Arizona Coyotes: 2021-22 NHL season preview

Arizona Coyotes
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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Arizona Coyotes.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 24-26-6 (54 points; fifth place in West Division)
• Postseason: Did not qualify for playoffs; selected Dylan Guenther No. 9 overall
• Offensive leader: Phil Kessel (20 goals, 23 assists, 43 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Ryan Dzingel, Carter Hutton, Dmitij Jaskin, Conor Timmins (trade from Colorado), Anton Stralman (trade from Florida), Antoine Roussel (trade from Vancouver), Jay Beagle (trade from Vancouver), Loui Eriksson (trade from Vancouver), Shayne Gostisbehere (trade from Philadelphia), Josef Korenar (trade from San Jose), Travis Boyd, Andrew Ladd (trade from New York Islanders)
• Free Agent Subtractions: Darcy Kuemper (trade to Colorado), Antti Raanta, Adin Hill (trade to San Jose), Christian Dvorak (trade to Montreal), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (trade to Vancouver), Alex Goligoski, Conor Garland (trade to Vancouver)

Biggest Question Facing the Coyotes

• Who will be the next player traded?

The Coyotes’ offseason has been all about completely overhauling the roster and purging it of, well, everything. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, all of the goalies, Alex Goligoski, and Christian Dvorak have all been traded or let go in free agency with nothing but future assets and draft picks coming back in return.

Given that it seems obvious that Phil Kessel is one of the next to go given his status as a pending free agent.

But will he be it?

Will it extend to more players that actually have term on their contract? Is Clayton Keller part of the rebuild, or is he a trade chip? Does Nick Schmaltz have value? What about any of the other pending unrestricted free agents on the roster (of which they are many)? The trades may have only just begun, and by the end of the season the Coyotes could have have an obscene number of draft picks at their disposal.

The only player on the roster that seems safe is defenseman Jakob Chychrun.

What’s the salary cap situation?

The salary cap situation is great, because the Coyotes not only have space to work with this season, they have almost no long-term commitments on the books. Outside of Keller they have no significant salary cap hits of any kind.

Now, what they do with that is yet to be seen.

Given the uncertain future of the team, at least regarding its arena situation, it is difficult to imagine them being major players for superstars. But it does give them flexibility to continue to be a contract dumping ground that allows them to take on more future assets. They have shown time and time again they are not afraid to do that and will weaponize their salary cap space, and there is nothing stopping them from continuing to do that.

Breakout Candidate

• Conor Timmins

He’s an intriguing player after coming over from Colorado in the Kuemper trade. He was never going to get a major role with the Avalanche given the top-heavy nature of their defense, and Arizona should present an opportunity for him to play real minutes. He put up great numbers in the American Hockey League and did not look out of place in his limited cup of coffee in the NHL.

Best-Case Scenario

The playoffs are probably not a realistic scenario here. They are moving to the Central Division where competition is going to be way more fierce than it would have been in the Pacific, and it is a roster that is clearly being torn down to the foundation. They also do not have the goaltending that kept them in games for the past couple of seasons. Going from Kuemper and Raanta to Carter Hutton and Josef Korenar is a big drop.

The best hope here is that the pending free agents play well enough to be traded elsewhere for strong returns, and that young players like Chychrun, Timmins, and Keller take big steps forward. The latter one is extremely important. The Coyotes have a huge investment in Keller and right now he does not look like a cornerstone player or a trade chip. They need him to bounce back.

Worst-Case Scenario

The worst-case scenario here might not even really be that bad in the long run. But if the goaltending does not hold out, the roster continues to get purged, potential trade assets do not perform and tank their value, and players like Keller or Timmins do not take any step forward this could quickly turn into an ugly season in the standings. The positive there is that it could lead to some draft lottery luck and maybe a franchise-changing player. But even that is far from a given because then it is in the hands of ping pong balls and the lottery.

Bottom line is they need to be able to flip some players for more assets and they need Keller to have a big year.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.