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NHL Off-Season Outlook: Arizona Coyotes

We continue a series of columns on the off-season plans for each of the NHL teams with an analysis of the Arizona Coyotes. What will the team look like in 2022-23?
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We continue a series of columns on the off-season plans for each of the NHL teams with an analysis of the Arizona Coyotes.

2020-21 Record: 25-50-7
Finish In The Central Division: 8th
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $33.1 million
Restricted Free Agents: Lawson Crouse, F; Christian Fischer, F; Barret Hayton, F; Kyle Capobianco, D; Cam Dineen, D
Unrestricted Free Agents: Jay Beagle, F; Loui Eriksson, F; Alex Galchenyuk, F; Bokondji Imama, F; Phil Kessel, F; Antoine Roussel, F; Anton Stralman, D; Harri Satieri, G

What Arizona Has: Desirable trade chips in veteran defensemen Jacob Chychrun and Shayne Gostisbehere; an untradeable contract in forward Andrew Ladd; a whole lot of salary cap space they probably won’t use all of; the smallest rink in the league in their new home, a 5,000-seater at Arizona State University; talented young forwards Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse, and Nick Schmaltz; and a slew of high draft picks, including three first-rounders (their own, as well as Colorado’s and Carolina’s) and four second-rounders (their own, and Philadelphia’s, San Jose’s, and the New York Islanders’) in this summer’s entry draft.

What Anaheim Needs: Where to begin? The ‘Yotes need help everywhere, from their core of top talent, to worker-bee depth, to above-par goaltending, to a new, NHL-caliber arena. If you name it, Arizona likely needs it. It’s been that way for years now, and, absent some miracle of the hockey gods, it’s going to continue to be that way in 2022-23.

What’s Realistic For Arizona Next Season: More of the same pain they’ve felt for far too long. Technically, the Coyotes weren’t the worst team in the league this past season – they finished two points ahead of the injury-wracked Montreal Canadiens to avoid that dubious distinction – but no team lost more games than Arizona (a whopping 50 regulation-time defeats) did. They were not-so-politely asked to leave their arena at the end of the year, and while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has tried his darndest to paint their move to a tiny rink at ASU as somehow beneficial for the franchise, it’s an embarrassment for the league to have one of its teams playing for roughly one-quarter of the crowds that attend games in other markets.

In all honesty, it’s next-to-impossible to project the Coyotes as anything other than a mass-loss unit next season. Arizona GM Bill Armstrong isn’t deluded enough to imagine his team as a playoff contender, let alone on par with the Stanley Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche. But he and head coach Andre Tourigny are going to be hard-pressed in the extreme to make lemonade from lemons in the short-term.

Dealing top blueliner Jacob Chychrun will bring a healthy return, and teams will inquire about fellow D-man Shayne Gostisbehere, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Gostisbehere scored 14 goals for Arizona last season, his highest total since he had 17 for Philadelphia in his rookie NHL year of 2015-16, and the 29-year-old amassed 51 points in 2021-22, his best total since 2017-18, when he had 65 points for Philly. He has his flaws, but in a league where mobile, offense-minded defensemen don’t grow on trees, he’ll have good value in any trade.

It’s not all bad news, of course, for the Coyotes. There is a semblance of a healthy core of young talent up front, with forwards Lawson Crouse, Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Barret Hayton all in their early-to-mid-twenties. That’s a decent-enough foundation, but it needs to be augmented with more veteran help at the right time, and that time is not now.

The looming free-agent departures of experienced talents Phil Kessel and Anton Stralman are going to open up opportunities for their prospects, but no team in the Central is worried about being leapfrogged in the standings by Arizona next year. For the foreseeable future, the Coyotes are going to be an outpost for underachieving veterans on bad contracts (see Ladd and Nick Ritchie), and facilitators of trades involving other teams needing salary cap relief. It must be agony to be a Coyotes fan, and while Armstrong & Co. can pin their hopes on success down the line, it’s going to be a long, long line.

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