Hockey

As we’ve stated over and over every time the Coyotes show up on the schedule, the biggest obstacle to them mattering has been a lack of frontline scoring. They’ve gotten great goaltending from a couple different guys. With a blue line that contains Ekman-Larsson, Chychrun, Demers, Goligoski, and Hjalmarsson, that’s a pretty decent platform for a team. And yet the Coyotes haven’t been able to get to the playoffs, and only last season and this one have they even been in the conversation. Cast your mind back and see if you can recall a genuine top line player who donned…well, whatever color it is they wear. We’ll wait.

Don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere…

Ok, now that you’ve failed let’s get to the heart of it. There hasn’t been one. The acquisition of Taylor Hall for a song before he hits free agency was clearly meant to remedy this. So was the trade for Phil Kessel over the summer, though it might just be that age and indifference (and the hot dogs, of course) have caught up with him and his 11 goals.

Still, from within the idea was that Clayton Keller would solve this. 45 points in his only season at Boston University certainly suggested that there was a boom to come when he arrived in the desert. A rookie season of 65 points for a go-nowhere team suggested same as well.

And then it just kind of stalled out.

Keller put up 47 points last year, and is on pace for just 51 this year. Not exactly the kind of production you’d want from someone you just handed a $7.1M per season extension that Keller got before this campaign. That’s second-line production, and if Kessel is past it and Hall bolts in the summer for greener pastures, the Coyotes will be where they’ve always been. And that’s not anywhere anyone wants to be. View sucks.

But things might not be that simple. Under the hood, Keller is having a better season than that. He’s averaging 9.7 shots per 60 at evens, almost two more than last year and nearly three more than his impressive rookie season. His individual expected-goals is up to 0.81 per 60, a full 33% over his first two seasons. Same deal with his scoring chances. So he’s getting to better areas and firing away more often, but he can’t get them to go in. He’s got the lowest shooting-percentage of his career at even-strength. He also hasn’t been able to net more than twice on the power play, thanks to the Yotes man-advantage being a bit Hawks-like.

His team-wide metrics are better than they’ve ever been as well, but again, the Yotes are shooting just 6.2% when he’ on the ice. There isn’t much you can do about that when you’re getting the right amount of chances. He’s playing with Derek Stepan and Kessel at the moment, but Stepan has always been a miscast 2-3 center and Kessel we’ve been over. He could use some help. Perhaps there’s a market correction coming that will boost the Yotes to their first playoff appearance in eight seasons. That’s the dream.

The Coyotes will never go anywhere as a team, consistently, until the produce or acquire a star. And keep them there. Sure, they could spasm one good season like 2012 that makes all old hockey men lose their mud over a team that’s “MORE THAN THE SUM OF THEIR PARTS HARF HARF HARF” but you don’t stay there like that. Check out the Predators for evidence. Keller is hardly the first one who contained promise that he would be the one to break the mold for Arizona. They’re still waiting.

Hockey

Just about two years ago, we wrote a spotlight on Arizona GM John Chayka and how we hoped that one day the NHL would finally have a front office that did things differently and broke through the old ways. We wanted our Moneyball, so that the sport might actually move into the 21st century. At the time, Kyle Dubas was being Phantom of The Opera’d in Toronto, though he’s finally ascended to the actual GM chair. There aren’t too many other candidate of GMs who come from the more executive or analyst side of the ledger. Chayka is one. And two years on, we don’t see anything that will make up hope he’s going to change anything.

Oh sure, the Coyotes are tussling with the Oilers for first place in an increasingly weird Pacific Division. Do any looking under the hood though, and you’ll see that’s merely the product of having Darcy Kuemper throw a .937 at the world. The Yotes lead the league in save-percentage, and that’s enough sometimes admittedly, but are pretty terrible anywhere else you look. They’re not even a good defensive team, they just have the goalies bail them out all the time.

And worse yet, this collection of whosits and whatsits are a cap team. Sure, some of that is taking on Marian Hossa’s salary as a favor to the Hawks really, but you shouldn’t be spilling into LTIR territory to ice a team with no genuine star. Look over this team and it’s hard to find a genuine top line/pairing player. Sure, Oliver Ekman-Larsson sure has all the appearance of that and maybe the smoothest skater in the league, but he hasn’t played a game that matters in eight seasons. Didn’t Erik Karlsson drag worse teams to the playoffs in Ottawa?

Clayton Keller maybe? We’ll give you that one, but after that it’s perfect that Nick Schmaltz was an acquisition last year. This is a team full of Nick Schmatlzes. Small, fast forwards who pass through your vision without ever doing much to make you remember them as soon as they fade out of view.

Strangely, this team is already capped out for next year as well. It only has $750K in cap space for next season with 17 players signed. What’s the plan here to get a genuine star? They probably won’t be bad enough to get into the top three draft-wise, and they have no room to lure a big free agent.

Chayka brought in Phil Kessel this summer, possibly to fill in that gap, but at 32 that’s hardly likely. And that only made up for the bad trade of Alex Galchenyuk in return for sending the little mutant Max Domi to Montreal. The Canadiens certainly aren’t complaining.

Chayka has yet to get anything out of the past two drafts other than 12 games out of Barrett Hayton, and his first round pick from ’17 was part of the Kessel trade. As it was when we last looked at this, Keller and Jakob Chychrun remain his only hits in the draft, and they look to be more second line/pairing products. Which you need, but you also need the stars they support.

Clearly money is not a problem in the desert, because of their cap status the next two years. Maybe Chayka can move along Demers and Goligoski in the last years of their deals to open up about $7M, but is that enough? Dvorak, Schmaltz, Fischer, and Keller have all been given reasonable extensions, but one might want to ask why? Where is this going?

Maybe it’s two years down the line that Chayka has circled, when Stepan, Grabner, Hjalmarsson, and the vets mentioned above come off the books and the kids should be entering their prime. Perhaps no final judgements can be made until then. Brayden Burke will join up by then, as will one or two other kids. But does Chayka have two more years without a playoff berth? If Kuemper drags them to one this year it’ll buy him the time. Maybe the Pacific’s remedial nature this year will also help. But building a fringe playoff team shouldn’t be the long-term goal. The playoffs are merely a step. Do you see a contender in the offing here?

Everything Else

Catherine Silverman covers the Yotes for The Athletic, as well as working as a goalie expert of In Goal Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @CatMSilverman. This is the Q&A we did with her a couple weeks ago when the Coyotes were here.

The Yotes have hung around the playoff picture, and yet they don’t have anyone who has scored over 42 points. Is this all or mostly Darcy Kuemper‘s resurgence?

So, let me preface this as saying that I think that Darcy Kuemper has been a really solid part of the team this year. He’s had his moments that put your heart in your throat, but he’s internalized the need to play well for the team’s playoff hopes and gotten the job done. 

That being said, I think that the biggest contributor to their success has been their scoring depth. They don’t have anyone over 42 points, but they have 11 players with 20 or more points and 10 players with 10 or more goals. In comparison, the Blackhawks have a 96-point getter, but also only have 10 players with 20 or more points — and they only have eight players with 10 or more goals. It’s why the Dallas Stars have a 61-point player in Tyler Seguin, but are still hanging around Arizona; they only have five players with 10 or more goals. 

While the more top-heavy teams live and die by the success of their stars, Arizona has been getting effective middle-six production from… well, everyone. Add in their injuries (if you project players like Schmaltz, Richardson, Galchenyuk, and Grabner onto an 82-game season, they’d all be sitting on much higher point totals) and their success makes a lot more sense. 

In my opinion

Look, we like Connor Murphy. We may be the only ones, but we’ll hold on. But we can’t help but notice the metrics that Niklas Hjalmarsson is turning in these days. Starting in his own zone most of the time, against the toughest competition, and turning it around. Is that to do with playing with Ekman-Larsson? Because Hammer was starting to turn here before the trade…

I think it has a bit to do with it, but Ekman-Larsson certainly isn’t propping Hjalmarsson up if that’s what you’re insinuating. Isolated on his own, Nik has been one of Arizona’s best players all year; he’s looking incredibly effective, and very much like the player that Chicago initially signed to his current deal. 

It’s possible that the rest from no playoffs last year combined with missed time for injury legitimately gave him enough rest to refuel his tank. Whatever it is, though, he’s looking fantastic.  

We were also Alex Galchenyuk fans and though Arizona got the better of that deal. He’s produced ok, been hurt a bit, but maybe not yet what we were thinking. What is he to someone who watches him far more?

He’s been exactly what the team traded for. After missing the start of the season for injury, he had a bit of a slow start — understandable when coming in with the season in full swing on a brand-new team. 

In the last few months, though, he’s been one of their best players. He’s excellent on the power-play, has 15 goals and 36 points in 57 games (which would be 43 points if he’d missed no time, putting him over that 42-point threshold), and has won 46 percent of his face-offs — his highest percentage in three years. 

Since February 1st, he’s put up seven goals and 11 points in 17 games. If he can continue to perform on the power-play like he has lately — and, frankly, continue to set up plays for Clayton Keller like he has been, even when it doesn’t get him a point on the board — he’ll continue to prove to be a fantastic add for the team. 

Three points out, game in hand on the Wild, 15 to go. Can the Yotes do it?

Three points out and two games in hand now, since the Wild forgot they were playing tonight. But I’d say at this point, it’s really anyone’s game — meaning that I won’t be putting money on Arizona, but I won’t be surprised at all if they make it either. 

Jason Demers is healthy again. Michael Grabner is healthy again. Antti Raanta is getting close. They’ve survived the first of potentially four to six weeks without Derek Stepan, and only lost one game in the process. I think if they put up the kind of performance they did down the back stretch last year, especially with Colorado losing one of their own top-heavy talents and Minnesota and Dallas struggling with consistency, they could easily slip their way in. 

 

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It’s not going to work out for the Yotes again, but there was a time when it looked like it might. And hey, if they run the table the rest of the season, they just might sneak a playoff spot. Which would actually be the wrong reinforcement for what they do down there.

But whenever a team like this is just a little better than it was thought they’d be (and we leave it to you to decide whether the Yotes are better or the conference is just that much worse), their supporters and media like to trumpet and champion their faceless nature. That they don’t need stars or have somehow found a way to do it through group effort. Their total is greater than the sum of their parts and more cockameemee gobbledygook like that.

It’s not true, of course. The Coyotes haven’t been able to produce “a star” with their bevy of top-10 picks, which is a failure. Clayton Keller might be that one day, though even in just his second year you’d probably know by now. The reason the Coyotes suck–and let’s be real, if you’re outside the playoffs in the West you suck–is that they don’t score enough. 4th least amount of goals in the entire league. And they don’t score enough because they don’t have the talent.

As much as hockey likes to bill itself as the ultimate team game and 4th liners get over-glorified on Cup winners, you win the important games at times because you have one or two guys the other team doesn’t. There’s a game or two on the run where your best player just decides you’re going to win. You’ve seen enough of them around here to know what they look like. Fuck, Duncan Keith did it for a whole spring.

Name the last Cup champ to not have that guy. You can’t do it. Maybe the Bruins of ’11, except they had a goalie throwing a .945 in the playoffs. And they still had Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand, Chara in front of that, players better than anything the Coyotes have managed to find or develop.

Arizona is not going to rise out of the muck they’ve resided in for their entire existence until they find one or two or three of those guys. They can play the “team” card all they want, so can their fans, in a bid to justify their existence or dedication. It’s kind of a Stockholm Syndrom. And as long as they do that, the 8th-seed is the best they can hope for. They should be offer-sheeting the shit out of Mitch Marner or throwing everything at Erik Karlsson or the like.

Until then, feel free to pretty much ignore.

 

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vs.

RECORDS: Coyotes 34-29-5   Hawks 29-30-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THEY CALL THEM THE DESERT DOGS: Five For Howling

The Hawks are going to tell you they’re not done yet. They are, but we’ll excuse them if it makes doing their jobs easier if they believe it’s for something. So with the Yotes on the schedule twice, the Avs on the schedule twice, and the Canucks on their once in the next two weeks, the Hawks can at least make things passably interesting by winning all of those games, as well as finding a way to steal two points out of either Montreal or Toronto. Then we’ll just where they are, but that’s that kind of run it’s going to take. And no overtime bullshit, in the words of Cuervo Jones.

It starts tonight with the second visit of the Arizona Coyotes, who are sitting right on the shoulder of the Minnesota Wild in the last playoff spot, one point with one game in hand. If results go their way tonight they will wake up in the morning in the playoffs. It’s certainly not what you were expecting.

So how did they get here, with this beautiful house and beautiful wife? The headline is Darcy Kuemper, who is the latest goalie to find himself in the desert. Since the turn of the calendar he’s been unconscious, with a .925 SV% and having won nine of his last 10 starts. When you’re getting that goaltending, you don’t have to do too much else. Which is good, because the Coyotes don’t really.

They’re a middling possession team, and still have been since Kuemper went supernova. Even in the last month their in the bottom half of the league in Corsi and scoring chances and shooting-percentage. It’s Kuemper pulling an Atlas act for the most part. What they do have is just enough pieces to get just enough goals and just enough speed to make things uncomfortable for teams, especially ones as slow as the Hawks are. There’s Keller on the first line, Crouse and Archibald on the second, Galchenyuk on the third, and Vinnie Bag O’ Donuts on the 4th. All have 10 goals or more, along with Brad Richardson‘s 16, and though none are stars (there’s still hope for Keller) there’s competence everywhere. No black holes, as it were.

The only true star is on the back end in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has combined wonderfully with Niklas Hjalmarsson. They take the hardest shifts in terms of place and opponent, and they still turn the ice over. It’s infuriating. Alex Goligoski has apparently gotten over just a rotten start to his Yotes career the past two years, with the help of possible-stalwart Jakob Chychrun and his missing vowels. Having Jason Demers on your third-pairing is a real treat, and this is the understated strength of the team. They’re not the Hurricanes or anything, but they’re a hell of a way ahead of the Hawks in that category.

For the Hawks, they’ll basically aim to keep things as they’ve been. Corey Crawford will get a chance to build on what was his easiest start of the year, as will the Hawks on that defensive effort. The only other change you might see is Slater Koekkoek in for either Dahlstrom or Forsling, but even that isn’t all that likely.

As strange as it may sound, the Yotes are a tougher match up for the Hawks than the Stars. Whereas Dallas has really nothing below the top two lines, the Coyotes at least have more speed than that. Galchenyuk, Richardson, Hinostroza, Fischer are all lurking in the bottom six, and the thought of Michael Grabner bearing down on Seabrook’s side at any point is one that will start to bend the dimensions in your mind. While they’re not lethal, they have potential, and with the way Kuemper is going they don’t need a lot. Then again, the Yotes are in St. Louis tomorrow night and may save Kuemper for that, and the Hawks could benefit from getting a look at a backup (Calvin Pickard) for the second straight game. The Blues one is clearly the harder one. We’ll see later on.

If they’re going to insist on doing something silly, then it started on Thursday. It’s going to be near impossible, but why should anything else make sense this season?

 

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Catherine Silverman covers the Yotes for The Athletic, as well as working as a goalie expert of In Goal Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @CatMSilverman. 

The Yotes have hung around the playoff picture, and yet they don’t have anyone who has scored over 42 points. Is this all or mostly Darcy Kuemper‘s resurgence?

So, let me preface this as saying that I think that Darcy Kuemper has been a really solid part of the team this year. He’s had his moments that put your heart in your throat, but he’s internalized the need to play well for the team’s playoff hopes and gotten the job done. 

That being said, I think that the biggest contributor to their success has been their scoring depth. They don’t have anyone over 42 points, but they have 11 players with 20 or more points and 10 players with 10 or more goals. In comparison, the Blackhawks have a 96-point getter, but also only have 10 players with 20 or more points — and they only have eight players with 10 or more goals. It’s why the Dallas Stars have a 61-point player in Tyler Seguin, but are still hanging around Arizona; they only have five players with 10 or more goals. 

While the more top-heavy teams live and die by the success of their stars, Arizona has been getting effective middle-six production from… well, everyone. Add in their injuries (if you project players like Schmaltz, Richardson, Galchenyuk, and Grabner onto an 82-game season, they’d all be sitting on much higher point totals) and their success makes a lot more sense. 

In my opinion

Look, we like Connor Murphy. We may be the only ones, but we’ll hold on. But we can’t help but notice the metrics that Niklas Hjalmarsson is turning in these days. Starting in his own zone most of the time, against the toughest competition, and turning it around. Is that to do with playing with Ekman-Larsson? Because Hammer was starting to turn here before the trade…

I think it has a bit to do with it, but Ekman-Larsson certainly isn’t propping Hjalmarsson up if that’s what you’re insinuating. Isolated on his own, Nik has been one of Arizona’s best players all year; he’s looking incredibly effective, and very much like the player that Chicago initially signed to his current deal. 

It’s possible that the rest from no playoffs last year combined with missed time for injury legitimately gave him enough rest to refuel his tank. Whatever it is, though, he’s looking fantastic.  

We were also Alex Galchenyuk fans and though Arizona got the better of that deal. He’s produced ok, been hurt a bit, but maybe not yet what we were thinking. What is he to someone who watches him far more?

He’s been exactly what the team traded for. After missing the start of the season for injury, he had a bit of a slow start — understandable when coming in with the season in full swing on a brand-new team. 

In the last few months, though, he’s been one of their best players. He’s excellent on the power-play, has 15 goals and 36 points in 57 games (which would be 43 points if he’d missed no time, putting him over that 42-point threshold), and has won 46 percent of his face-offs — his highest percentage in three years. 

Since February 1st, he’s put up seven goals and 11 points in 17 games. If he can continue to perform on the power-play like he has lately — and, frankly, continue to set up plays for Clayton Keller like he has been, even when it doesn’t get him a point on the board — he’ll continue to prove to be a fantastic add for the team. 

Three points out, game in hand on the Wild, 15 to go. Can the Yotes do it?

Three points out and two games in hand now, since the Wild forgot they were playing tonight. But I’d say at this point, it’s really anyone’s game — meaning that I won’t be putting money on Arizona, but I won’t be surprised at all if they make it either. 

Jason Demers is healthy again. Michael Grabner is healthy again. Antti Raanta is getting close. They’ve survived the first of potentially four to six weeks without Derek Stepan, and only lost one game in the process. I think if they put up the kind of performance they did down the back stretch last year, especially with Colorado losing one of their own top-heavy talents and Minnesota and Dallas struggling with consistency, they could easily slip their way in. 

 

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Oh right, the Arizona Coyotes.

That’s how I feel every time I hear their name. Like that cousin you’ve met once. You never think about them, and quite often you forget they exist. And then you’re reminded that yes, they are in some small way part of your life and there are distant memories of them. They are connected, somehow, to your life, if only by the thinnest of threads. You’re not sure why they are, you’re definitely sure you don’t give a rat’s ass, and yet that string-connection is still there.

We’ve been assured that their GM, John Chayka, is a computer boy genius, and in that way I want to root for him. For hockey to ever change out of its thinking that causes the Flintstones to tug their collars (if they had collars), it’s going to need some analytical front office to be a consistent winner. Maybe the obstacles in Arizona are just too large; given an internal budget, lack of fans, uncertain future, etc. But we’ve been promised there’s a plan for years now, and the Yotes have failed to come within warp drive capability of a playoff spot in six seasons.

And it’s going to be a seventh. Let’s hop to it.

2017-2018: 29-41-12 70 points  208 GF 256 GA  48 CF% 46.1 xGF%  7.2 SH% .921 SV%

Goalies: Here’s something weird: You know how we say that if you have a good goalie it’s really hard to suck? Well, the Yotes have figured it out! Antti Raanta was really good last year! Sure, he only played half of a season due to injury, but he went .930 and .936 at evens. And I guess the Coyotes were decent enough when Raanta was in net, as they went 21-17-6 when he started, which is about an 85-point pace. Which isn’t good enough for a playoff spot or anywhere close, but it’s at least like…not remedial class. So I guess that’s what we’re counting on here if you’re counting on the Yotes. Which says something about you.

Sadly for the Yotes, everyone who tries to fill-in for him turned into basically a hallucination and might not have actually been there to stop pucks. No other goalie managed a SV% over .900 for Arizona.

What’s strange is this might be what Raanta is. This is two straight years he’s been really good, and three he’s been above league-average. As he’s 29, and this run started when he’s 27, this is his peak and this is what he looks like. So the Yotes can count on him pretty much.

The Yotes are trying to be a little more stable behind Raanta with Darcy Kuemper. He was pretty bad with the Yotes last year though, after being pretty all right with the Kings. Maybe he couldn’t handle the defensive-weakling team in front of him. Whatever, he’s probably not a .899 goalie. If he can get back to his career .912 mark, the Yotes can give Raanta a night off or survive a minor injury without needing the anti-anxiety meds every time Kemps skates to the blue paint.

Defense: So we mentioned this when Oliver Ekman-Larsson re-signed there, but the buzz was that the Coyotes had locked down one of the league’s best and could be the base for their future assault out of anonymity. But OEL has been around now for eight seasons. And all the numbers look good, both on the surface and the underlying ones. But if he were that good, would the Yotes always blow? You have to have this guy when you’re always finishing last with him? It’s curious. He’s definitely not a tomato can, and he’s almost certainly good. But great? Transcendent? Wouldn’t we have evidence of that already if he were those things? He’s going to be getting $8 mildo from here on out, and you kind of have to ask yourself for what?

All the baying and crying and lashing of innocents over the departure of Niklas Hjalmarsson last year ignored the fact that he wasn’t much good in his last year in Chicago and he was straight-up bad last year in Arizona, depending on how you look at it. If you go by strictly Corsi, he wasn’t anywhere near what you were used to, below water and below the team rate. If you go by expected goals, he was pretty good, keeping those attempts to the outside and non-threatening for the most part. With the clueless set of forwards, surrendering more attempts than you get is hardly a surprise. Keeping that from the roof caving in is probably a decent job, though now at 31 and with that mileage one has to wonder how long he can keep it up.

Jakob Chychrun came up for air last year and didn’t do much. The Yotes will expect more. Alex Goligoski was underrated in Dallas. He’s been elephant cage leavings in Arizona and is now 33. Jason Demers deserves better than the third-pairing here, and Kevin Connauton has been scenery for as long as I can remember. Jordan Oesterle is here in case you care, and you don’t. It’s not the worst unit you’ll ever see, but a lot hinges on Chychrun living up to the promise.

Forwards: The new addition here is Alex Galchenyuk, which I think could be a great trade for the Yotes if they play him at center. Fuck, given Derek Stepan‘s age and “Yeah But Who Gives A Shit?” production for at least five years now, it may be time to move him to wing. Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak occupy the other center spots, so you could see why they might want to acclimate The American With The Russian Name Who Used To Be A Canadien on a wing. Still, just because the Habs say he can’t play center is no reason to believe it. In fact, it’s a big reason you should try it.

Other than that, it’s Clayton Keller and a big bag of bums. They’ve been selling Dvorak for a while now, and he might be past his sell-by date. Michael Grabner is here to score 25 goals that you’ll see in March and go, “Wait that happened again?” It will and it won’t matter. If Nick Cousins and Brad Richardson are on your team your team isn’t any good. There are some more kids who could break through, and Yotes fans had better hope so if they want anything to watch. Again, they’re woefully short of scoring here.

Outlook: No matter what’s on the ice, it will be undone by the established moron Rick Tocchet behind the bench. I don’t know why the Coyotes haven’t taken more care of a coach to develop the young talent they keep claiming they have, but Tocchet doesn’t have to keep looking down the barrel of a 9mm wondering how it fires for us to know he doesn’t know what he’s doing. (Write in Tocchet for the Jack Adams Award now).

Even in this god-awful division, you can’t see a path for the Yotes out of it. They’re miles behind the Sharks and Knights, even with the expected regression of the latter. The Ducks are better, and they have no McDavid or Gaudreau to catch the Alberta Twins. The Kings will be boring and boorish enough to keep things tight and dry hump their way to more points.

The best the Yotes can hope for is that Keller, Dvorak, Strome, Chychrun take huge steps forward and provide hope for the near future. Maybe Barrett Hayton makes the team? Oh, and they can hope they don’t end up in Quebec, which at this point…

 

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Everything Else

If you’re one of those freaks like us that hopes one day hockey management might be moved out of the caves and stop being afraid of the sun, there’s a part of you that wants the John Chayka’s of the world to succeed. Someone is going to have to be first through the wall. It’s not Kyle Dubas in Toronto, who apparently is locked in a dark room 20 hours a day and is only let out to bathe and eat. There aren’t really any other stat-boys in GM chairs or even listened to by those in the GM chairs. The Florida experiment crashed and burned already and now Dale Tallon is trying to light the ashes on fire.

The early returns on Chayka aren’t wholly promising, though not a clear disaster either.

Chayka’s first draft saw the Coyotes with two first round picks, and both have been mainstays in the NHL this season. Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun have both flashed being top line/top pairing talent at times as well. So on that end, that’s a success. But it takes more than getting first round picks right. No other pick from the 2016 draft has come up for air yet, and neither has anyone from the last draft. Fine, whatever.

Chayka got a chance to set a new direction for the team when he got to hire his own coach this past summer. Dave Tippett finally had enough of losing in the desert and organizational chaos. And on the evidence we have so far, Chayka whiffed on this one to the point where he Javy Baez’ed and fell down. While Rick Tocchet might not have a ton of talent to work with, it’s got to be better than this. The Yotes are the worst team in the league, and basically their underlying numbers say they should be. They can’t even pin it on goaltending, as Antti Raanta has been fine when healthy, though his fill-ins haven’t been. Still, there have to be better trends for us to conclude that Tocchet has any idea what he’s doing after another “huh?” stint in Tampa. Then again, there might not have been too many coaches lining up to take over what has been a basketcase organization for a decade now. Though you could also argue that would be the perfect setting to give a younger, non-old boys club candidate a chance.

Worse yet for the Yotes, he’s not developing the young talent that’s there. Max Domi had a very promising rookie year two seasons ago. He had an injury-marred one last year. He has three goals this year, and now there are whispers that the Yotes are kicking the tires on finding him a new home. Anthony Duclair asked out as he didn’t want to be a part of this mess anymore. Dvorak and Rieder look to have stalled out a bit. It’s not enough.

Chayka’s trades and signings have been…strange. Yes, Duclair asked out and that handcuffs a GM a bit. But for an older player like Richard Panik who’s going to continue to be Richard Panik? At least take on someone else’s project so there’s hope. Alex Goligoski has been nothing short of a disaster. Derek Stepan has been ok, and if he’s here to just be an example to younger kids that’s fine. He at least grifted Tallon for Jason Demers, and if he really wants he can probably cash that chip in at the deadline too. Again, he decided to get older by swapping out Connor Murphy for Niklas Hjalmarsson, perhaps at the behest of Oliver Ekman-Larsson. But now he might have to ship out OEL, too. And just what the fuck is Zac Rinaldo doing here at all?

So far, OEL has made no noise about wanting to leave. If he were to, this deadline is when his value would be at its highest. A team acquiring him would get two playoff runs with him before he breaks the bank at 27. Otherwise you’re getting 75-cents on the dollar. Or you’re keeping him, but then you’d better draft really well and soon.

The Coyotes, if they’re on an upswing, don’t appear to be on nearly as quick of one as other rebuilding teams like the Avs or Devils. At some point this has to be kicked into high gear. Are you doing that if you lose all of Domi, Murphy, and Duclair? Is Keller enough?

And we wait for our hockey Billy Beane some more…

 

Game $56 Preview

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Game Time: 6:00
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, WGN-AM 720
I Really Wish Joe Arpaio Would Have Been Brutally Murdered In Prison: Five For Howling

It’s once again time for another tearful montage as a returning Hawks player appears in the United Center in an opposing uniform for the first time, one of the underrated aspects of how this championship window has played out, somehow being actually heartwarming, nauseating, sad, and hilarious all at the same time. Tonight would  have been that for the injured Niklas Hjalmarsson,  and this is the thanks he would have received for the absolute pounding he took while wearing red on West Madison for years, as he returns with the dog-ass (GET IT?) Coyotes.