GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona general manager Bill Armstrong opted to stand pat at the NHL trade deadline, believing the Coyotes had the right roster to make the playoffs.
When they came up short yet again, the Coyotes made a big change, firing coach Rick Tocchet a day after the season ended.
It could be the first of many changes for a franchise that’s missed the postseason seven of the past eight seasons.
“There’s going to be change,” Coyotes forward Christian Fischer said. “When you don’t make playoffs, it’s expected in the NHL.”
The Coyotes entered the 2020-21 season loaded with expectations after reaching the postseason last year for the first time since 2012.
They had a solid roster mixed with veterans and talented young players, one of the NHL’s best goalie duos and Tocchet at the helm.
Arizona got off to an uneven start but pulled itself into playoff contention with a solid stretch in March, so Armstrong opted to not make any moves at the trade deadline.
Then things fell apart.
Goalies Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta both suffered injuries and the Coyotes went into a funk at the wrong time, losing 12 of 15 games to fall behind St. Louis for the final playoff spot in the West Division.
Arizona swept San Jose in its final two games, but ended up three points behind the Blues to come up short for the third time in four seasons under Tocchet.
An overhaul could follow.
Arizona has numerous players who are unrestricted free agents, including Raanta, center Derick Brassard and defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Jordan Oesterle. Right wing Conor Garland, the team’s third-leading scorer, center John Hayden and left wing Michael Bunting also are unrestricted free agents.
“We’re close, but obviously it’s going to be a long road at the same time,” Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work and guys willing to put in that work because it’s not easy. If it was easy, everyone would know what to do to get into a playoff spot.”
PHIL THE THRILL
Phil Kessel had an uneven first season in the desert, his production down as he battled injuries.
Healthy again, Kessel was back to being a consistent playmaker this season, leading the Coyotes with 20 goals and 43 points in 56 games. He also notched his 900th career point late in the season and stretched his consecutive games-played streak to 900 games, fifth-longest in NHL history.
Kessel was named the Coyotes’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who most exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
“I had a bad season last year,” he said. “I was injured at times last year and I was just off. I just tried to work hard, train hard during the summer and get back to where I was. I had an OK year and hope to have better years coming up.”
Defenseman Jakob Chychrun took a big step forward during his fifth NHL season.
The 23-year-old had been a steady player since being taken with the 16th overall pick in the 2016 draft, but this season he became one of the team’s best.
The son of former NHL player Jeff Chychrun led all NHL defensemen with 18 goals heading into the final stretch of the season and was Arizona’s second-leading scorer with 42 points. He also was a physical presence and became a leader on and off the ice.
“I think my game took a good step,” Chychrun said. “I really benefitted from a good summer of training, just working on my game and being healthy. This was my first season playing every game and that’s something I’m proud of, something I’ve been wanting to do.”