Arizona Coyotes 2021-22 season preview
During the offseason, general manager Bill Armstrong decided the Arizona Coyotes weren’t good enough and needed to be rebuilt.
He then blew up the team completely. Only nine players from the opening night roster were in the organization last season, and one of them, Victor SÃ¶derstrÃ¶m, played for the AHL last season, not the NHL.
And Armstrong didn’t think the list was the only thing that needed restructuring. The Coyotes and Rick Tocchet have agreed to separate when his contract expires and this season the Coyotes will be coached by AndrÃ© Tourigny.
Tourigny is a pick that makes sense for the Coyotes, even if it isn’t the traditional NHL hiring. Most of his experience is in the juniors, having coached several years in the QMJHL, OHL and Hockey Canada at international competitions. A rebuilding team like the Coyotes will have plenty of young prospects over the next few seasons, and it makes sense to bring in a coach who has coached young players before.
Key additions: Jay Beagle (F), Travis Boyd (F), Ryan Dzingel (F), Loui Eriksson (F), Dmitrij JaÅ¡kin (F), Andrew Ladd (F), Antoine Roussel (F), Shayne Gostisbehere (D), Vladislav Provolnev (D), Anton StÃ¥lman (D), Conor Timmins (D), Carter Hutton (L), Karel Vejmelka (L)
Key subtractions: Derick Brassard (F), Michael Bunting (F), Christian Dvorak (F), Conor Garland (F), John Hayden (F), Tyler Pitlick (F), Jason Demers (D), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (D), Alex Goligoski (R), Niklas Hjalmarsson (D), Jordan Oesterle (D), Adin Hill (L), Darcy Kuemper (L), Antti Raanta (L)
And due to the insane amount of roster moves, we’ve decided to delay this prediction for a few games. It’s practically a different team, and there was just no way to assess them without seeing them play.
Something to prove
The Coyotes are full of players looking to show they still have it. The team have acquired veterans like Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd and Anton StrÃ¥lman, players who can be overpaid but can still play. And so far, they’ve had plenty of opportunities to show what they can do, getting top-tier minutes and being a big part of the Coyotes offense.
Forward Alex Galchenyuk is perhaps the hottest new player with something to prove. Galchenyuk first signed on for a professional tryout with the Coyotes before signing a one-year contract during the preseason.
Since leaving the Coyotes, Galchenyuk has been part of the Pittsburgh penguins, Minnesota Savage, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs. After struggling to find a spot with multiple teams, he seemed to be doing well in Toronto and was good enough to win a contract which he refuse play with the Coyotes.
Galchenyuk is currently out with an upper body injury and has yet to make his regular season debut with the Coyotes.
Plus, the Coyotes have a lot of local players looking to make a difference.
Lawson Crouse had a tough season last year where he finished with just four goals and nine assists in 51 games. This was accompanied by a career-low 5.7 shooting percentage, suggesting Crouse should have a rebound year.
We’re also hoping to see a lot more from Clayton Keller this season. With the Coyotes shipping some of their bigger offensive weapons, it will be up to players like Keller to pick up the pieces.
Keller has always been a lightning rod for critics, which happens when you are the highest paid player on your team. However, Keller looked better last season and was on pace for 21 goals and 31 assists in a full 82-game season. He has already scored his first goal of the regular season.
A race to the bottom
The best scenario for the 2021-22 season is to finish with the best odds in the draft lottery and get the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Draft in 2022. And the Coyotes have already faced two teams that will likely join them in this race down, the Buffalo Sabers and the Columbus blue jackets. Both teams beat the Coyotes, the Sabers won in a shootout and the Blue Jackets routed the Coyotes 8-2.
We’ve seen crazy moves made by teams hoping to get a high draft pick in the past. Teams will often trade players who are playing too well as they are looking for ways to win fewer matches.
We saw a great goalie performance from rookie Karel Vejmelka in the team’s second game, and if he plays too well, the Coyotes might consider moving him. And by the trade deadline, we should see teams dispatch anyone on an expiring contract who can get a return for a potential cup candidate.
There is something exciting in the race to the bottom for fans, however. As veterans are dispatched, teams often call in younger players to give them a chance. Since the team is more focused on developing their players than winning, they will be able to give players like Jan JenÃk, Barrett Hayton or Matias Maccelli some time at the end of the season.
Kessel Watch 2021
One player who was not sent during the offseason was forward Phil Kessel. Kessel is a 34-year-old veteran who reached the 20-goal plateau in 56 games last season.
After Kessel’s disappointing first season in the desert, it was great to see Phil the Thrill bounce back and show that he still has what it takes to compete in the NHL.
But despite the rebound, Kessel doesn’t fit in with a rebuilding team like the Coyotes. His veteran presence can add something to the dressing room, and the team need someone to score, but Kessel is worth more as commercial fodder.
It also seems pretty clear that Kessel doesn’t want to spend any of his remaining few years with a rebuild team. Kessel won’t have much chance of winning a Stanley cup, and he plays better with skilled players who can support him.
The Coyotes also don’t have the main reason Kessel accepted the trade with Arizona former head coach Rick Tocchet. Tocchet and Kessel have developed a great relationship in Pittsburgh, and since he’s no longer with the organization, it makes sense that Kessel is also ready to move on.
And the best way for Kessel to be traded to a competitor is to get off to a good start and show he still has it. Kessel has had an assist so far, a primary assist on Clayton Keller’s power play goal in Game 1.
Arizona Coyotes likely to be one of the last five teams in the NHL. The squad has enough question marks that we can see surprising performances from individual players, but it won’t be enough to win matches consistently.
Sadly, the lottery has historically hurt the Coyotes more than it helped. But given the depth of the 2022 draft, maybe it won’t matter if the Coyotes fail to draft Shane Wright.
Barrett Hayton will be called up in the middle of the season and will stay with the squad. It has been difficult to see issues like the CHL-NHL deal, injuries and Covid-19 hampering Barrett Hayton’s development.
And last season, despite the fact that they eventually got to play in the AHL, the Roadrunners didn’t have their regular head coach Jay Varaday or general manager. Hopefully things will go a lot easier for Hayton this year, and when the team start shedding the veterans he will have a chance to come in and take a place in the roster.
One way to watch Coyotes games this season is with ESPN +, which you can check out by clicking here.