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Arizona Coyotes: 2021-22 NHL season preview

Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 27: Phil Kessel #81 of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Clayton Keller #9 and Nick Schmaltz #8 after scoring an empty-net goal to complete a hat-trick during the third period of the NHL game against the San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on March 27, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 4-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Arizona Coyotes.

2020-21 Season Review

Record: 24-26-6 (54 points; fifth place in West Division)
Postseason: Did not qualify for playoffs; selected Dylan Guenther No. 9 overall
Offensive leader: Phil Kessel (20 goals, 23 assists, 43 points)

Free Agent Additions: Ryan Dzingel, Carter Hutton, Dmitij Jaskin, Conor Timmins (trade from Colorado), Anton Stralman (trade from Florida), Antoine Roussel (trade from Vancouver), Jay Beagle (trade from Vancouver), Loui Eriksson (trade from Vancouver), Shayne Gostisbehere (trade from Philadelphia), Josef Korenar (trade from San Jose), Travis Boyd, Andrew Ladd (trade from New York Islanders)
Free Agent Subtractions: Darcy Kuemper (trade to Colorado), Antti Raanta, Adin Hill (trade to San Jose), Christian Dvorak (trade to Montreal), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (trade to Vancouver), Alex Goligoski, Conor Garland (trade to Vancouver)

Biggest Question Facing the Coyotes

• Who will be the next player traded?

The Coyotes’ offseason has been all about completely overhauling the roster and purging it of, well, everything. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, all of the goalies, Alex Goligoski, and Christian Dvorak have all been traded or let go in free agency with nothing but future assets and draft picks coming back in return.

Given that it seems obvious that Phil Kessel is one of the next to go given his status as a pending free agent.

But will he be it?

Will it extend to more players that actually have term on their contract? Is Clayton Keller part of the rebuild, or is he a trade chip? Does Nick Schmaltz have value? What about any of the other pending unrestricted free agents on the roster (of which they are many)? The trades may have only just begun, and by the end of the season the Coyotes could have have an obscene number of draft picks at their disposal.

The only player on the roster that seems safe is defenseman Jakob Chychrun.

What’s the salary cap situation?

The salary cap situation is great, because the Coyotes not only have space to work with this season, they have almost no long-term commitments on the books. Outside of Keller they have no significant salary cap hits of any kind.

Now, what they do with that is yet to be seen.

Given the uncertain future of the team, at least regarding its arena situation, it is difficult to imagine them being major players for superstars. But it does give them flexibility to continue to be a contract dumping ground that allows them to take on more future assets. They have shown time and time again they are not afraid to do that and will weaponize their salary cap space, and there is nothing stopping them from continuing to do that.

Breakout Candidate

• Conor Timmins

He’s an intriguing player after coming over from Colorado in the Kuemper trade. He was never going to get a major role with the Avalanche given the top-heavy nature of their defense, and Arizona should present an opportunity for him to play real minutes. He put up great numbers in the American Hockey League and did not look out of place in his limited cup of coffee in the NHL.

Best-Case Scenario

The playoffs are probably not a realistic scenario here. They are moving to the Central Division where competition is going to be way more fierce than it would have been in the Pacific, and it is a roster that is clearly being torn down to the foundation. They also do not have the goaltending that kept them in games for the past couple of seasons. Going from Kuemper and Raanta to Carter Hutton and Josef Korenar is a big drop.

The best hope here is that the pending free agents play well enough to be traded elsewhere for strong returns, and that young players like Chychrun, Timmins, and Keller take big steps forward. The latter one is extremely important. The Coyotes have a huge investment in Keller and right now he does not look like a cornerstone player or a trade chip. They need him to bounce back.

Worst-Case Scenario

The worst-case scenario here might not even really be that bad in the long run. But if the goaltending does not hold out, the roster continues to get purged, potential trade assets do not perform and tank their value, and players like Keller or Timmins do not take any step forward this could quickly turn into an ugly season in the standings. The positive there is that it could lead to some draft lottery luck and maybe a franchise-changing player. But even that is far from a given because then it is in the hands of ping pong balls and the lottery.

Bottom line is they need to be able to flip some players for more assets and they need Keller to have a big year.

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