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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