Arizona Coyotes 2020-21 NHL season preview

The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we preview the Arizona Coyotes.

Arizona Coyotes 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 33-29-8 (74 points); fifth in the Pacific Division; 11th in the Western Conference.

Leading scorers: Conor Garland (22 goals) and Nick Schmaltz (45 points).

For the first time since their surprising run to the 2012 Western Conference Final, the Arizona Coyotes made the playoffs in 2019-20. At least, technically. (OK, also, they were the Phoenix Coyotes at that time. If you want to get technical about something else.)

The Coyotes weren’t exactly world-beaters entering the pandemic pause. Actually, the real world gave the Coyotes a pretty significant beating. The team saw its ownership go through an ugly divorce with now-former GM John Chayka, and the front office embarrassments continued during the offseason.

Beating the Nashville Predators during the Qualifying Round broke the Arizona Coyotes’ playoff drought in an unspectacular way. And they advanced largely off the back of absolutely stupendous performances by Darcy Kuemper. But for a team going through what the Coyotes have experienced (largely from self-inflicted wounds, yet still) … they’ll take whatever victories they can get.

Once they faced a focused, dangerous Avalanche team, the Coyotes couldn’t get many of those victories.

Perhaps the best news is that some of the toughest times might be behind the Coyotes. Sure, they don’t have their first-rounder for the 2021 NHL Draft, yet they took their lumps from Chayka’s strange gaffe during this past draft. (And then, again, made it worse with even more self-inflicted wounds.)

With a lot less incentive to tank, the Coyotes must be creative. In the long run, maybe they’ll be glad they couldn’t trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson. (If nothing else, landing an asset for Derek Stepan ranks as solid work.)

This franchise is no stranger to times looking grim. As of this writing, it’s looking that way. That said, the team itself is as scrappy as the animal they’re named after. Maybe this is the season they finally track down that elusive roadrunner called success?


Derick Brassard (free agency), Johan Larsson (free agency), Drake Caggiula (free agency), John Hayden (free agency), Tyler Pitlick (free agency).


Taylor Hall (free agency), Derek Stepan (trade), Carl Soderberg (free agency), Vinnie Hinostroza (free agency), Michael Grabner (free agency), Brad Richardson (free agency).

3 Most Interesting Arizona Coyotes

Arizona Coyotes 2020-21 NHL season preview Kuemper Raanta
(Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

• Bill Armstrong

Who was truly responsible for drafting Mitchell Miller? That’s a murky question, one muddied by Armstrong not being allowed to participate in the 2020 NHL Draft for the Coyotes.

Either way, that error added insult to the injury of already lacking so much in that draft.

Frankly, John Chayka left Bill Armstrong with a live hand grenade of a situation. Considering the Coyotes’ perennial financial challenges, managing such a relatively expensive team won’t be easy. Especially considering the lack of high-level draft assets.

The only good part is that Bill Armstrong and his staff would have a lot to brag about if the Arizona Coyotes get through this and eventually build a winner. I’d rank the Coyotes as one of the toughest jobs in sports, so it’s a “be careful what you wish for” situation for Armstrong, who’s living the dream of becoming an NHL GM. Can he win the game on its highest difficulty setting?

• Darcy Kuemper – Antti Raanta

For all that went wrong for the Arizona Coyotes in 2019-20 (and the past few years), they’ve unearthed some absolutely tremendous goalies. To be fair, the coaching staff and players deserve some credit for a commitment to defense. (As usual, goalie success vs. stingy defense can devolve into a chicken-and-the-egg debate. Although a lot of numbers still point to brilliant goaltending.)

When Kuemper suffered an injury, it seemed like the Coyotes’ wobbly playoff chances would fall flat. Instead, Antti Raanta proved why he was expected to be the team’s No. 1 goalie before injuries derailed his promising career.

Once the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs rolled around, Kuemper resumed his brilliant play.

So, on paper, the Coyotes could boast one of the best goalie duos in the NHL.

That said, there’s an argument for selling high. Kuemper’s 30, and teams may covet having a goalie of his caliber for just $4.5M in cap space for the next two seasons. Meanwhile, Raanta’s entering a contract year at 31 with a $4.25M AAV.

Factoring in their age and short contracts, the Coyotes might be best served moving on from one or both. Then again, those two give Arizona its best chance to compete, and the Coyotes don’t have a ton of tanking motivation without their first-rounder.

Those situations make Bill Armstrong that much more interesting to watch. Frankly, those aren’t easy calls.

• Oliver Ekman-Larsson

OEL said he didn’t really want to leave the Arizona Coyotes. And maybe that’s true. If reports were accurate, Ekman-Larsson didn’t exactly give the Coyotes a ton of options to make a trade.

Whether OEL changed locales or stayed put, a lot of eyes were going to be on him. To an extent, that comes with the territory when you’re an $8.25M defenseman.

But OEL’s even more interesting to watch because of how far his fortunes fell. Not that long ago, Ekman-Larsson was a defenseman the Coyotes couldn’t afford to lose. There were even OEL – Auston Matthews trade rumors. His perception’s fallen hard since then. In November, The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn ranked Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract as the fifth-worst in the NHL (sub required).

At 29, OEL’s young enough to shake those criticisms, yet it’s far from a guarantee.

Best-Case Scenario

Look, this team has suffered a long time. Diehard fans likely see that lottery picks aren’t guaranteed after things didn’t work out with the likes of Dylan Strome (heck, go back to Kyle Turris). It’s not always pretty, but teams can make deep playoff runs off of hot goaltending and timely scoring. Maybe the Coyotes can ride a Kuemper – Raanta partnership to the point that someone other than Dave Tippett thinks about Mike Smith‘s best days? (Bonus points if they evoke the Sharks trading Doug Murray and Ryane Clowe, yet making the playoffs anyway.)

Worst-Case Scenario

Woof. It’s dangerous to depend on goalie as much as the Coyotes have in recent years. This team didn’t add a ton in the offseason, and lost a lot when you consider the departures of Taylor Hall and Derek Stepan. This team could easily be very bad, and then not even get the silver lining of imagining a draft lottery win. If that isn’t enough, the pandemic could create even more money issues than usual. (It’s not totally clear how much these disruptions already hurt franchises like the Arizona Coyotes.) The worst-case scenarios are pretty scary for this team.

Pointsbet – Arizona Coyotes Stanley Cup odds

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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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    Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

    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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    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

    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.