Our Arizona Coyotes 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season!
In the 2018/19 season, the Arizona Coyotes season could be summed up with the phrase: “fighting through adversity”. The Coyotes were absolutely riddled with injuries all season. Netminder Antti Raanta had a shaky start to the season and had a season ending injury at the end of November. Backup Darcy Keumper slotted into the starter role in Raanta’s absence and had an amazing performance. He went 27-20-8 with a GAA of 2.33 and a save % of .925. Kuemper’s performance is extremely admirable when you consider that the Coyotes were third in man games lost due to injury and often times were icing a team featuring a lot of call up non opening day roster players.
Despite this, the team still had an impressive legitimate push where they were in contention for the bottom seed playoff spots in the western conference. With the Yotes not making the playoffs in 7 straight seasons, the organization has been making a lot of changes. On the trade block, the Coyotes have been quite active in a lot of small deals, but since John Chayka took over as General Manager in May 2016, the Coyotes have been involved in a number of larger trades also. Prior to last season the team acquired Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens in a one for one deal for Max Domi. Galchenyuk was injured for the beginning of the season but still saw 72 games of action. He had his lowest point total since the 2013/14 season and he dropped from 51 points in 82 games at a pace of 0.62 point per game (ppg) to 41 points in 72 games at a pace of 0.56 ppg with the Coyotes. On the other side of the trade, Domi had a career year with 72pts in Montreal. Seems like the yotes got the short end of the stick on that one, with Galchenyuk never really reaching his potential in the desert. Unfortunately during the 2018/19 season the Coyotes had another trade follow this pattern when they effectively gave up on the development of Dylan Strome and traded him (along with Brandon Perlini) mid season to the Chicago Blackhawks for Nick Schmaltz. Chayka was brutally honest and said that hope is not a good way to build a team when he discussed the trade. Strome, perhaps inspired by this went on a tear in Chicago with his old junior teammate Alex Debrincat, and Schmaltz was lighting it up in Arizona with 14 points in 17 games before being sidelined for the season with a lower body injury.
The Coyotes have been shaking things up for the past two seasons and this off season saw a change in the club’s ownership when Alex Meruelo bought a majority share to become the first latino owner in the NHL. Meruelo has already been vocal about his desire for the team to win. Lucky him, the team made a huge move to change the direction the team is going in.
Since the end of the season, the Yotes have been active. They aim to fix their injury woes by acquiring one of the leagues leading iron men…Phil Kessel. Coyotes fans should be excited that Phil Kessel has played 774 games straight since October 2009. They’ll also be happy that he is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion who knows how to score, carry the puck and set up his line mates. Perhaps most important of all is that Phil’s former reputation as a coach killer or an uncoachable player should be put to rest. Phil won two cups with now Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet as his assistant coach in Pittsburgh. The two will be reunited in the desert and Tocchet will be sure to rely upon Phil Kessel to drive offensive play.
Ultimately it’s tough to say if the Coyotes’ roster got better this offseason. They added one big name player but saw a lot of turnover on the roster. Another factor that makes Arizona tough to evaluate is the fact that the team was absolutely plagued with injuries last season, meaning that we didn’t really get a solid baseline last season to judge off of.
Phil Kessel will bring a tonne of experience and scoring to the top line on the right wing and the number one powerplay. The potential issue is who will be his centreman? Derek Stepan and Nick Schmaltz seem like solid a solid fit but my money is on Christian Dvorak who missed 62 games last season getting some minutes with Phil down the middle or on the opposite wing.
The potential issue for the Coyotes is scoring depth and injuries. They had a lot of middle and depth forwards leave this off season, and they haven’t brought in a lot of free agents to replace them. Carl Soderberg will provide some bench strength for the middle six forwards. Soderberg isn’t fast, but he’s a good all around forward with some skills at both ends of the rink. Look for Clayton Keller to have a bounceback year after dropping in point totals last season. The Coyotes inked Lawson Crouse to a three year $4.6 million bridge deal, and with the lineup shake-up he may be able to fight for a top 6 spot. If the club can win hockey games all season by scoring by committee, getting the entire lineup to contribute, and stay healthy, they have a real shot of making the playoffs. But that could be a tough ask with the luck Arizona has been having the last couple years.
The Coyotes blueline has stayed the same from last season. Ekman-Larsson, Demers, Chychrun and Hjalmarsson round out the top 4. Demers and Chychrun both missed substantial time last season, so hopefully they can stay healthy and help stabilize the back end. Veteran Alex Goligoski had his lowest point total in six seasons last year, but can still look to contribute on either the second or third pairing. Third pairing/7th d men Jordan Oesterle, Kyle Capobianco and Ilya Lyubushkin will provide some bench strength on the blueline. Lyubushkin came over from the KHL last season and just signed a one year contract extension, he seemed to get better as the season went on so it’s fair to say he may get some more opportunities this season. The Coyotes also bolstered their defensive depth by adding Daniel Birks and Aaron Ness who are seasoned call up d-men on 2 way deals.
This is where it can get interesting for the team. Do you keep with Kuemper who was dynamite last season when the team need him, or give Raanta the starter job again? I think we could see the team utilize a 1A 1B type arrangement which worked wonders for the Islanders last season with Lehner and Greiss.
Arizona Coyotes 2019-20 Prediction
4-5 Pacific Division #2 wildcard
Despite the Coyotes losing a lot of depth forwards. My personal opinion is that this roster may just hold their own in a tough pacific division. Phil Kessel could be a very interesting pick-up and is a promising addition to turn around the Coyotes struggles, but they seem to be a couple key forwards away from really being playoff bound. If the current roster manages to stay healthy, they could be battling for a low seed divisional spot, or a wild card playoff seed.