Pandemic Punts: Arizona Coyotes look stuck to start 2020-21 NHL season

Pandemic Punts: Arizona Coyotes look stuck to start 2020-21 NHL season
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Different NHL teams come into the 2020-21 season with different expectations. Yet, with COVID-19 looming to throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans, PHT asks: what if each of the NHL’s 31 teams had to “punt” their 2020-21 season? Some situations are more realistic than others, but hopefully this serves as an interesting exercise. In the latest edition of Pandemic Punts, PHT looks at the 2020-21 Arizona Coyotes.

For previous editions of Pandemic Punts, click here.

Chayka leaves behind a mess for Armstrong, Coyotes

In leaving the Arizona Coyotes in a spectacularly messy fashion, former GM John Chayka might as well have handed new GM Bill Armstrong a live hand grenade. Armstrong inherited one of the toughest GM jobs in hockey, if not professional sports.

Most egregiously, the Coyotes blundered their way out of their 2020 second-rounder and 2021 first-round pick after violating the NHL’s Combine Testing Policy.

More understandably but still quite disastrously, the Coyotes also forked over their 2020 first-rounder (and a 2021 third-round pick) in the Taylor Hall trade. While the pandemic made the Taylor Hall rental an even shorter one than expected for the Arizona Coyotes, the bottom line is that it ended up being another mistake.

And when you look up and down that Coyotes roster, you’ll see plenty of Chayka mistakes.

It’s a mess, and the Bill Armstrong era began with a colossal blunder as the Coyotes drafted Mitchell Miller, only to renounce his rights. While it’s tricky to assign specific blame to that error — Armstrong wasn’t allowed to participate in the Coyotes’ 2020 NHL Draft — it’s an ugly mistake all the same.

Merely observe how overmatched the Coyotes were during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and you’ll struggle to find much reason to believe that this team will contend in 2020-21. And that rendition of the Coyotes got clubbed with a Taylor Hall hoping to salvage his free agent value. Without him? Well, the Coyotes’ best chances of competing may boil down to hoping their goaltending bails them out enough to compete.

(Seriously. Even when they beat the Nashville Predators, they did so while depending almost entirely on a splendid Darcy Kuemper.)

Coyotes can really only tank/punt to a limited extent

So, the Coyotes already stumbled into an extremely limited 2020 NHL Draft showing.

Combine the remnants of the Taylor Hall trade (2021 third-rounder) and that rules violation blunder (2021 first-round pick), and the Coyotes can’t even soothe any 2020-21 failures with thoughts of the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery. Brutal.

Considering those circumstances, it’s easier to defender their inability to trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson. While it’s fair to wonder if OEL was worth all of that hype, the Coyotes might be better off seeing if he can regain some value. Again, stripping everything down makes less sense when the Coyotes won’t even get a first-rounder following 2020-21.

At least … the Coyotes won’t receive their first-rounder.

What about going back to the earlier Chayka days, and taking on other teams’ cap problems, for a price? Is there another Pavel Datsyuk or Chris Pronger contract to absorb?

Well, even that is tricky.

Among other holdovers from the Chayka era of errors, the Coyotes don’t really have much salary cap space. Maybe an LTIR move or two could relax things a bit, but Cap Friendly puts them around zero. Stunning.

Pandemic Punts: Arizona Coyotes look stuck to start 2020-21 NHL season Kuemper Raanta
(Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Punting on future possessions? Some Coyotes positivity

To strain that football analogy, the Coyotes are basically hoping they can pull a Donovan McNabb and convert on 4th-and-26.

Maybe hope can come in “future possessions,” then?

Move things down the line, and the Coyotes may see some daylight. If you’re Bill Armstrong, that’s what you’re preaching: let’s make the best of this bad situation, then unveil our vision later.


  • Quite a lot of bad money and/or aging contracts dissolve soon.

Via Cap Friendly, the Sabres go from basically hitting the $81.5M cap ceiling in 2020-21 to a hair under $50M to 12 players for 2021-22. Commitments drop again to $30.3M to five players for 2022-23.

While it’s not all peaches and cream even in that regard — it can never be easy for these Coyotes — this still gives Bill Armstrong a pretty clean slate next offseason. Derek Stepan‘s $6.5M cap hit goes off the books. Even the icky Phil Kessel investment ($6.8M) only runs through 2022-23.

  • Maybe some leverage opens up, too?

Memorably, Oliver Ekman-Larsson seemingly only gave the Coyotes room to trade him to the Bruins or Canucks. That’s the power, and peril, of a no-movement clause.

But what if he broadens that group, possibly after a strong individual but weak team season in 2020-21?

With patience, some windows could open up for the Coyotes, including one if there’s a 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. The room just looks especially dark right now.

Some caveats, even with that optimism

Of course, some of those shorter contracts rank among the Coyotes’ best bargains.

Kuemper, 30, could command a huge raise from his $4.5M cap hit after it expires following the 2022-23 season. If Conor Garland proves his 2020-21 breakthrough shouldn’t have been surprising at all, he’ll receive an enormous raise from $775K.

When Kuemper got hurt, Antti Raanta (31, $4.25M cap hit) showed why the Coyotes targeted him in the first place. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, they may not enjoy the Kuemper – Raanta luxury for much longer, as Raanta’s entering a contract year.

(Note: for Chayka’s many mistakes, he had his moments. The Coyotes made some absolutely deft goalie moves, from identifying talent to giving them affordable contracts.)

With goaltending in particular, Armstrong may find himself in a pickle.

On one hand, Raanta – Kuemper gives this flawed Coyotes roster its best chance to survive, if not thrive, in 2020-21. On the other hand, the Coyotes could draw a lot of value out of moving one, or even both, of those goalies.

Simply put, modern NHL goalies don’t tend to sustain Kuemper’s quietly impressive pace. Since 2019 began, Kuemper managed a sparkling .931 save percentage in 66 regular-season games. That’s the highest save percentage of any goalie with at least 20 games played. (Stars studs Ben Bishop [.928] and Anton Khudobin [.927] battled for second. Fourteen goalies managed .920+ save percentages.)

Combine that run with fantastic playoff play, and Kuemper’s stock is soaring. If it made sense for the Coyotes to punt, then it would probably be wise to trade Kuemper ASAP. But without the incentive of adding futures and cynically pumping up their 2021 NHL Draft Lottery chances? It’s less appealing.

(You can still debate that it could be the best move. After all, would it be shocking if Raanta ended up outperforming Kuemper, anyway?)

Deciding the longer-term plan for goaltending ranks as just one of the riddles Bill Armstrong must solve.

Overall: punting is a complex question for the Coyotes

Few teams want to land in puck purgatory. That’s a way of saying “not bad enough to win the draft lottery; not good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup.”

Oddly, the Coyotes might be best served hovering around that playoff bubble, though.

If the Coyotes scrape together a competitive season, it maintains trade value for the likes of Kuemper, Raanta, and even OEL. If the Coyotes are a little too good, it could be a PR problem to sell high. Conversely, a dismal Coyotes team could really submarine those trade values. Somewhere in between? That could be the perfect temperature for that punting porridge.

It all seems … quite difficult, right? If we’re marveling at a strong Coyotes team down the line, then give Bill Armstrong a lot of credit. This doesn’t look easy.

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

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    Teravainen scores late, Hurricanes rally to beat Rangers 3-2

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    NEW YORK – Teuvo Teravainen scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period, Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied to beat the New York Rangers 3-2.

    Jalen Chatfield and Stefan Noesen also scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes, who won for the third time in four games.

    With the comeback win, the Hurricanes became the second team – following Boston – to reach the 100-point mark this season as Carolina increased its Metropolitan Division-lead over second-place New Jersey to two points and the third-place Rangers to eight.

    “That was a great effort. All 20 guys contributed and we got what we deserved,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “If we play like that, we’ll be in good shape. This time of year it gets tougher and tougher.”

    Tyler Motte and Kaapo Kakko scored for the Rangers, who had won four straight were 6-0-1 in their last seven. Igor Shesterkin finished with 36 saves as the Rangers played their third game in four nights – the previous two shutout wins at home.

    “Igor kept us in there as long as he could and we just didn’t have enough in the tank,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. ”They won more battles and played a hard game.”

    Teravainen scored his 11th goal with 2:33 left on a pass from defenseman Brent Burns, redirecting the puck past Shesterkin. The Hurricanes, who trailed 1-0 and 2-1.

    “Somehow they left me open in the back side, great pass by him,” Teravainen said of the winning-goal pass to him in the slot. “We knew this would be a tough night. They have a good team. We knew we had to battle to win this game.”

    The Rangers led 1-0 entering the third and were vying for their third-straight shutout before Chatfield tied the score at 9:49 – the first goal the Rangers allowed in more than eight periods. New York was coming off a 6-0 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night with Shesterkin in goal and a 7-0 triumph over Nashville behind Jaroslav Halak on Sunday.

    Kakko then put New York back ahead 31 seconds later with his 13th goal, only to have Noesen answer right back 18 seconds later to tie it 2-2.

    Motte opened the scoring at the 17-minute mark of the first, knocking the puck past Andersen for his third goal in four games and sixth of the season overall.

    The Rangers hadn’t lost in regulation since a 4-2 defeat on March 4 at Boston.

    “Tonight we didn’t play near well enough to beat that team,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”Honestly, the whole game they outplayed us. They were a lot quicker. They managed the puck real well … We didn’t play our game.”


    Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal played his 729th game with Carolina on Tuesday, tying defenseman Glen Wesley for the second-most games played in franchise history since relocation from Hartford in 1997. Staal, 34, trails only his brother Eric, who played 909 games for the Hurricanes from 2003-16.


    Hurricanes: Host the Rangers on Thursday night to finish the home-and-home set in the opener of a four-game homestand.

    Rangers: At Carolina on Thursday night to open a two-game trip.

    Ullmark’s 40 saves carries Bruins past Senators, 2-1

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    BOSTON – Linus Ullmark made 40 saves, Jake DeBrusk had the go-ahead goal and the NHL-best Boston Bruins continued their pursuit of the league’s record for regular-season victories with a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.

    “I thought he was outstanding and he needed to be,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said of Ullmark. “Unfortunately we gave up a lot of good looks, a lot of odd-man rushes because of our puck management and he bailed us out like he has all year.”

    David Krejci added a power-play goal for Boston, which won its fourth straight.

    Dylan Gambrell scored for the Senators and Mads Sogaard made 33 stops.

    “We had a shooters’ mentality for two periods,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said. “The third period, they’ve won 54 games now, they’re not going to give you an odd-man rush, they’re not going to give you anything. You’re going to have to earn it.”

    The Bruins posted their 54th win and with 12 games left are on pace to break the mark of 62, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 and matched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018-19.

    Chasing the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, Ottawa has lost six of seven following a season-high, five-game winning streak.

    Coming off a 3-2 road trip where they won the last three games by a combined score of 15-2 that included two shutouts by backup Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins converted on a two-man, power-play advantage to tie the game at 1 midway into the opening period when Krejci poked in a rebound from the edge of the crease.

    DeBrusk completed a nifty play with Brad Marchand when he collected a pass cutting down the slot at full speed, shifted and tucked a rebound past Sogaard at 15:52 of the first period for his 23rd goal.

    “It was ‘all world.’ I saw him and he fed it through a lot of guys for a breakaway,” DeBrusk said of the pass. “It was one of those passes where I didn’t know what to do. I was going to point at him (after) but I was going too fast.”

    Gambrell’s wraparound score gave Ottawa a 1-0 edge.

    “I thought I played a good game today,” Sogaard said. “I just battled and stayed with it the entire way. … These ones are tough because we were so close.”


    Ullmark stopped 22 shots in the second period with at least a dozen of them high-quality chances. During an Ottawa PP, he jumped from a crouch to make a right-shoulder stop on Alex DeBrincat’s bid from in close.

    “We talked about it,” defenseman Hampus Lindholm said of the second period. “We know we’re a good team in the third and wanted to tighten it up for him. … They got a lot of chances that were our own fault in the second.”


    The Bruins highlighted women who work and compete in the sports community, having Olympic gold medalist and Boston Pride defender Kali Flanagan accompany Bruins players during pregame walk-ins along with local high school scholastic award winners. In addition, in-arena host Michaela Johnson handled the PA for the night and they also left yellow roses at the seats of female reporters.

    NOTES: The Senators entered the game as the only team holding an advantage in their series against the Bruins this season, winning twice in three games. … Montgomery said after the morning skate that defenseman Derek Forbort would likely be sidelined with a lower-body injury at least through the rest of the regular season. … DeBrusk, playing on the top line most of the season, is four off his career-high goal total, set in 2018-19.


    Senators: Host Tampa Bay on Thursday.

    Bruins: Host longtime rival Montreal in an Original Six matchup Thursday.

    Boldy’s goal with 1.3 left in OT lifts Wild over Devils

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    NEWARK, N.J. – Matt Boldy scored with 1.3 seconds left in overtime and Filip Gustavsson made a career-high 47 saves to give the Minnesota Wild a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.

    The game was a chippy, defensive struggle. After two scoreless periods, the Devils were outshooting the Wild 22-19.

    Minnesota finally broke through 6:41 into the third when Mason Shaw scored his seventh goal of the season on a wraparound.

    Timo Meier answered for the Devils five minutes later with his 35th goal of the season on a wraparound of his own.

    New Jersey was unable to convert on a late power play, and the teams went to overtime.

    It was a back-and-forth five minutes of extra hockey, with both goaltenders making good saves. After Jack Hughes hit the post for the Devils, the puck caromed off a post to Boldy and he beat the buzzer with his 23rd goal of the season.

    Vitek Vanecek stopped 27 shots for New Jersey.

    NOTES: The Devils are 10-4 in overtime, while the Wild improved to 4-5.


    Wild: Play at Philadelphia on Thursday night.

    Devils: Play at Buffalo on Friday night.

    Avalanche coach Jared Bednar signs extension through 2026-27

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    DENVER — Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has signed a three-year extension that will keep him in charge of the reigning Stanley Cup champions through the 2026-27 season.

    The new deal for the winningest head coach in club history kicks in once the current contract runs out after the 2023-24 season.

    Bednar, 51, is the only person to win championships in the ECHL, AHL and NHL as head coach. He directed the Avalanche to their third Stanley Cup title in team history last season by beating Tampa Bay, the two-time defending champions.

    This season, the Avalanche have dealt with an array of injuries, which include missing captain Gabriel Landeskog all year after he underwent knee surgery in October. But they’re starting to creep closer to being healthy – and working their way up the standings. Colorado is riding a six-game winning streak to remain in a tight race with Dallas and Minnesota for the Central Division crown. The top spot in the Western Conference is in play, too.

    “Jared has done a tremendous job behind the bench and certainly deserves this extension and to continue as the leader of our team,” Joe Sakic, the team’s president of hockey operations, said in a statement.

    It wasn’t the prettiest of starts for Bednar in his inaugural season for Colorado. In 2016-17, his team amassed only 48 points (22-56-4) to finish last in the league. Since then, it’s been full steam ahead for Bednar and the Avalanche. They became the first NHL squad to go from worst to first in a span of four seasons or less since the 1970-71 Bruins, according to research by the team.

    In addition, Bednar has led the Avalanche to five straight playoff appearances – and is closing in on a sixth – to become the first Avalanche coach to accomplish the feat. His 40 postseason wins are the second-most in team history, trailing only Bob Hartley (49).

    “His strength as a communicator, his relationship with the players, the way he prepares each and every day is a huge reason our team has been so successful,” general manager Chris MacFarland said. “He is an exceptional leader.”

    Bednar is currently the third-longest tenured coach in the league, behind only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan (December 2015).

    “Being able to lead this team over the last seven years has been a privilege,” said Bednar, whose team faces the Penguins on Wednesday. “I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to continue building on what we’ve accomplished so far.”

    Bednar captured a Kelly Cup (ECHL) with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2009, along with a Calder Cup (AHL) with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2016.