Darcy Kuemper

Long-term outlook Coyotes Keller Ekman-Larsson
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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 Injury roundup: Yamamoto out for Oilers; Kuemper returns for Coyotes

NHL Injury
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Checking in on some injury news around the NHL.

Another injury for Oilers

On Monday the Edmonton Oilers made two pretty significant trades to improve their forward lineup with the additions of Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis.

Those additions are taking on even more importance on Tuesday because of yet another injury to an already battered lineup.

The Oilers announced on Tuesday that promising young forward Kailer Yamamoto is going to be sidelined on a week-to-week basis due to an ankle injury. The Oilers are already playing without James Neal, Oscar Klefbom, and Kris Russell due to injuries. Connor McDavid had also missed six games before returning to the lineup on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

Yamamoto, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, has taken a huge step this season in his development and is currently averaging a point per game (20 points in 20 games) this season.

Kuemper back for Coyotes

Some significant news for the Coyotes in their playoff push on Tuesday as starting goalie Darcy Kuemper returns to the lineup when the team hosts the Florida Panthers.

Kuemper, who currently owns the NHL’s highest save percentage this season (.929) among qualified goalies, has not played since Dec. 19.

The Coyotes enter the game clinging to a playoff spot following a month-long slump through most of January and February. They have, however, won three of their past five games and have two in a row at home against the Panthers and Sabres and are now getting their best goalie back for the stretch run. As long as Antti Raanta stays healthy they have one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL right now.

Markstrom’s injury will be tough for Canucks

Jacob Markstrom has been the underrated star of the Canucks’ turnaround this season and, very quietly, one of the league’s best goalies.

Now he is going to be sidelined for a yet-to-be-determined period of time, leaving the Canucks’ goal crease in the hands of Thatcher Demko and trade deadline acquisition Louis Domingue. The Canucks have lost six of their past nine games and a brutal schedule ahead of them that includes a four-game road trip that starts tonight in Montreal.

If Markstrom’s injury turns out to be significant, that might be the difference between a playoff spot and an early summer.

Clutterbuck back with Islanders

Cal Clutterbuck was back on the ice with the Islanders on Tuesday, but he is not yet ready to return to game action for their game against New York Rangers tonight.

He has been sidelined since December due to an ugly cut he suffered when his wrist was hit by the skate blade of Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron.

He recently played two games for Bridgeport in the American Hockey League.

Tarasenko getting closer

The St. Louis Blues did not add another winger before the trade deadline on Monday, but that does not mean some extra help is not on the horizon.

All-Star winger Vladimir Tarasenko is back skating with the team and inching closer to a potential return to the lineup, according to general manager Doug Armstrong.

Armstrong said on Tuesday that Tarasenko will travel with the team on its upcoming road trip, not because he is going to play, but to further assimilate himself with the team. When they return from that trip Armstrong said they will be able to sit with Tarasenko and the team doctors to figure out a return date for him. That update comes via The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford.

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.

NHL Awards: PHT hands out hardware at the All-Star Break

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It’s the NHL All-Star break, which means it’s a good time to reflect on what’s happened during the first four months of the 2019-20 season. There’s been plenty of surprises and disappointments so far, and it’s never too early to begin discussing who could be up for the the major awards in June.

The PHT staff was polled for their top three choices for the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Jack Adams, and Calder. Below are our selections and our reasons behind our No. 1 selections.

Let us know your winners in the comments.

SEAN: The problem for the super duos in Boston and Edmonton is there are arguments to be made for McDavid and Draisaitl and Marchand and Pastrnak for MVP. All are worthy, but right now the top spot has to go to MacKinnon for what he’s done this season with the Avs. His 70 points puts him top three in NHL scoring and he kept on scoring as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog missed time with injuries. How important has been for Colorado? The second leading scorer on the team — Cale Makar — is 35! points behind him.

JAMES: Woof, this is a tough one. MacKinnon gets the edge for two reasons: First, his defensive impact is stronger than guys like McDavid (in a granular way) and secondly, MacKinnon generated big offense and huge shot totals even with key linemates out. He didn’t have the luxury of Mikko Rantanen as often as McDavid had Leon Draisaitl or Pastrnak had Brad Marchand (who’s just as worthy of consideration as Pastrnak).

ADAM: The Oilers’ roster still isn’t very good outside of the top-two or-three players, and McDavid is single-handedly putting that team on his back and carrying it. He is simply the most dominant player in hockey. He should be going for his third or fourth MVP at this point in his career.

JOEY: This may be the obvious pick, but the Oilers are so thin behind McDavid and Leon Draisaitl that it’s hard not to consider their captain the frontrunner to be MVP. McDavid is currently on pace to pick up 127 points, which is one point fewer than last year’s Hart Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov, finished the season with in 2018-19.

SCOTT: Whether he wins the award or not, McDavid is by far the most valuable player in the National Hockey League

SEAN: A leg injury will likely derail Hamilton’s chances in June, but for now he’s been top for the class this season. He’s got the points (40), the possession stats (58% Corsi, via Natural Stat Trick), and is top five in goals above replacement (13.4) and wins above replacement (2.3), via Evolving Hockey.

JAMES: If Carlson’s scoring lead shrinks, I’d lean toward someone like Pietrangelo, who scores and also shines more in underlying metrics. Carlson’s still mostly … fine, though, really, and his offense has been impossible to ignore. Not just 13 goals and 60 points, but also six game-winners. Sorry, I can only ignore so many shiny points. Hamilton would be in the top three if not for his unfortunate injury — I assume we’ll sadly have to forget about him here.

ADAM: I say this knowing Hamilton is almost certainly not going to win at the end of the season because of his injury (and because Carlson’s point total will get most of the votes) but we are talking strictly first half performance here, and I think Hamilton was the best all-around defenseman in the first half before his injury given his dominance at both ends of the rink and his ability to control the pace of the game. He has always been underappreciated and a legit No. 1 defender, and this is his best performance to date.

JOEY: How can you argue with the Carlson pick? The 30-year-old is top 10 in league scoring, which is shocking at this point, and he’s on pace to surpass the 100-point mark. His overall game isn’t terrible either. What a year.

SCOTT: The offensive part of his game this season has been outstanding but Carlson’s play on both ends of the ice is a huge reason why the Capitals are atop the NHL standings.

SEAN: Hellebuyck is as important player to his team as anyone this season. As the Jets continue to struggle, the netminder has stood out keeping them above water and in the playoff race. He sports a .926 even strength save percentage, is top five in goals saved above average (10.75, per Natural Stat Trick), and leads all goalies in goals above replacement (16.3), wins above replacement (2.8), and standings points above replacement (5.5), as tracked by Evolving Wild.

JAMES: Hellebuyck deserves legitimate MVP consideration. The Jets would be lost without them, as they’re getting swamped and basically asking Hellebuyck to save the day. He’s doing so to a staggering extent. Bishop’s been incredible for Dallas, though, and is even impressive in certain stat categories. Sheer workload wins it for Hellebuyck.

ADAM: Bishop does not get enough attention for being one of the league’s best goalies. He has already been a Vezina finalist three different times in his career and should be there again this season. The Stars have a good team, but no one person is driving their success more than him.

JOEY: Hellebuyck might not have the best numbers of the three candidates on this list, but he’s done a relatively good job playing behind a less-than-stellar defense. The Jets lost Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba in the off-season, so being the goaltender on that team was never going to be easy.

SCOTT: Binnington busted on the scene last season but has proven that it was not a fluke with excellent play between the pipes.

Tortorella
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SEAN: The Blue Jackets are in a playoff spot, just as we all predicted back in July… Despite all of the departures in free agency Tortorella has gotten the best out of his charges, with a special thanks to the recent play of goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. As Cam Atkinson said before the season, Columbus came in with chips on their shoulders and have proved doubters wrong through the first half.

JAMES: Let’s be honest; “keeping your job” is the real Jack Adams Award for coaches in 2019-20. There are some great choices — including Barry Trotz, who didn’t make the top three — but Sullivan’s Penguins haven’t just rolled with huge injury punches. They’ve also managed to be a top team, not just a team clinging to wild-card contention. Sullivan’s versatility as a coach has really impressed me since he joined the Penguins.

ADAM: Sullivan. The Penguins not only lead the league in man-games lost due to injury, but the quality of players that have been sidelined is far and away above what any other team has had to deal with. They are still one of the league’s best defensive teams, one of the league’s best teams overall, and are playing like they did during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons when they won the Stanley Cup.

JOEY: Tortorella has had to make serious adjustments heading into this season. Losing Panarin and Bobrovsky is something most coaches wouldn’t be able to overcome. Whether they make the playoffs or not, Tortorella needs to be in the conversation for the Jack Adams.

SCOTT: With all the injuries that have ravaged the Penguins, they are still in prime position in the Eastern Conference and Sullivan has done a great job of integrating call-ups up and down the lineup.

SEAN: Makar and Hughes will be the top two finalists and so far it’s an incredibly close race. They’re tight in points (Makar leads with a 0.88 points per game average) and close in minutes played (Hughes is ahead by over a minute per night), but Makar gets the slight edge here with his impact offensively for the Avs. The only question come awards season is if Ilya Samsonov came play his way in being the third finalist.

JAMES: Hughes vs. Makar remains a tough choice, and picking third is tough, with Adam Fox and forwards like Victor Olofsson (injured) and Dominik Kubalik knocking on the door. The three defensemen above are bringing offense, but are also carrying significant workloads — and not just “for rookies.” Hughes strikes me as the most impressive from an all-around standpoint, while Makar’s offensive brilliance cannot be ignored. It’s a strong, strong year for rookie defensemen, and Marino’s a hidden gem. All three defensemen are averaging more than 20 minutes per night on playoff teams.

ADAM: Makar looks like he is going to be a superstar. While the forward trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog is the foundation of the Avalanche roster, a player like Makar is what really takes them to another level as Stanley Cup contenders. An impact defenseman that can move the puck, play those minutes, and help drive the offense the way he does is a cornerstone player and the type of defenseman that has Norris Trophies in his future.

JOEY: Makar has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time in his first full year in the NHL and he’s managed to pick up 11 goals and 35 points in 40 games this season. The 21-year-old looks like he’s going to be a huge factor in Colorado for many years to come. He’s definitely the rookie of the year if he stays healthy.

SCOTT: The transition to the NHL shouldn’t be this easy but Makar has been a force on the Avalanche blueline.

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.”