What the Coyotes are thankful for in the 2021-22 season
As the holiday season approaches, PHR will take a look at what teams are thankful for as the season heads toward the quarter mark. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Arizona Coyotes.
What are the Coyotes most thankful for?
The flat salary cap.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to hit pause on the 2019-20 season, limited attendance figures across the league and ended the natural rise of the salary cap, teams all around the league were stuck with bad contracts that they could no longer afford. Enter the Coyotes, which used their massive amount of cap space to leverage draft picks and futures out of several transactions this summer. The team now has eight picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 NHL Draft, while its actual salary expenditure comes nowhere near the collective cap hit of the players Arizona accumulated.
Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Anton Stralman, Shayne Gostisbehere and Andrew Ladd were all considered bad contracts, but the Coyotes welcomed them with open arms if it meant adding future assets. None of those deals lasts more than two seasons, meaning the Coyotes will be free to do as they like down the road.
Whom are the Coyotes most thankful for?
It’s hard to know if Armstrong has what it takes to build a winner, but at least Coyotes fans have a clear plan to cheer for right now. The team is bad this season. It will probably be bad for the next several seasons. That’s better than, as Armstrong put it recently, making the playoffs “once every four years — if lucky, get by a first round, but most times get beat out.”
There will be a lot of pressure on Armstrong to pick the right players with these draft picks he has accumulated, but don’t forget that the team brought in some help for the rookie GM. Director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski was one of Armstrong’s first hires, bringing him to Arizona after 12 years as the assistant director of amateur scouting with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plandowski and Armstrong weren’t allowed to participate in the 2020 draft for Arizona because of their previous roles but were responsible for the 2021 group that was headlined by Dylan Guenther (9th overall) and Josh Doan (37th).
What would the Coyotes be even more thankful for?
A healthy deadline market.
There’s little doubt that Armstrong and company would be willing to trade almost anyone on the roster at this point. Their deadline prizes include Phil Kessel, Ryan Dzingel and Ilya Lyubushkin, among others. Perhaps a player like Gostisbehere, who is experiencing a renaissance in the desert, would also fetch a price if the Coyotes retained salary, despite the Philadelphia Flyers spending two draft picks to get him off the books a few months ago. It’s really not about getting prime, franchise-changing assets at this deadline, but any small piece that can add to the pile would be appreciated.
One thing to note is that because they retained salary on Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Darcy Kuemper already, the Coyotes can’t just trade everyone at a slashed cap hit. They can only retain salary on one more contract for this season — though, Kuemper’s retention expires at the end of the year so they can do it a couple of times again in 2022-23.
What should be on the Coyotes’ holiday wish list?
Draft picks, draft picks and maybe another few veterans?
Quite frankly, the Coyotes don’t want to be good next year. They don’t want to add a young player who breaks out in 2022-23 and leads them to challenge for a playoff spot. They’re stripping it down to the bones, and with the 2023 draft being so impressive (at least at the top), they want to be in the mix for the first-overall pick.
In fact, they actually may turn into something of a buyer at the deadline, if only to take on even more bad money in the form of overpaid veterans. A player like Brett Connolly, currently buried in the minor leagues for the Chicago Blackhawks but still costing them $2.375M against the cap, is a perfect target for a team like the Coyotes. He could fill out a spot on their team next year without the risk of really turning them into a contender and potentially even be flipped at the 2023 deadline if things go well. There are many players like this around the league, all whom could be collected if Armstrong still wants to weaponize his cap space further.