For the 378th straight year, this is the time when the Arizona Coyotes will be relevant. Their oh-so-smart and oh-so-young and oh-so-handsome GM has finally broken the code, and now all the young talent they’ve been amassing since I had hair is finally going to gel, take a huge leap forward, and save hockey in the desert. You heard it here first, motherfuckers! Actually, you’ve heard it every goddamn year from everywhere, and then by December you’re genuinely shocked when the Yotes pop up on the schedule because once again you’ve forgotten they exist.
So I’m just going to go ahead and say this year will be no different. It’s the safe bet.
39-35-8 86 points (4th in the Pacific
2.55 GF/G (28th) 2.68 GA/G (6th) -11 GD
48.7 CF% (20th) 49.2 xGF% (17th)
16.3 PP% (26th) 86.0 PK% (3rd)
Goalies: Once again, the Yotes will roll it back with the hopes that Anttie Raanta can keep the loose grip on all the gremlins that form his body and muscles, and not see them go spilling off in every direction again and miss a large chuck of the season. It happened…never. So when he once again finds himself in the infirmary, the starter’s role will be taken up by Darcy Kuemper again. Strange things happen to goalies in AZ, which is they turn good. They have a system for it. So you may remember Kuemper as the middling place-holder in Minnesota, which is what he was. But last year in Glendale he threw up a .925, which followed a season of .920 in both LA and Arizona. That doesn’t mean he’s definitively turned a corner or anything, because this is still Darcy Kuemper we’re talking about. But the Yotes seem to just get representative goaltending at worst the past few years, which they probably will again through the combo of DK and the times Raanta maintains oxygen intake.
Defense: Of course, the main problem has always been assembling skaters for Arizona. This defense still contains Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson, who were dominant last year (a single tear rolls down my cheek). Beyond that, I can’t help you. Jakob Chychrun has missed huge parts of the last two seasons through injury, so maybe this is the one where he really leaps into the main picture except I don’t know what it is he does that gets everyone with a breeze going between their legs. Even with that though, there is not much beyond this. Alex Goligoski is 34 now. Jordan Oesterle is…you know what? His name is enough. Jason Demers is solid but needs a dynamic partner, which may or may not be Chychrun. They basically need the latter to finally blossom for this to be a good unit, because they’ve had OEL for years now and all that’s gotten them is a handful of themselves and their face in the dirt.
Forwards: And here’s another issue. They hardly scored last year, and are hoping that an aging and cranky Phil Kessel will solve that problem on his lonesome. I guarantee he tries to murder Derek Stepan by Christmas when he’s not getting any passes on his tape. Nick Schmaltz is healthy after blowing out his knee, so Yotes fans can look for five great games followed by a month of him floating around the outside and avoiding contact and waiting for a breakaway pass. Clayton Keller is probably due for a step forward, and will certainly be tasked with feeding Kessel at least on the power play where the Yotes need all kinds of help. Nothing helps out a young player like having a moody sniper’s feelings weighing on him. Still, Keller’s second season was a step back, and he might not be a point-per-game player. Which the Coyotes have exactly none of.
Prediction: This team was able to goalie and defend its way to near a playoff spot last year. The hope is that Kessel and growth from Keller and one or two others will aid their scoring and power play problems, but I’m not convinced. Kessel will get you 25-30 goals until he can’t walk, but the Coyotes need more than that. He’s no longer a surefire top line winger, and there might not be another one on the roster. Keller has yet to prove that he is. Schmaltz most certainly isn’t. Everyone thought their pick of Barrett Haydon was a joke. And you’ll never convince any of us here that Rick Tocchet isn’t huffing paint and betting lines behind the bench. With the playoff bar certainly going to be higher this year than it was last year, it feels like the Yotes are still behind it. The top three spots in the Pacific are spoken for, which means scrapping for a wildcard spot. It could happen if either or both Kuemper and Raanta have great years, but that’s their most likely hope. Feels like they’re coming up short again. Which is their lot in life.
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