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2021-22 Arizona Coyotes Preview: Can they stay in Arizona?

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The Coyotes are playing for a playoff spot ... and a new arena in Arizona.

Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller (9) keeps the puck away from San Jose Sharks right wing Kevin Labanc (62) during the San Jose Sharks game versus the Arizona Coyotes on May 8, 2021, at SAP Center at San Jose in San Jose, CA. Photo by Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the 2021-22 season, the Arizona Coyotes are searching for sustained postseason success ... and a new arena. The Coyotes have struggled with a lack of offensive production, inconsistent blue line efforts and generating enough money to make a profit on their Glendale arena contract.

However, there’s hope on the horizon for the Coyotes. An off-season filled with trades, a successful entry draft and a new bid to build an arena in Tempe, Arizona all indicates that while the cup isn’t within reach now, the pieces to secure long-term success are all there.

Bearing in mind that the Coyotes are playing for a new arena this season, there’s a great deal of pressure on the players to showcase a significant improvement to last season.

Where they left off

The Coyotes’ past three seasons have been decidedly average. Not terrible enough to worry about needing a rebuild, but not exciting enough for fans to expect them to break out of the first round. In the 2018-19 season, the Coyotes’ record was 34-25-8. The 2019-20 season was more of the same with a record of 33-29-8, and last year followed the pattern with a record of 24-26-6.

The team has yet to have a true break-out season, with the closest they came being their brief playoff appearance in the 2019-20 postseason bubble, when they exited in the first round. It’s always been clear what the Coyotes’ weaknesses are; goal-scoring, defense and energy, and no more can the Coyotes keep on with business as usual.

With a looming expiration date on their presence in Glendale and a general frustration within the fanbase, management and players on their difficulty in reaching that next level, the 2021-22 season is crucial in demonstrating that this team is worth the time and energy it takes to keep them in Arizona.

2021 Entry Draft

The entry draft was a key moment for management to demonstrate that they’re planning for the future of the team. It’s as much business as it is political — with a successful entry draft, they can hold onto fans’ excitement and leverage the Coyotes’ exciting future success to possible new locations.

Just before the draft, the Coyotes initiated a blockbuster trade with Vancouver that sent Captain Oliver Ekman Larsson (OEL) and Conor Garland to the Canucks in return for Jay Beagle, Louis Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, a 2021 first-round pick, a 2021 seventh-round pick and a second-round pick in 2022. It gave the Coyotes their only first-round pick, and sent the ball rolling for a successful draft (that will hopefully appease the owners).

Along with trades to get key picks, Arizona also revitalized their scouting staff ahead of this draft in November of 2020, which is another sign that Arizona is trying to show potential home cities that they mean business.

Their first-round pick from Vancouver was used to take forward Dylan Guenther of the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings. He’s a physical player with an offensive sense and strong shot that the Coyotes sorely need, and his power and control will be a welcome addition to their roster. Guenther clearly likes the number twelve: In 12 games, Guenther had 12 goals, 12 assists, 2 penalty minutes and a +19.

Their second pick was Josh Doan, and if that name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he’s the son of former Coyotes captain Shane Doan. While this pick is a feel-good moment and a smart choice because of Doan’s abilities, it also creates the beginning of a legacy. Larger market US teams such as the Boston Bruins or the Chicago Blackhawks have the benefit of history and legacy, which not only creates sustained fan interest and involvement, but cements their physical presence in those locations. For the Coyotes, who need to appeal to an Arizona fanbase and locale, they have to leverage their brief history as much as possible. Doan has proven to be a consistent goal-scorer for the USHL Chicago Steel, where he spent the 2020-21 season. In 53 games he had 31 goals, 39 assists, 41 PIMs and a +22.

Both of these players are excellent and expected pickups for the team, but the rest of the Coyotes’ draft picks followed along a similar path; they searched for offensively-minded players who are flexible in in-game situations.

The full list of the Coyotes picks are:

Round 1 (9th overall): Dylan Guenther
Round 2 (37th): Josh Doan
Round 2 (43rd): Ilya Fedotov
Round 2 (6oth): Janis Jerome Moser
Round 4 (107th): Emil Martinson Lilleberg
Round 4 (122nd): Rasmus Korhonen
Round 5 (139th): Manix Landry
Round 6 (171st): Cal Thomas
Round 7 (223rd): Sam Lipkin

Roster

This next season is all about the Coyotes appealing to not only Tempe, but the state itself, to illustrate that the team deserves to stay in Arizona, and that they’ve made a considerable effort to make strides this year towards the sustained success Glendale was impatient for.

Besides the OEL trade that allowed the Coyotes to pick Dylan Guenther and Sam Lipkin in the Entry Draft, Bill Armstrong and his team approached free agency and trades with admirable confidence.

Goaltender Darcy Kuemper was traded to the Colorado Avalanche to replace Philip Grubauer. In exchange, the Coyotes received Conor Timmins, a first-round pick in 2022, and a conditional third-round pick in 2024. Backup goaltender Antti Raanta signed a two-year, $4 million yearly contract as an unrestricted free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes. Alex Goliogoski, Arizona’s sleeper defenseman who plays a punishing, mobile style of play left as a UFA as well to sign a one-year, $5 million deal with the Minnesota Wild.

That’s not the end of the Coyotes refreshing their goaltending, however. Arizona traded goaltender Adin Hill to the San Jose Sharks in return for Sharks depth goaltender Josef Korenar and a 2022 second-round pick. While Korenar mostly spent his time with the San Jose Barracuda in the AHL, he played 10 games for the Sharks for a 3.17 Goals-Against Average (GAA) and a 0.899 save percentage (SV%).

Along with Korenar, the Coyotes signed UFA Carter Hutton to a one-year, $750,000 deal to replace Raanta. For the Buffalo Sabres, Hutton played 13 games, posting a 3.47 GAA and a 0.886 SV%.

It’s not just the net that received some new faces. If Jay Beagle and Shanye Ghostisbhere can have bounce-back seasons, those pick-ups could look like a steal for the Coyotes. Picked up in the OEL trade, Beagle struggled in Vancouver, but he adds depth to the forward lines in Arizona. His last season with the Canucks culminated in 30 games, 1 goal, 4 assists, 8 PIMs and a -2.

For Ghostisbhere, he’s been on the outs with the Philadelphia Flyers’ management for a while. At times, he was a healthy scratch during the season, and his name populated Philly trade rumors with a religious fervor. The idea is that a change of scenery and a less-rabid market will improve his confidence and his stats sheet. Ghostisbhere played 41 games for the Flyers last season, with a total of 9 goals, 11 assists, 6 PIMs and a -2.

Returning young faces Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse and Jakub Chychrun will all be expected to take the next step in their careers. Chychrun and Keller especially shouldered a lot of responsibility and maturity on the ice last season, and both are the idealized future of the Coyotes franchise.

Keller played 56 games last year, scoring 14 goals, 21 assists, 18 PIMs and a -5. Keller’s numbers aren’t bad, but for a goal-starved team like the Coyotes, coaching will be looking for a way to energize Keller on the ice. Chychrun’s exhilarating combination of speed and physicality make him an excellent two-way defenseman. His instincts and puck possession are already fantastic — next year will be about improving his -6 rating and decreasing the amount of time he spends in the penalty box. As for Crouse, his physicality and skating are there, but his offense needs to improve. In 51 games, he had 4 goals, 9 assists, 46 PIMs (which is too high considering his other numbers) and a -10.

What can we expect in 2021-22?

Both Korenar and Hutton will be expected to improve upon last season’s numbers now that they’re being given a significant chance to exhibit their abilities on a more regular basis, the new faces will need to adjust quickly to the Coyotes’ pace of play, and the young core will have to display that they’ve reached the next level in their playing abilities.

Special teams were middle-ground last season (the powerplay was 13th in the NHL at 20.8 percent, and the penalty kill was 11th at 80.8 percent), but the Coyotes Goals-For record was 150, placing them at 23rd in the NHL, with their Goals-Against one step better ar 174 and 22nd overall. With a -24 Goals Differential, the issue wasn’t so much goaltending as it was defensive lapses and a general lack of goalscoring from the forward lines.

While there’s a lack of playoff pressure from fans, the internal pressure from management and ownership must be astronomical — after all, it’s the players’ whose performances ultimately decide whether or not the team will be profitable to house in Arizona.

The Sharks and Coyotes will first meet each other on December 28 at SAP Center in San Jose at 7:30 p.m. PT. The Desert Dogs will return to SAP Center again on March 20, 2022 at 4 p.m. PT, before the Sharks visit Gila River Arena on March 30 at 7 p.m. PT.