Get to know new Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong, and the difficult job he faces

Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong
Getty Images
1 Comment

The Coyotes made it official: Bill Armstrong, formerly of the Blues, is now their new general manager.

“We are thrilled to name Bill as our new GM,” said Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo. “Bill is smart, honest and hard-working and he knows how to build a winning team. He brings the right mix of hockey knowledge, business acumen and leadership qualities that we need in order to achieve our goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Arizona.”

In naming Armstrong, the Coyotes ended a whirlwind span that began with John Chayka’s messy exit, and included Steve Sullivan pitching in as interim GM.

Frankly, Armstrong has his work cut out for him. If you ask me, the Coyotes’ GM job is arguably the toughest in the NHL, if not all of major professional sports.

But we’ll get to that. Let’s start with the question many are asking: “Who is Bill Armstrong?”

Who is new Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong?

The Philadelphia Flyers drafted Armstrong in third round (46th overall) in 1990, but the defenseman peaked in the AHL. You can check out more about his playing days at HockeyDB, complete with his then-vaguely-Todd-Bertuzzi-like visage.

Armstrong joined the Blues organization as an amateur scout in 2004. Then, in 2010, Armstrong rose to the level of director of scouting. By 2018, Armstrong became assistant GM to Doug Armstrong.

That’s a lot of experience in a quality NHL front office. As much as the Ryan O'Reilly trade pushed the Blues to a higher level, this team was largely based on drafting. And aside from a stray Alex Pietrangelo (No. 4 overall, 2008), the Blues haven’t enjoyed many high first-round picks in recent years. If they even held onto their first-rounders.

It’s often difficult to tell how much credit you should assign to any single member of a front office, but Bill Armstrong played a role into building the Blues into a Stanley Cup winner and regular contender. For the Coyotes’ sake, let’s hope that Bill Armstrong had almost as much to do with that success as GM Doug Armstrong did.

One of the toughest jobs in hockey, if not sports

Even if Bill Armstrong has been dreaming about being an NHL GM for decades, the Coyotes might just present a “be careful what you wish for” situation. Consider:

• A turbulent financial situation, even in stable times

Coyotes fans will groan about arena and money talk, and understandably so. But this Coyotes team has faced relocation or other threats for so long, it’s difficult to remember if things were ever easy.

Now throw in the COVID-19 curveball that might leave even the most lavish teams buckling at their knees. Where does that leave the Coyotes, from a financial standpoint? We can only guess.

But what we do know is that their salary structure isn’t exactly like an oasis in the desert. The best news for Armstrong is that Cap Friendly estimates their actual salary expenditure at about $61.45M for 2020-21, versus a bloated team cap hit of $80.4M. With that only covering 17 roster spots, it’s a mess either way.

Unless something unexpected happens with Taylor Hall, the Coyotes don’t really have big-money players to retain, at least. That’s about the only solace on a bloated roster that leaned extremely heavily on its goalies the past two seasons (something that was on display as they collapsed around Darcy Kuemper during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs).

• Not much bang for your buck, either

“You get what you paid for” doesn’t really apply to the Coyotes.

Either they’re getting great returns from Kuemper and/or Antti Raanta (when healthy), and the occasional Conor Garland, or they’re paying huge prices for the likes of Phil Kessel, Derek Stepan, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Frankly, John Chayka left Bill Armstrong with a mess to clean up as GM, even just from a salary structure standpoint. And then we remember …

• Why it doesn’t make sense for the Coyotes to tank

… Just how many picks Chayka burned on his way out the door.

The NHL ruled that the Coyotes must forfeit their 2020 second-round pick and 2021 first-rounder for violating the league’s Combine Testing Policy. That would already be a devastating blow to the Coyotes’ futures, and then you realize they coughed up their 2020 first-round pick to New Jersey in the Taylor Hall trade.

Sometimes it’s OK to “go for it,” but between the Hall rental and that astounding player-testing blunder, Bill Armstrong begins his work as Coyotes GM without his first-round picks in both 2020 and 2021. The Coyotes aren’t slated to pick until the fourth round in 2020.

Considering the Coyotes’ cap/salary woes — and their middling results despite heavy spending — there’d be some logic in blowing things up and rebuilding … if they had those picks.

Instead, the Coyotes have little incentive to tank, but also possible (and understandable) pressure from ownership to cut costs. Brutal.

• Bill Armstrong will need to be creative, shrewd, and yes, lucky

This doesn’t mean the Coyotes are doomed. It just means that Bill Armstrong has his work cut out for him. (Honestly, even if Steve Sullivan stings at not getting the bump up to actual GM, can you blame him if he uttered a sigh of relief?)

There are some creative ways to work around limitations.

Consider players with higher cap hits than salaries for 2020-21.

As an example, Bill Armstrong could initiate some “You scratch my back, I scratch yours” work with Doug Armstrong of the Blues. Maybe St. Louis could send an asset to Arizona for, say, absorbing some or all of Alexander Steen‘s $5.75M cap hit? Steen’s base salary is $3.5M for 2020-21, so one can imagine how everyone might win.

Now, ideas like these revolve around incremental victories. Grinding away at the margins to try to find value (and, frankly, make up for some of Chayka’s follies).

We don’t know much about Bill Armstrong as a GM yet, but we’ll find out a lot thanks to the monumental task of fixing the Coyotes.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

“Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

“Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

“Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Robertson will finally be there now.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.