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Long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes.

Pending free agents

The Core

A pressing question — one of the most important in franchise history, frankly — is if the Coyotes should re-sign Taylor Hall, and if Hall would actually want to become part of the core.

Because, whether you feel convinced that this is the sort of group you can win a Stanley Cup with or not, there’s definitely a core to this team.

Extending Oliver Ekman-Larsson was crucial to the Coyotes, but he didn’t really look like an $8.25M defenseman during his first season being paid that way. Time will tell if Clayton Keller is really worth $7.15M per year, himself. (It’s fair to mention that big prices for prominent forwards almost always look better as time goes on.)

The Coyotes have handed big term to some interesting players, including Nick Schmaltz, who they received in moving out former third overall pick (2015) Dylan Strome. Christian Dvorak‘s contract was a little surprising at the time, but will probably be fine.

There are some other interesting questions to answer. Can Jakob Chychrun stay healthy enough to realize his potential? As great as Darcy Kuemper has been, will he be the goalie beyond his extension (running through 2021-22)? Will they retain Antti Raanta beyond 2020-21 to maintain a potentially outstanding platoon?

Clearly, the Coyotes also hope that Barrett Hayton will not just be part of the core, but a star for them. File another one under “We’ll see.”

Long-term needs for Coyotes

The Coyotes still lack that “game-breaking talent,” so to speak.

For all that the Coyotes do well (they’re quite viable), it’s not a great sign when your top two scorers are at 45 points (Schmaltz) and 44 (Keller) this late in the season. At least now that we’ve exited the dreadful “Dead Puck Era.”

Circling back to an earlier point, Taylor Hall lingers as a tough question.

While still a strong player, Hall might not quite be the guy anymore. Hall nonetheless is the closest answer Arizona currently possesses. (Opinion: Keller and Hayton seem more likely to settle in as “stars” rather than “superstars.”)

Also, for a team that’s missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons and stands at risk of an eighth, their prospect cupboard doesn’t bowl you over. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked their farm system 20th in late January (sub required), for example. While some might chalk that up to “early graduations,” Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed Arizona’s 23-and-under core at a middling 16th place.

The defense is also getting a little older in spots, particularly Alex Goligoski (34). Even OEL turns 29 on July 17.

Long-term strengths of Coyotes

Goalies are an unpredictable lot, but the Coyotes have done as well as anyone in acing these tests.

They’ve successfully targeted two backups in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. While receiving top-notch goaltending, the Coyotes also haven’t signed scary contracts like other teams. They merely signed Raanta for three years ($4.25M) and Kuemper’s extension ($4.5M for 2020-21 and 2021-22) looks like a super-steal right now. Even if Kuemper slides, few teams have made safer bets.

There are Plans C and on, too. Adin Hill has shown some potential, and Arizona boasts an interesting prospect in the pipeline in Ivan Prosvetov.

If Chychrun can get through this rough patch of injuries and Victor Soderstrom develops, the Coyotes’ defense looks pretty solid, too.

Yes, lots of “solid” can feel like a curse when “great” is usually the difference between clearing a hurdle and crashing. (Well, great matched with lucky, at least in this often-random sport.)

Still, the Coyotes keep putting themselves in a spot where they can get that extra boost. With plenty of Pacific Division teams looking to be in waning periods, there might just be an opening for the Coyotes.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Arizona Coyotes
Coyotes’ biggest surprises, disappointments so far

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

Arizona Coyotes: This season’s biggest surprise, disappointment

Kessel Coyotes surprise disappointment
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes.

Goaltending delivering for another season a crucial surprise for Coyotes

The most crucial surprise wasn’t necessarily out of left field: once again, the Coyotes received brilliant goaltending.

Darcy Kuemper basically transformed into a Vezina-worthy goalie from January 2019 on in 2018-19, but it seemed like a lot to ask for him to do it again.

Yet, for much of the first few months, Kuemper managed to be just as good, generating a tremendous .928 save percentage over 29 games this season. But you’ll notice that injury-reduced workload of 29 games and realize that it was about more than Kuemper.

[PHT Q&A with Kuemper]

After his own troubling run of injuries, Antti Raanta answered the call. Raanta played almost as well as Kuemper (including a .921 save percentage) over 33 appearances. Remarkably, Adin Hill quietly put together strong work (.918 in 13 GP) of his own, too.

Do the Coyotes help their goalies out a bit? Sure, but they don’t necessarily stand out among the best-of-the-best in every defensive category. In a league where netminding feels random, the Coyotes received (almost) two seasons of stellar work, injuries and all.

Garland’s ascent the biggest surprise for Coyotes, though

But the purest surprise is the rise of Conor Garland.

Garland spent part of last season with the Coyotes, managing 18 points in 47 games. The 25-year-old is skyrocketing up Arizona’s depth chart now, though. Garland currently ranks third in team scoring with 39 points, one more than Phil Kessel and Christian Dvorak. Not bad for a player who’s full season time-on-ice average sits just about 14 minutes per game.

There’s evidence that he’s getting a boost in ice time (about 16 minutes per night in January and February), so his days of sneaking up on people are likely numbered.

Garland provided evidence that he could be a hidden gem with solid possession stats and prolific QMJHL production. It’s nonetheless still surprising to see him soar like this.

Biggest Coyotes disappointment so far

Plenty of people pointed out that Phil Kessel’s lost a step/multiple steps, but he’s been a letdown even considering lowered expectations. No, it’s not surprising that Kessel is living off of the power play, especially when it comes to goals (nine of his 17 on the PP), but 38 points in 70 games is a bummer for a player who increasingly struggles to outscore his problems.

Seeing Kessel finish dead last on this GAR chart (by Charting Hockey via Evolving Hockey’s stats) is troubling:

Any defensive-minded team hopes to find ways to add offense to their recipe without spoiling what made their dishes work in the first place.

It’s clear that Kessel wasn’t the missing ingredient to spice things up for the Coyotes. The team seems to realize that it’s better to sprinkle him in lately, at least. After averaging 17:38 TOI heading into the All-Star break, the Coyotes only deployed Kessel for 15:52 per night in 19 games since.

Taylor Hall: Coyotes disappointment, or not?

As far as Taylor Hall goes, the winger’s generated 10 goals and 27 points in 35 games with Arizona. That output ranks him 10th overall in team scoring already. (Somewhat amusingly, Hall’s main stumbling point is the power play, where Kessel’s made his living.)

Maybe the Coyotes will regret paying a price to trade for Hall and/or not flipping Hall before the trade deadline, but considering how their offense isn’t necessarily a locomotive, I’d say he’s delivered more or less what someone can reasonably expect.

Kessel, though? As much as we love the nice guy who tries hard and loves his dog, he simply hasn’t been the catalyst the Desert Dogs were hoping for.

At least it was a delight to see Kessel in those “Peyote” throwbacks, though:

(Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

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

NHL Power Rankings: Where every team stands right now

NHL Power Rankings
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Even though there is no hockey at the moment but we will keep the NHL Power Rankings rolling along every Monday.

In future weeks during the NHL’s hiatus this will take a more off-beat approach, but for now, we are going to take another look at where every team in the NHL stood before the season was put on hold.

Here is where we are for right now.

1. Boston Bruins. The Bruins were well on their way to winning the Presidents’ Trophy and potentially finishing with one of the best records in franchise history. They have it all this season.

2. St. Louis Blues. The defending Stanley Cup champions were looking even better than a year ago and starting to hit their stride in the stretch run. There is also that possibility of a Vladimir Tarasenko return lurking in the background.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Even as the injuries mounted they kept winning. A lot. A truly scary team in both the short-and long-term.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers finally find a franchise goalie and then a global pandemic brings everything to a stop.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. They were starting to go on a roll at just the right time, have two great goalies, and were still going to get Mark Stone back.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning. They won just three out of 10 after their 11-game winning streak came to an end. Losing Steven Stamkos, and more recently, Victor Hedman, were two big injuries to deal with.

7. Washington Capitals. John Carlson was on pace for a 90-point season, which is still pretty absurd to think about it in today’s NHL for a defenseman.

8. Edmonton Oilers. If nothing else, Leon Draisaitl has shown this season he can not only carry his own line, he can dominate while doing so.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins. Their big question going into the playoffs would be whether or not one of Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray could step up and run with the goaltending job. Lately, neither one had done that.

10. Minnesota Wild. Truly one of the strangest teams in the league this season. At so many different points they seemed finished, only to keep coming back and staying in the race. They are 15-7-1 in their past 23 games and looking like a playoff team.

11. Carolina Hurricanes. The injuries on defense were going to be a lot to overcome, but getting Petr Mrazek back (and hopefully James Reimer) would have been a huge lift.

12. Nashville Predators. Once one of their goalies (in this case Juuse Saros) started making some saves they magically started winning again.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. There is no team in the NHL that has a wider range of possible outcomes than this one. They could win it all. They could lose in Round 1 in five games. They could keep everyone together. They could trade a core piece this summer. Who knows?

14. Winnipeg Jets. Not only should Connor Hellebuyck get serious Vezina Trophy consideration, he should get a few top-five MVP votes for what he has done for this team.

15. Calgary Flames. I feel like this team should be better than it has been, and at the same time, isn’t as bad as I thought it has been.

16. Dallas Stars. The offense would hold them back and be a concern. The goaltending would give them a chance.

17. New York Rangers. There is a foundation in place for this team to be very good, very fast, and for a very long time,.

18. Vancouver Canucks. They were set to get Brock Boeser back, which would have been huge, but the Jacob Markstrom injury was going to be a problem.

19. Florida Panthers. Back-to-back wins against Montreal and St. Louis (an extremely impressive win) helped them stay in it, but this season has mostly been a disappointment.

20. New York Islanders. Speaking of disappointments, after last year’s surprising performance and that 15-game point streak earlier this season the bottom completely fell out on this team. It was not getting any better down the stretch.

21. Chicago Blackhawks. The story of the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks was going to be “too little, too late.”

22. Los Angeles Kings. Say this for the Kings: The players still there never quit on this season. One of the hottest teams in the league going into the hiatus and beating playoff teams regularly.

23. Columbus Blue Jackets. It would have been interesting to see what this team was capable of with better injury luck.

24. Montreal Canadiens. He probably will not get many votes because he is very overlooked, but Philip Danault would be a good Selke Trophy sleeper.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They made a lot of the right moves, things just did not work out. Losing their two goalies definitely hurt. While Adin Hill did find in place of them, a healthy Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta were difference makers.

26. New Jersey Devils. One of the bright spots here was the late season resurgence of Cory Schneider. He has had such a great career it would have been a shame to see him just suddenly lose it all.

27. Anaheim Ducks. They desperately need an influx of offensive talent for next season and beyond.

28. San Jose Sharks. Get them healthy and give them better goaltending and let’s see what this core can do next season.

29. Buffalo Sabres. In a different year on a better team we would be talking about Jack Eichel as an MVP contender.

30. Ottawa Senators. With a little draft lottery luck they could have two top-five picks this year (their pick and San Jose’s pick). That could be franchise changing.

31. Detroit Red Wings. But no team needs the No. 1 overall pick more than the Red Wings.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

How concerned should Coyotes be about recent play?

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The Arizona Coyotes swung for the fences when they acquired Taylor Hall from the New Jersey Devils in December. Although the ‘Yotes are still currently in a playoff spot, things haven’t been looking too good for them as of late. How concerned should general manager John Chayka be about his team’s struggles?

As of right now, Arizona is sitting in the first Wild Card in the Western Conference with 58 points and 21 regulation/overtime wins in 53 games. Vegas is one point behind them with a game in hand and tied in the first tiebreaker, Regulation Wins. Nashville is three points away with three games in hand and one more RW, and Chicago and Winnipeg are trailing them by four points with two games in hand and 18 RWs each.

Yeah, things are tight in the West. And the Coyotes aren’t doing themselves any favors right now.

They’re in the middle of a four-game winless streak and they’ve dropped seven of their last eight contests. They’ve picked up just four of a possible 16 points during this funk.

Hall has been reasonably productive since moving to the desert, as he’s picked up seven goals and 16 points in 18 contests.

Last night, the Coyotes opened their four-game home stand with an OT loss to the lowly Los Angeles Kings. That’s an extra point they simply can’t afford to lose.

“We’ve got to keep the energy level up, we’ve got to stick together. That’s the way it is,” head coach Rick Tocchet said after the loss to the Kings, per NHL.com. “There’s no other way. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. There’s going to be a lot of negativity around, but we’ve got to stick together.”

If Hall is producing, what’s the problem?

First, they’ve been banged up between the pipes. Darcy Kuemper was having a terrific season, but he’s been out since Dec. 19 with a lower-body injury. Antti Raanta, who is a talented goalie in his own right, has also missed some time since the start of this month. It’s not easy for them to roll into every game with Adin Hill in goal. They need Kuemper back ASAP.

Secondly, other players around Hall have stopped producing. Here’s what we’re talking about:

Phil Kessel has four points in his last eight games, but three of those came in one night.

Clayton Keller has one assist in his last nine games.

Derek Stepan has four assists in eight games but three of those helpers came in the team’s win over San Jose.

Nick Schmaltz has three points in his last two games, but he had no points in his previous seven.

To make matters worse, top defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson left last night’s game against the Kings with a lower-body injury and he didn’t return.

The Coyotes need to pick up as many points as they can during the remaining three games of this home stand because they’ll be hitting the road in different time zones after that.

Between Feb. 10-20, the ‘Yotes will play in Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Dallas and St. Louis. They’ll have just two home sprinkled into their schedule during that time. In fairness to them, they have more wins on the road (14) than they do at home (12), but their recent play suggests they won’t be able to keep that up.

Chayka now has to decide whether or not he should give up more assets to improve his team before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Does he ride it out with this group or does he shake things up again? He has less than a month to decide.

Thankfully, if they miss the playoffs and win the lottery, the first-round pick they sent the Devils in the Hall trade will transfer over to 2021.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL teams putting importance on backup goaltender position

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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins had it all set up to honor backup goalie Jaroslav Halak on Tuesday night for becoming the 74th goalie in NHL history to play in 500 games.

Then something went wrong: Starter Tuukka Rask was injured, Halak became the No. 1 guy and the Bruins decided to postpone the ceremony until a night Halak would be off.

”A lot of times, they’re in a zone before the game. We want them to enjoy that ceremony,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”With Tuukka’s, injury we were forced to change it.”

There are a lot of NHL teams making a lot of changes because of injuries to their starting goalies this season – and not just the ceremonies to honor middling milestones. Four goalies selected for the All-Star Game are injured, with Rask joining Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo, Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury. (Rask had already begged out of the game before he was injured.)

For NHL teams, the days of riding one goalie as much as possible have long since passed. Now, general managers know they need a strong No. 2 to get the team through the back-to-backs and the injuries that can pop up at any time.

”Some of that’s obviously the ability of the second goaltenders. Some teams just don’t have that,” Cassidy said. ”We’ve got two guys we feel real comfortable with. It makes for a good combination. Jaro, he’s handled if before. If it was Jaro hurt, Tuukka could have handled it.”

Last week, the Panthers said Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury. Starter Sergei Bobrovsky has already missed much of January with an unspecified injury.

Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk was out for 15 games because his wife had a serious medical situation, and the Wild went 9-3-3, with six of those wins credited to Alex Stalock, their primary backup in his third season with the team.

The Coyotes thought they had their No. 1 goalie for the future when they got Antti Raanta from the Rangers in 2017. But he played just 59 games his first two seasons in Arizona. Darcy Kuemper took over and earned a spot in last year’s All-Star game, finishing fifth in the Vezina Trophy Award voting.

When Raanta returned, the Coyotes went with co-No. 1’s, and hovered near the top of the Pacific Division. Then Kuemper, who was 15-7-2 and second in the league with a 1.97 goals-against average, was injured on Dec. 20 and hasn’t played since.

Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said there was interest in Raanta earlier in the season, and he’s glad that general manager John Chayka didn’t bite on trade offers.

”I remember him saying to the staff, ‘A lot of teams are calling about Rants. We all looked at each other and said, ‘Rants and (Kuemper) are the identity of our team. They give us a chance to win,”’ Tocchet said ”I mean, we try to play good defense and do a lot of other things. But they give us this identity and this confidence. Why would we want to put a crack in the armor?”

Raanta went 9-9-2 before he was injured early this month. Adin Hill, who played 17 combined NHL games the previous two seasons, has gone 2-2-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average with Kuemper and Raanta out.

Bobrovsky won two Vezina Trophies in Columbus before departing for Florida as a free agent, and Korpisalo inherited the No. 1 job. A five-game winning streak in December landed him an All-Star selection.

But Korpisalo injured his knee trying to block a shot in a shootout on Dec. 29; rookie Elvis Merzlikins, a 25-year-old Latvian who had never won an NHL game when he took over, is 8-2-0 with a .955 save percentage, 1.55 goals-against average and three shutouts in his last four games.

”There’s certain teams in the league, they rely on one guy,” Cassidy said. ”Some of that may be that their salary cap just played out that way. They didn’t have the luxury. The cap probably precludes you from going to fix an area that maybe you didn’t see coming, or you did see coming but, hey, you went and spent it somewhere else.

”I just know as a coach, whoever’s number is on the board to go into the nets, we feel good about our chances.”