will be at or near the top this year. I think Kovalchuk will be decent, and I think Carter will have a bounce back season.

    Vancouver will suck for the most part, but watch out in a few years. I must say I am really interested to see how they pan out.

    Edmonton should sink even lower.

  • Avalain

    I mean, I expect them to be better this year than they were last year. But that isn’t saying much. I think that they’re still going to be competing with the Canucks for last place in the West. The thing is, I don’t see very many teams taking a step back this year. Maybe Vegas drops a little bit. Hopefully Anaheim and LA both take a step back. I seriously doubt any of them fall off a cliff big enough for Arizona to catch them.

  • Redleader

    I’d be surprised if Flames don’t place first in the division. Trevling will be runner up for GM of the year , the anticipation is building up speed only a few days to go !

    • Eggs Bennett

      Temper expectations… goaltending is still a big question mark and we will see if the power play can improve without Dougie. The Flames have been notorious for underperforming on paper expectations for as long as I can remember (14-15 exception).

    • Styxx

      Love the enthusiasm and have the same closet crush to win the division…or better yet get to the Division or Conference Final. However setting more reasonable (realistic?) expectations such as just making the playoffs will help reduce the excruciating pain if they fall short.