Last season, the Arizona Coyotes came into the year with great expectations. Then they only won one game in all of October.
Their 1-12-1 start (including a loss to begin November) derailed Arizona’s 2017-18 campaign before it could really start, serving as a cautionary tale for any Coyotes fans getting too excited about this season’s possibilities. Sure, the team showed promise late last season, yet such finishes can drum up false hope.
Adding Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta revved up excitement for the Coyotes last time around; this year, the possible growth of young players and the (perceived?) upgrade from Max Domi to Alex Galchenyuk is inspiring plenty of optimism. Coyotes fans even had a reason to gloat during the preseason, as Galchenyuk made a strong first impression in an exhibition at almost the same time that Domi was suspended for punching Aaron Ekblad.
So, the Coyotes are riding high into 2018-19, right? Well, we might need to pump the brakes on that, as Galchenyuk is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
To rain a bit more on the parade, the team warned that he might not be available for Arizona’s season opener (an Oct. 4 road game against the Dallas Stars).
It’s a shame that the Coyotes didn’t get to show off their shiny new toy against the Stars. Let’s consider a few of the other factors, and who might be affected by this in the short term.
While the Coyotes noted that Galchenyuk might miss that first game on Oct. 4, it’s important to realize that week-to-week is a vague description. For all we know, Galchenyuk may only miss a handful of games, or he might even play on opening night. Then again, it could also mean Galchenyuk may be sidelined for multiple weeks of the regular season.
The former Canadiens forward figures to be a top-six forward for a Coyotes team that’s still expected to be a little light on scoring, so a lengthy loss would sting. That said, it’s not necessarily a lethal blow. When you wonder if another lousy October is looming, the actual context of the schedule may factor in:
Thu, Oct 4 @ Dallas
Sat, Oct 6 vs Anaheim
Wed, Oct 10 @ Anaheim
Sat, Oct 13 vs Buffalo
Tue, Oct 16 @ Minnesota
Thu, Oct 18 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 20 @ Winnipeg
Tue, Oct 23 @ Columbus
Thu, Oct 25 vs Vancouver
Sat, Oct 27 vs Tampa Bay
Tue, Oct 30 vs Ottawa
That four-game road trip (and five of six games on the road from Oct. 10-23) seems challenging, yet note that the Coyotes don’t face a back-to-back set during the first month. For all we know, that could provide a nice opportunity for Galchenyuk to limit games missed, or strategically heal up. Maybe he’d only need until Oct. 10, thus missing just two contests?
(Such a schedule also opens the door for further coaching sessions – possibly fruitful for a team ripe with young talent – and possibly allows Raanta to soak up a lot of starts.)
Overall, the Coyotes’ early schedule seems manageable enough. Their 2017-18 October wasn’t abnormally difficult, either, so that’s clearly not the only determining factor here.
A window for Strome?
One player’s injury is another player’s chance to earn a spot. Just ask Kurt Warner and Tom Brady how random luck can help you establish a sports career.
With Galchenyuk out, the Coyotes may let Dylan Strome get some extra reps as a center, or maybe a more prominent position on the power play. Even if it’s just for a couple games or merely just extra practice time, Strome badly needs to earn Rick Tocchet’s trust.
Perhaps someone else would run with the opportunity if Galchenyuk misses significant time, but Strome comes to mind as a player who’s really at a fork in the road.
We don’t know how much time Galchenyuk might miss. Actually, the Coyotes may not know, either.
It’s not the greatest way for Galchenyuk to begin his Coyotes career, especially since he was probably feeling quite liberated to be out of Montreal. Injury limitations could make it difficult for him to make a good first impression.
Still, this might only be a minor hiccup, and heightened opportunities for Strome (or a peer) could serve as a blessing in disguise.
MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.