Coyotes find glimmers of hope after rebuilding season
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes knew it would be a difficult season after jettisoning players and contracts for future draft picks. Goals were hard to come by, hard to stop at the other end and losses piled up, often in stretches of five or more in a row.
The rebuilding led to one of the franchise’s worst seasons since relocating from Winnipeg to the Valley of the Sun, but there were just enough bright spots to believe a solid foundation has been set for the future.
“Obviously, it’s a rebuild for a reason and I think a lot of guys took steps forward not only on the ice but off the ice,” said Shayne Gostisbehere, who had 14 goals his first season with Arizona. “Leadership qualities and learning a lot about themselves as players. We’ve got a lot of young guys who got a lot of opportunity, maybe they don’t get that somewhere else.”
The Coyotes made massive changes heading into Andre Tourigny’s first season as head coach, parting ways with captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, high-scoring forward Conor Garland and their top three goalies.
That left a mix of veterans and young players who were trying to prove themselves in one way or another.
They got off to a brutal start. Arizona opened the season with 11 straight losses and 14 in its first 15 games, looking like it was headed toward one of the worst years in NHL history.
The Coyotes finally started putting a few wins together in November and had a stretch of six wins in seven games to kick off March. They also closed the season with three straight wins, including 5-4 over Nashville after falling into a 4-0 hole their final game at Gila River Arena.
The good stretches gave them something to lean on after finishing with the NHL’s second-worst record at 25-50-7 (57 points).
“We had a lot of adversity, a lot of character, a lot of growth,” Tourigny said. “What our team overcame during the season will carry on for a long time for us.”
OFFENSE AND DEFENSE
Arizona struggled at both ends of the ice most of the season.
The Coyotes finished last in the NHL with 206 goals (2.51 per game) and were third-worst defensively, allowing 309 (3.77). They also were 30th on the power play, converting 13.9%, and 29th on the penalty kill at 75%.
Arizona found a short-term solution for its long-running bid to find a permanent home.
The Coyotes will play the first of three seasons at Arizona State’s new hockey arena next year after the city of Glendale announced it will not renew their lease at Gila River Arena. The team had been playing at the arena on an annual lease since Glendale voted to terminate a 15-year, $225 million agreement in 2015.
Arizona State’s arena will hold 5,000 fans, making it by far the smallest in the NHL. The Coyotes submitted a bid to buy a tract of land in Tempe in what could be the first step toward landing a permanent home.
“I think it will be a hard building to come into and win next year and that’s certainly going to make it a lot of fun playing every night.” Coyotes center Travis Boyd said.
The Coyotes have several players who are unrestricted free agents this offseason, including Phil Kessel, Loui Eriksson, Anton Stralman and Andrew Ladd. Kessel is eight games from breaking Keith Yandle’s consecutive-games played streak of 989 and may want to play for a playoff contender.
Arizona also must decide whether to keep defenseman Jakob Chychrun after he was the target of trade speculation at the deadline. The 24-year-old led all NHL defensemen in goals with 18 and had 14 assists in 2021-22.
The Coyotes are hoping to rebuild through the draft, following the blueprint set by Pittsburgh, Washington and Tampa Bay in recent years.
Arizona has accumulated numerous high picks for the next two drafts, including three first-rounders and five second-rounders this year. The 2022 draft will include expected No. 1 overall pick Shane Wright, who has been projected to be a generational player in the vein of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
The Coyotes have the second-best odds to land the top pick behind Montreal.