Coyotes rebuild is just beginning, but it’s off to a brilliant start

Coyotes rebuild is just beginning, but it's off to a brilliant start
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Some NHL and sports teams are afraid to use the word “rebuild.” Sometimes calling it “reloading” or a “retool” is genuinely more accurate, as teams try to thread the needle between competing in the present, and building for the future. In the case of the Arizona Coyotes, their rebuild is so full-fledged, maybe it needs an even heftier term.

Call it a reset, even?

Slice it up whichever way you’d like, but this Coyotes rebuild is one of the most dramatic renovations the NHL’s ever seen.

The bad news is that the Coyotes still have a long, long way to go. That tracks both on and off the ice. People will reasonably call this the “easy part” of the Coyotes rebuild.

But even with some caveats, the Coyotes rebuild warrants praise. Frankly, other teams can learn from just how aggressive the Coyotes rebuild has been.

Let’s dig into what makes GM Bill Armstrong’s work, and briefly consider how far they still need to go.

An inventive Coyotes offseason powers rebuild with draft picks

Ever since the Hurricanes bought out Patrick Marleau to land a first-rounder, I’ve been pleading with rebuilding NHL teams to Xerox that template. As promising as the Red Wings and other rebuilding teams have been at times, we haven’t really seen truly savvy “weaponizing of salary cap space” often enough.

Even the Kraken produced underwhelming returns, despite once-in-a-franchise opportunities to exploit other teams’ cap problems for their long-term gains.

Instead, the Coyotes swooped in, taking short-term bribes that other teams should’ve embraced. That “weaponizing salary cap space” phrasing feels too soft for what the Coyotes have done, much like a rebuild almost feels like an understatement. They’ve truly assembled a war chest of futures.

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Offseason Trade Tracker]

If we went over every offseason move, we’d be here all day. Instead, a summary:

  • Again, they took on problem contracts of one or two years, knowing they’re in tank mode anyway. That converted Shayne Gostisbehere, Anton Stralman, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, and others into a bucket of picks. Theoretically, some of those players could be traded again for even more picks. If not … already a great use of cap space.
  • Considering John Chayka’s many blunders, it’s already impressive that the Coyotes used the landmark Oliver Ekman-Larsson/Conor Garland trade to get into the 2021 NHL Draft’s first round. That also softened the blow of the Coyotes’  would-be 11th pick being “forfeited,” yet listed. Strange “hotel not having a 13th floor” vibes there.
Coyotes rebuild is just beginning, but it's off to a brilliant start round one cap
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
  • Most dramatically, all of that wheeling and dealing leaves the Coyotes with a ton of 2022 NHL Draft picks. If that draft lives up to the hype, the Coyotes would be in a great place. That’s true even if the Coyotes’ obvious tanking doesn’t net them Shane Wright.


  • The Coyotes haven’t just accelerated their rebuild by loading up on the 2022 NHL Draft, either.

They already lined up three second-round picks for the 2024 NHL Draft, while other teams likely don’t feel comfortable looking that far ahead. The sheer volume of those picks could mean more dart throws, or assets to send for more immediate help.

Not every team is as willing to make painful choices like the Coyotes have during their rebuild

Considering Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s plummeting value, the Coyotes pretty much had to get out of his contract. Yes, the Canucks are holding out hope that they can rebuild OEL like a hockey Robocop. But the Coyotes packaging OEL in a way that actually landed them a first-rounder, rather than costing them one to shake that odious contract loose? Wonderful. (Unless you’re a Canucks fan?)

Zooming out, your mileage will vary on other trade sacrifices from this Coyotes rebuild. Conor Garland’s a gem, Darcy Kuemper conjured most of their recent flashes of brilliance, and Christian Dvorak will clearly be missed.

In the big picture, it’s brilliant stuff.

At 31, and entering a contract year, the Coyotes risked Darcy Kuemper’s stock falling — or him leaving for nothing as a free agent. Instead, they exploited the Avalanche’s situation without Philipp Grubauer, getting an outstanding return.

Amid Montreal’s offer sheet misery, the Coyotes landed serious draft capital by trading Christian Dvorak. The cost-controlled 25-year-old could very well be worth the price for the Canadiens. But, for the Coyotes? It’s difficult to  imagine a solid but unspectacular center moving the needle for a team blowing almost everything up.

[Could the Coyotes rebuild go even further with Kessel, Keller trades?]

Time and time again, the Coyotes exploited other teams’ angst. The Canucks were desperate both to improve (thus willing to gamble on OEL’s scary contract) and also to wiggle out of cap worries. With that in mind, the Coyotes got out of that OEL deal, landed nice picks, and only had to absorb a year of Eriksson/Beagle/etc. pain. Just splendid.

That would all seem like obvious stuff, but other teams don’t always strike when the iron’s hot. Among other things, other rebuilding teams could learn from the Coyotes in being so decisive. A wishy-washy team might have waited too long to take advantage of the Avalanche’s Grubauer situation, among other opportunities.

Most important steps still to come — and go beyond work on the ice

Truly, it’s rare to see a rebuild as dramatic as the Coyotes,’ at least if you focus on a single offseason. You might need to go to other sports, possibly delving into “The Process.”

Yet, despite a series of impressive leaps, this franchise is really just placing the first bricks of a foundation. That’s just how decimated things were after a series of dizzying errors by former GM John Chayka.

Collecting a ton of draft picks gives the Coyotes crucial extra “dart throws.” They still need to hit those targets, and develop players properly if they even select the right ones.

Wade through the Coyotes’ draft history, even just looking at high first-rounders, and you’re essentially doom-scrolling. From Barrett Hayton (fifth overall in 2018) to Kyle Turris and Brandon Gormley, there’s ample evidence that high picks won’t just automatically make the Coyotes rebuild an actual success.

If you only look at year-to-year disappointments, the likes of Scott Wheeler ranking the Coyotes’ farm system just 14th seems less than ideal. With all of the picks they lost because of Chayka’s scouting violations and expensive deadline rentals, though? It could be worse. But there’s still a ton of work to do.

[Looking back at the mess GM Bill Armstrong inherited]

Of course, the Coyotes face bigger hurdles than making the right draft picks, and getting the most out of them.

The Coyotes’ arena problems seem like they’ll never end. If they do, it could take a while. Either way, there’s no denying that money troubles made a Coyotes rebuild a no-brainer. To truly generate optimism, the Coyotes will eventually need to appear viable to potential free agents.

Back in February, the Athletic’s Katie Strang dropped a bombshell report (sub required) about the Coyotes. Beyond illuminating money troubles, it pointed to a toxic atmosphere. Ownership absorbed the harshest criticisms in Strang’s piece, but it didn’t always shine a flattering light on Armstrong, either.

Now, it’s true that successful NHL franchises aren’t immune to ugly scandals. Still, the general feeling is that the Coyotes have a lot of work to do both on and off the ice for this rebuild to actually come together.

Like the Sabres and others have shown, things can unravel in ways both expected and unexpected. The mission has by no means been accomplished just yet.

But give credit where it’s due. Looking at this offseason, the Coyotes have nailed their rebuild. Other NHL teams should take note.

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

Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

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DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.


Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

He found a little of both.

The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

“I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

“It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

“That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

“We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

“It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”


Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.

Avalanche spoil Kuemper’s return, top Capitals 3-2 as Bednar sets mark

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DENVER – Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano and Alex Newhook scored against former teammate Darcy Kuemper and the surging Colorado Avalanche held off the Washington Capitals 3-2 to give coach Jared Bednar his franchise-record 266th victory.

Logan O'Connor added two assists, Nathan MacKinnon had an assist for his 700th point and Alexandar Georgiev made 37 saves in the Avs’ season-best sixth straight victory. They moved into third place in the Central Division, one point ahead of Minnesota.

Bednar, coaching his 500th game for Colorado, improved to 266-185-49 and passed former Quebec Nordiques boss Michel Bergeron for the most coaching victories in franchise history.

Alex Ovechkin returned from an injury to score his 31st goal for Washington. Conor Sheary also scored and Kuemper stopped 23 shots in his first game in Denver since helping the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in June.

The crowd stood and applauded after a first-period video tribute for Kuemper, who won 37 games in the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs.

The Avs chose not to re-sign Kuemper, who then inked a five-year deal with the Capitals in July.

He had his moments against his former team, including nifty glove saves against Jacob MacDonald and Lehkonen in the second period to keep it a one-goal game. But Newhook’s goal with 4:21 left in the second made it 3-1.

The depleted Capitals dominated the third period but still lost for the fifth time in seven games.

Ovechkin’s one-timer at 9:44 of the third was his 811th goal after he missed his first game of the season Saturday with a lower-body injury. But Washington was without T.J. Oshie, who left to be with his wife for the birth of their fourth child. And Nicklas Backstrom was a late scratch with a non-COVID illness.

Then Tom Wilson exited in the second period after blocking a shot and underwent an X-ray between periods.

The Avalanche, who haven’t trailed during their win streak, solved Kuemper at 8:57 of the first when MacKinnon absorbed a big hit from Dmitry Orlov and fed Lehkonen for his 15th goal and sixth in six games.

Cogliano redirected Kurtis MacDermid‘s shot 2:04 into the second to make it 2-0. Sheary cut the. lead in half when he tipped in Martin Fehervary‘s shot for his 12th goal just over two minutes later.


It also marked the return of Washington’s Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who had 22 points in 67 games for the Avs in 2021-22, He’s remembered for dropping and denting the Cup during the on-ice celebration.

“It’s part of my journey here,” a smiling Aube-Kubel said of his fumble, adding the season was “the best time of my life.”

NOTES: Avs D Cale Makar (upper body) practiced Monday and took part in the morning skate, but missed his fourth straight game. … Avs W Anton Blidh cleared waivers and skated on the fourth line. … Aliaksei Protas centered Washington’s third line in his first NHL action since Jan. 5 and was robbed by Georgiev in the first period. … The Capitals have only four games left outside the Eastern time zone.


Capitals: Host Pittsburgh.

Avalanche: Host Anaheim.