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

Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong
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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 or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

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CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.