Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Arizona Coyotes.
Every off-season, every single team in the NHL is looking to add some scoring to their lineup. But some teams need that offensive punch more than others. The 2019-20 Coyotes were one of those teams that absolutely needed to add a sniper as soon as possible and that’s exactly what they did.
Last season, the ‘Yotes were hoping that Alex Galchenyuk would be the 30-goal scorer they desperately needed. After all, he had scored 30 just a few seasons ago with Montreal and he possesses all the talent in the world. General manager John Chayka sent Max Domi to the Canadiens to get Galchenyuk, but the trade didn’t work out the way Arizona had hoped. Galchenyuk scored 19 goals and 47 points in 72 games while Domi 28 goals and 72 points in 82 contests.
After just one season, Chayka decided it was time to move on from Galchenyuk so they shipped him to Pittsburgh along with Pierre-Olivier Joseph. In exchange, Arizona got Phil Kessel, Dane Birks and a fourth-round pick in 2021.
For a team that didn’t have a 20-goal scorer or 50-point player last season, landing Kessel is a big deal. The 31-year-old has scored at least 20 goals in each of his last 11 seasons and he’s picked up 70, 92 and 82 points over his last three seasons.
“I think Phil’s one of the best scorers in the League in the past decade; the stats back that up,” Chayka said via NHL.com. “We think we’ve got a lot of good young players that can score more, but to have a guy that’s experienced, that we know going in that can score, he’s been durable, he’s been dependable in terms of putting up point production, that gives a lot of confidence to the entire group.”
Kessel’s arrival has brought plenty of excitement to the front office and more importantly to the fan base. Once he was acquired from Pittsburgh, season ticket sales were up 600 percent compared to the same time last year. They also had a 94 percent season-ticket renewal rate. Those are impressive figures.
Now, the pressure is on Kessel to deliver on the ice. He’s always been a productive player, but he’ll have that added responsibility of being the go-to guy on the ice, which he was in Toronto too, and he’ll have to be one of the key veteran leaders for the young players in the locker room.
Is that something he can handle?
“I haven’t really got to have that in my career,” Kessel said of being a key leader. “I think it’s going to be great. I’m going to do whatever I can to help these guys win and help them improve. The young guys have questions or anything they want to talk about, I’m there to talk about it. Try to get our team better and them better.”
Kessel’s relationship with head coach Rick Tocchet should help ease his transition to Arizona and the fact that he’s on a team that won’t be the center of attention in the state should also help him feel more comfortable.
Now, it’s all about the veteran winger delivering on the ice. He won’t have the benefit of suiting up on the same team as stars like Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, but he has to find a way to take the Coyotes to the next level. Last year, they missed the playoffs by four points without him. Now that Kessel’s been added, he and the rest of his teammates are going to be expected to make up those four points.
Only four teams finished with fewer goals than the Coyotes last season (Wild, Stars, Kings, Ducks). So if Clayton Keller can bounce back from his difficult sophomore year and Kessel can add to the 19 goals Galchenyuk scored last year, they should be able to produce enough offense to make them competitive. Arizona also had the 26th ranked power play in the NHL last year. That should improve with Kessel in the picture, as 12 of his 27 goals were scored on the man-advantage.
There’s no denying that, on paper, this acquisition is a good one for the entire organization, but it’s now up to Kessel to find a way to make it work on the ice.
Can he do it?