With the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in full swing and the offseason underway for other remaining teams, uncertainty and questions linger in Glendale this offseason. General manager Bill Armstrong has a lot of areas that he needs to deal with, including finding a new coach, determining who he is going to protect in the upcoming expansion draft, who to re-sign/add or move/let go, all while trying to fix the mess ex-general manager John Chayka left behind.
One thing is for sure; the Coyotes are not in a position to be competitive when they move to the Central Division next season if changes aren’t made. Armstrong will have to look at every position on and off the ice to fix the mistakes left behind from Chayka if the team wants to get back on track and be competitive next season.
Finding a New Head Coach
One of the biggest questions people are wondering this offseason is who is going to be the new head coach for the upcoming 2021-22 season. The Coyotes currently are vacant in the head coaching position after agreeing to part ways with Rick Tocchet back on May 9th.
The decision to part ways was mutual, and Armstrong and his staff have been hard at work since to find his replacement and the eighth coach in franchise history. In his time with Arizona, Tocchet led the Coyotes to a record of 125-131-34 in 290 games while guiding the team to the playoffs in 2020 for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
It is safe to say Armstrong will be looking for the opposite of Tocchet in his next head coach. Tocchet was brought in under Chayka’s time as general manager and was met with mixed reactions from fans from the get-go. The Coyotes have a very young core that Tocchet did not utilize to their full potential under his coaching style Some leading candidates to keep an eye on would be David Quinn, John Tortorella, and Gerard Gallant. There’s plenty of other intriguing names to keep an eye out on that are looking for their chance to be behind an NHL bench as well.
Who to Protect in the Expansion Draft?
Another question that Armstrong will have to address this offseason is who to protect in the upcoming expansion draft later this offseason. It’s a safe assumption that guys such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Phil Kessel, and Jakob Chychrun will all be protected. The large contracts given out from Chayka could influence Armstrong’s decision at the same time.
One of the biggest toss-up questions this offseason is, will Armstrong choose to protect veteran goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who recently in the past two years has dealt with lower-body injuries that have seen him miss some significant time, especially this season. Or will Armstrong choose to protect Adin Hill, the 24-year-old netminder who has slowly turned into the go-to guy for the Coyotes and has steadily improved over the past two years.
Who to Move, Add, Re-Sign, and/or Let Go?
As of right now, Armstrong has quite the list of players who will either be unrestricted or restricted free agents this offseason. This list includes Conor Garland, John Hayden, Adin Hill, Derrick Brassard, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Raanta, and Michael Bunting. Armstrong also has to take the cap space into consideration after Chayka gave out questionable contracts, including an $8 million contract to Clayton Keller, one he hasn’t lived up to yet.
Armstrong will be looking to build his team through smart deals and moves. One of these would be to bring back both Garland and Bunting this offseason as well as Hill if he intends to protect him over Kuemper. Goligoski and Hjalmarsson are also two intriguing guys Armstrong will look to bring back. Goligoski has been a very effective player during his time with the Coyotes, where he’s mentored Jakob Chychrun and helped him develop into the top defenseman he is now.
Hjalmarsson is another key defenseman to the team who is an excellent shot-blocker and team leader. His age is a factor, though, as he’ll be 34 on June 6th. Armstrong would be smart to bring back his leadership and play, but per recent reports, Hjalmarsson also might look at going back home to Sweden.
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Other names to keep an eye on this offseason would be captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. After back-to-back disappointing campaigns along with a lack of leadership shown during games, Armstrong could be looking to move the Swedish defenseman after originally trying to ship the defenseman before the beginning of the season. The return may not be much, though, after two poor statistical seasons.
Fixing What Chayka Left Behind
At the end of the day, the Coyotes are a mess right now, thanks to Chayka. The team didn’t have a pick until the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Draft last season, where they drafted Mitchell Miller because of the trade that acquired Taylor Hall back at the deadline, which they ended up renouncing the rights to.
The Coyotes also had to forfeit the rights to their first-round pick this season because of combine testing violations, which in turn lead to Chayka leaving the team right before they headed to the bubble in Edmonton for their play-in series against Nashville.
Armstrong has a lot of work to do and questions to face if he wants to turn the team around and fix the mistakes Chayka left behind. After deciding to stay quiet at the deadline and put his faith in Tocchet’s system and his players backfired, Armstrong now needs to make decisions and fix the wrongs made by Chayka.
New changes are coming and potentially new faces as well. Fan favorites are going to be moved, a roster shake-up is possible, but if Arizona wants to be in the playoff hunt come next season, Armstrong will have to be aggressive and take things in a different direction.
Mr. Evans is originally from Greenville, SC where he currently resides. Mr. Evans has been involved in hockey for the past 16 years now, following the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues. During his free time, Mr. Evans enjoys spending time with his family and girlfriend as well as being up in the mountains or taking pictures. Prior to joining The Hockey Writers, Mr. Evans has been covering the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays for The Puck Authority during the current hockey season. You can find Mr. Evans on Twitter at @HaynesPEvans.