Nick Schmaltz

Taylor Hall on quarantine, Coyotes possibly making playoff cut

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Even among NHL players facing uncertainty, Taylor Hall faced an especially turbulent season, ultimately ending up with the Coyotes. Credit Hall for his calm demeanor, then — or at least deploying a convincing poker face — while being interviewed by Mike Tirico during “Lunch Talk Live.”

You can watch that interview in the video above.

Hall discusses return to play scenarios, other topics on “Lunch Talk Live”

Really, Hall is a lot like us — aside from being a Hart Trophy winner, and whatnot. Hall admits he’s not really sure what’s ahead if he can return to action with the Arizona Coyotes. (He did praise the NHL for how it’s handling a tough situation, though.)

Actually, speaking of the Coyotes, Hall naturally would be thrilled if the Coyotes squeezed into some sort of 24-team playoff format. That said, Hall said he understands if those plans fall through.

One thing Hall didn’t talk about was free agency. He’s still slated to become a UFA, and it will be fascinating to watch the situation play out. Would this uncertainty increase his chances of returning to the Coyotes, perhaps on a short-term deal? Is the market going to be soft for Hall if he explores free agency?

Such questions might not be on the forefront of Hall’s mind, or something he really wants to talk about. But it should be interesting.

A look at Hall’s abbreviated run with the Coyotes

My guess is that few minds were changed by seeing Hall with the Coyotes vs. his last stretch with the Devils. That isn’t meant as a criticism; the point is that he was largely the same player.

Through 30 games with the Devils in 2019-20, Hall scored 25 points (six goals, 19 assists). His scoring pace was a little slower with Arizona, but similar overall, as Hall generated 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points in 35 games.

While that wasn’t an awe-inspiring scoring run, Hall has been the highest-scoring Coyote since his first game with the team on Dec. 17. (Conor Garland and Nick Schmaltz tied for second during that span with 22 points.) Hall also produced similar possession stats with the defensive-minded Coyotes.

Unfortunately, Hall could only do so much to help the Coyotes avoid slippage.

Frankly, the Coyotes leaned heavily on goaltending in 2019-20, so when that dried up, so did the wins. Since Dec. 17, the Coyotes went just 14-7-4, which translated to a .457 points percentage. That ranked as the 27th-worst mark in the league during that span, while the Devils played pretty well (18-12-7 in 37 games, 14th-ranked .581 points percentage).

[Looking back at the Coyotes’ 2019-20 season.]

A return to hockey could set the stage for upsets, though

So, there were some disappointments here and there. Still, the Coyotes would make the cut under certain formats, and Hall is right in wondering how far they might be able to go. Hockey is a sport that’s already prone to surprises, so if you add in how much the pandemic pause might throw off rhythms, who knows?

Of course, “Who knows?” is also the response most give regarding whether the NHL can return to action at all for 2019-20. Hall is no different in lacking answers to such questions.

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.

Long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes

Long-term outlook Coyotes Keller Ekman-Larsson
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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.

Looking at the 2019-20 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.

Arizona Coyotes

Record: 33-29-8 (70 games), fifth in the Pacific Division; Out of a playoff spot
Leading Scorer: Nick Schmaltz — 45 points (11 goals, 34 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

• Traded Eric Comrie to the Detroit Red Wings for Vili Saarijarvi
• Acquired Taylor Hall and Blake Speers from the New Jersey Devils for Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley, Kevin Bahl, 2020 conditional first-round pick, 2021 conditional third-round pick
• Traded a 2020 conditional seventh-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Markus Hannikainen

Season Overview: 

The ‘Yotes season got off to a pretty good start. Sure, they lost the first two games of the year to Anaheim (2-1) and Boston (1-0). They followed that up by winning seven of their next nine games (7-1-1 during that stretch).

They continued to have a good amount of success despite not having a forward produce like a superstar. They got the job done by committee, which isn’t always sexy, but it was yielding results at the time. So, what did general manager Jon Chayka decide to do right before the Christmas break? He made a splash!

Do you remember where the Coyotes were in the Western Conference standings on Dec. 16, 2019? That’s the day they made the blockbuster deal with New Jersey for Hall.

At that time, they had collected 42 points in 35 games. The 42 points put them tied for third most in the West. They were technically in first place in the Pacific Division, because they had a game in hand on the Edmonton Oilers, who also had 42 points.

Some agreed with the move, some didn’t. The biggest issue here is that Hall is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Will they be able to bring him back? That’s a big part of the trade.

Since they made the move, things haven’t gone as well for Arizona. They have a 14-17-4 record after making the big trade. It’s not even like Hall’s been bad. He found a way to score 10 goals and 27 points in 35 games with the Coyotes.

Where they go from here will be interesting. How much blame does Chayka get for swinging for the fences and missing? Does it cost him his job?

Highlight of the Season So Far:

It has to be the day the acquired Hall. Yes, things haven’t gone well since then, but if you’re a Coyotes fan, that was the day you got a former Hart Trophy winner. Whether you agreed with the trade or not, it had to be an exciting time for a team that hasn’t had much to be thrilled about over the last few years.

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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.

The Buzzer: McDavid and MacKinnon miss time; Kings’ royally surprising streak

McDavid MacKinnon illness injury PHT Buzzer
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Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon miss time; unclear if they will be out longer

As of this moment, it’s unclear if anything serious happened to McDavid or MacKinnon. Yet, consider the star power of both centers, the situations are both worth monitoring.

In McDavid’s case, he missed Monday’s significant game against the Golden Knights because of an “illness.” Despite waves of coronavirus jokes splashing around, the specifics remain unclear.

Speaking of unclear, it’s not immediately obvious how badly Nathan MacKinnon is hurt. He left the Avalanche’s loss to the Kings with a lower-body injury and did not return. Injuries are really piling up for Colorado, so the Avs have to hope this is only a minor setback.

“He leaves the game, I’m concerned right away. I have no idea (of the severity),” Jared Bednar said in his postgame press conference, via the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers. “Honestly, I just went (into the coach’s room) and came out here. I know he wasn’t good enough to come back in the game tonight. So, yeah, there’s some concern.”

Here’s hoping that neither this illness for McDavid nor this injury for MacKinnon costs either star much time.

Coronavirus causes disruptions for Sharks, media

Monday’s most noteworthy bits of information often didn’t revolve around Monday’s games.

Santa Clara County called for a ban on meetings involving 1,000 people or more, which puts the Sharks in a pickle. The Sharks provided a statement on the matter, with the basic takeaway being “TBD.”

On a related note, the NHL joined other sports leagues in prohibiting media and other “nonessential” people from locker rooms in hopes of limiting the chances of the virus spreading.

Three Stars

1. Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

Ehlers spearheaded a spirited comeback after the Jets fell behind 2-0 to the Coyotes. Ehlers generated one goal and two assists to help Winnipeg earn a crucial win against Arizona, and in regulation to boot.

After failing to score a point in three straight games, Ehlers now has one goal in each of his last two contests, and five points during that two-game span. With 25 goals and 57 points, Ehlers could match or exceed career-highs (29G, 64P).

Cody Eakin (GWG, 1A) and Tucker Poolman (1G, 1A) were also instrumental in the win, while Nick Schmaltz scored two goals in a losing cause for Arizona.

2. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers must have groaned heading into Monday’s game. They didn’t have McDavid in the lineup with a Pacific Division lead on the line against the Golden Knights.

Vegas did indeed dominate Monday’s game, and they ultimately won after Shea Theodore scored the overtime game-winner. Even so, Koskinen made 45 saves to secure a useful standings point for Edmonton. Considering McDavid’s absence and the Golden Knights’ 48-24 shots on goal edge, the Oilers should be thankful.

3. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

Dahlin generated two assists despite pretty brief-for-overtime usage (17:16 TOI) and then generated a shootout goal as the Sabres beat the Capitals. You could definitely give some of the credit to Linus Ullmark, too, as he made 33 saves.

Alex Ovechkin was productive in defeat, scoring his 48th goal and adding his (heh) 19th assist to improve to 67 points in 68 games. Ovechkin is right in the thick of the Maurice Richard Race, but it wasn’t enough to get the Capitals a win or Ovechkin a third star nod.

Highlight of the Night

The Kings beat the Avalanche on Monday, giving Los Angeles a most-unexpected six-game winning streak. They aren’t just knocking over (other?) tomato cans, either. The Kings defeats the Avs, Penguins, Wild, Maple Leafs and Golden Knights for five of those wins. Yes, the Devils do account for one of those wins, but even New Jersey’s been scrappier lately.

Jonathan Quick didn’t need to be all that busy as the Avs were shorthanded with MacKinnon out on Monday, but this was quite the sequence:

NHL Standings update

East (after significant win for Panthers)

West (after Jets beat Coyotes in regulation, etc.)

Scores

BUF 3 – WSH 2 (SO)
WPG 4 – ARI 2
FLA 2 – STL 1
VGK 3 – EDM 2 (OT)
LAK 3 – COL 1

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.

Jets swoop into top West wild-card spot after beating Coyotes in regulation

Jets rally beat Coyotes in regulation West wild-card race NHL
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It’s too early to know if the Coyotes squandering a 2-0 lead to lose to the Jets — in regulation — will count as a “defining” moment of Arizona’s crucial 2019-20 season. As of Monday, March 9, it certainly seems like a big game, though.

Nick Schmaltz scored both of the game’s opening goals late in the first period, sending the Coyotes into the intermission on a high note.

Nikolaj Ehlers served as the biggest catalyst in turning that game around from there. To start, he scored Winnipeg’s first goal, then assisted on the tying 2-2 tally late in the second.

Ehlers then supplied the primary assist for the game-winner, which was Cody Eakin’s first goal as a Jet. An empty-netter iced a significant 4-2 win for the Jets in front of an appreciative crowd in Winnipeg.

Standings impact of Jets beating Coyotes in regulation

With that result, the Jets soared to the West’s top wild-card spot, while the Coyotes allowed a vital opportunity to slip through their fingers/paws.

Take a look at the standings, including the Stars as the not-so-far removed third seed of the Central Division:

West wildcard after Jets beat Coyotes in regulation

OK, it’s important to note that the Stars probably are pretty safe, considering games in hand. (Also, the Oilers are in action against the Golden Knights on Monday, so that portion of the standings will change.)

This remains an agonizing defeat for the Coyotes. They now trail the Jets by four points with both having 12 games left on their schedules, while the teams in front of Arizona hold a game or two in hand and have 2-3 more standings points.

Imagining what could have been if the Coyotes might have secured that lead — or at least salvaged a “charity point” — must be a bitter feeling for Arizona fans.

After improving to 25-16-4 on Jan. 7, the Coyotes have really slipped, going 8-13-4 since then.

With that in mind, if the Coyotes wonder about what could have been, they might need to throw the net open wider than merely dropping this regulation loss to the Jets.

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.