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The Arizona Coyotes Have a Chip On Their Shoulder

The Arizona Coyotes might be tanking in the pursuit of a brighter future. The players in the present aren't just going to lie down in defeat, either.
Arizona Coyotes

Let's get something out of the way right off the top: The Arizona Coyotes are an objectively bad hockey team. 

That's not an inflammatory statement. They were built specifically to be one. The Coyotes – on the management side, at least – are not blind to their own limitations; in fact, they've seemingly made peace with them, with the front office setting course on a top-to-bottom rebuild of late using the scarce resources available to them. Those resources, mind you, are the avenues in which players have little say over where they end up. 

Why? Well, the Coyotes are not exactly a free-agent destination. 

This is a team that has endured one of the more dramatic reputation erosions in recent memory, a process that began when the Coyotes were stripped of a first-round draft pick back in 2020 for violating league draft-testing rules, continued with The Athletic's Katie Strang uncovering the organization's toxic workplace culture in an in-depth expose, really started to fall off the rails when the club was threatened with eviction from their own rink by the City of Glendale in December 2021 for failing to pay arena rent and business costs, and finally crescendoed into being stuffed into a 5,000-seat college rink where they'll remain for the next three years. 

So, yeah. Maybe regrouping for the next little bit to build a more stable foundation is not a bad idea, with that foundation hopefully beginning its evolution around the time the team's move to Tempe really starts to take shape. 

And, frankly, the Coyotes have done a remarkable job of that so far. 

The organization's draft capital is truly something to behold, with the Coyotes currently holding a total of three first-round picks, eight second-round picks, seven third-round picks, and four fourth-round picks over the next three NHL drafts combined. How they've accomplished that is by using those scant resources to their own advantage, becoming the premier dumping ground onto whom any cap-strapped teams can offload their unsavory contracts, albeit with a sweetener attached as the cost of admission. 

That's all well and good for the future, though, but what about the present? 

Well, it hasn't been great. Travis Boyd is the number one center. The Coyotes finished third-last in the entire NHL last season and kicked off this one by allowing five and six goals against in their first two games, respectively. Things are not looking good on the ice. 

Arizona's first win of the season came against a Maple Leafs team that had perhaps its worst performance of the past two years on Monday night, and the Coyotes still needed a last-second disallowed goal thanks to a thoroughly obscure rule that forced the league's situation room to overtake control of the game from the officials to prevent blowing a multi-goal, third-period lead. 

But, here's the thing: They won. No one will remember 'how' they did it in a few days, just that their win column now sports a one instead of a zero. It would have been easy for the Coyotes' players to approach a road date with the Toronto Maple Leafs, especially coming off a pair of season-opening blowouts, with apathy. But they didn't. Not even close, actually. The Coyotes played that midseason weeknight meeting like it was Game 7. And do you want to know why? 

It's because players don't tank. 

At the end of the day, these are still people – capable of self-awareness and exhibiting pride. The players aren't in this to lose every game, even if their bosses might feel the opposite. And so, they're going to give it their all, expectations be damned. 

"Everything's a learning curve," explained Coyotes defenseman Shane Gostisbehere following Monday's win in Toronto. 

"We have such young guys who are getting great opportunities that they might not get elsewhere. Compared to these other organizations that are pushing, we're in a bit of a different situation. We're rebuilding. And it's a good experience for them in the sense that it's hard to get two points in this league. It really is. And you can't let down any time."

These wins, the ones where you scratch and claw and give everything you can against a contender, mean a lot to a team like the Coyotes. Perhaps more so than anyone else. 

"I'm not going to lie, it feels good to have that type of confidence," said forward Christian Fischer of the team's mood after beating the Maple Leafs. 

"We all know what they (the Maple Leafs) are capable of. So, I'm just really proud of the team for coming in and working our butt off...It definitely feels good to get the first one under our belt, especially with 15 or 16 new guys on this team."

The realities of a rebuild dictate that a good chunk of the players that earned that win will likely not finish the season with the Coyotes. Change is constant in the desert, and the Coyotes' locker room seems content to just make the best of what they have. 

They might not have much. And what they make of it almost certainly will be a bottom-of-the-basement finish. But even so, you can't accuse them of not giving their all every step of the way. 

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