This is part of Arizona Coyotes day at PHT…
Even though they should be a better team in 2016-17, the Arizona Coyotes are still going to have a pretty tall mountain standing between them and the end of their current four-year postseason drought.
They finished the 2015-16 season 20 points back of the third place in the Pacific Division and nine points out of a wild card spot. The latter number isn’t a huge gap to make up, but you also can’t expect the second wild card team in the West to only finish with 87 points again as the Minnesota Wild did. To secure a playoff spot Arizona is probably looking at a 17 or 18 point improvement (that would put them at 95 or 96 points).
That is asking a lot in one year, even in a division that isn’t particularly strong and should have a few of the NHL’s basement teams in it.But whether or not they make it all up this season is not quite as important as what the Coyotes are starting to build in Arizona and what it means for the long-term outlook of the team.
It is not about making the playoffs in one year, losing in the first round, and then just maintaining that status quo in future seasons. It is about building a consistently competitive team that has a core of players that can maybe compete for a championship. And for the first time in a long time, the Coyotes seem to have that hope for the future.
In Oliver Ekman-Larsson they have one of the NHL’s elite defenseman. A game-changing player on the blue line that can play in all situations and is still in the prime of his career.
They have a young duo in Max Domi and Anthony Duclair that has already shown it can play at a top-line level in the NHL and were among the top rookie scorers in what was one of the best rookie classes in recent memory.
They have another wave of talent reading to break through into the NHL this season, including a potential No. 1 center in Dylan Strome (perhaps their best young player), another talented young forward in Christian Dvorak, and had two of the top-16 draft picks in 2016.
What should be most encouraging about this group for hockey fans in Arizona is that they not only represent what might be the best young collection of talent the organization has had since the franchise arrived from Winnipeg two decades ago, but they have the ability (the potential, anyway) to play a style of hockey that can actually get more people interested. Not only has Arizona missed the playoffs in four straight seasons, but they really haven’t been that interesting to watch, either. And that was even true when they were making the playoffs between 2010 and 2012. They were winning, but the style of hockey kind of … stunk.
But with Domi and Duclair consistently making highlight reels last season, and Ekman-Larsson being one of the most dynamic defenseman in the league, you started to see the seeds being planted for what this group can be capable of.
It is only going to get better when players like Strome and Dvorak get an opportunity of their own.
The Coyotes have been a punchline in the hockey world for years and the regions ability to sustain a hockey team is always called into question. But the sport can work anywhere if you give people a competitive team that plays an exciting brand of hockey. The Coyotes have not always done that.
They might finally have the team to help change that.
It may not happen overnight this season, but the foundation is definitely in place.