GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes’ 20th season in the desert will conclude with a game against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday at Gila River Arena. The Coyotes hope it ends on a high note.
Of the 12 teams that had been eliminated from playoff contention as of Friday morning, only Winnipeg (39) has more points than the Coyotes (38) since Arizona began a three-game winning streak on Jan. 21 with victories over Tampa Bay, Florida and Vancouver.
The Coyotes improved to 17-15-4 in that 36-game stretch with a 4-3 win over Vancouver on Thursday, lifting them past Vancouver into 28th place in the NHL standings; the first time Arizona has been out of 29th place since Dec 15.
Here are five storylines to watch in the finale, starting with the captain’s future.
Shane Doan has not decided if he will retire after this season — one in which he has just six goals and 26 points, which would be his lowest output since the 1998-99 season.
“I really don’t know,” said Doan, who has not set a timeline for making his decision. “I truly wish I did. It would make everything so much easier to be able to give a definitive answer. There’s a chance I come back and play; there’s a chance I don’t.”
If Doan retires, he would end his career having played all 21 seasons with the same franchise; the last 20 in Arizona. He already holds the franchise records for most games played (1,539), goals (402), assists (569), points (971), power-play goals (128) and game-winning goals (69).
Doan signed an incentive-laden, one-year deal in the offseason after leading the team with 28 goals in 2015-16, but injuries, a lesser role and inconsistent play prevented him from matching that effort this season.
“It’s amazing how quickly you go from thinking you have lots of time to realizing you have no time,” Doan said. “This whole year, you wish you had a do-over on, but you don’t get them so you want to make sure you finish them off the right way.”
Doan isn’t the only one who could be playing his final game in a Coyotes sweater. Veteran defenseman Zbynek Michalek spent most of the final year of his contract playing in the American Hockey League with Tucson. It is unlikely the Coyotes will re-sign him and Michalek is realistic about his hockey future.
“We’ve talked about all the scenarios and possibilities and it is what it is,” said Michalek, who will be in the lineup Saturday for just the third time this season. “When you look at this team and this organization and this league with the way it is heading, it’s not very favorable to me.
“I have to talk with my wife and my agent after the season but I know my agent is working to keep options open in Europe. I love playing and honestly it was nice even down in Tucson to be that veteran presence and help show the young guys the right way, but all options are on the table now. I could play overseas. I could retire.”
Center Martin Hanzal wanted to sign a new deal with the Coyotes but the two sides were not on the same page with the numbers and term so GM John Chayka shipped him to Minnesota along with forward Ryan White on Feb. 26 for three draft picks.
Hanzal will be back in the barn where he played nearly 10 seasons, reunited with Michalek and fellow Czech Radim Vrbata, with whom he had lunch on Friday. Although the Wild is likely to rest two forwards on Saturday, Hanzal was scheduled to play against his old team.
“He’s only been gone a month but it will be good to see Marty,” said Vrbata, who reached the 20-goal plateau for the sixth time in his career in a win over Vancouver on Thursday. “I’m sure it will be the same for him as it was for me when I was in Vancouver and came back. I imagine he will feel the same weird feeling, especially for the first time.”
White and goalie Devan Dubnyk will also return to visit their former team on Saturday. Dubnyk is not expected to play.
Center Alex Burmistrov, 25, will get one more chance to show the Coyotes management staff he is worth re-signing as a restricted free agent this summer. Burmistrov has four goals in his last four games and 14 points in 25 games with the Coyotes. He also seems to have found some chemistry playing between wings Max Domi and Anthony Duclair.
“They play fast and they’ve been an entertaining line to watch,” coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s a young player still — a young player looking for an opportunity and he’s dug in; he’s trying to show what he can do here. He’s trying to earn a contract.”
Aside from Burmistrov (RFA), Vrbata, Doan and Michalek (all unrestricted free agents at the end of the season), the Coyotes have several other players whose futures are uncertain.
Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, Peter Holland, Josh Jooris and Teemu Pulkkinen all are restricted free agents. Martinook and Duclair will likely be back; the others are far less certain.
The expansion draft will cost the Coyotes a player, with defenseman Luke Schenn a possibility.
Wild at Coyotes
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona Plus
Radio: ESPN 620 AM
Records: Wild — 48-25-8. Coyotes — 30-41-10.
Season series: Minnesota leads, 2-0
Injury report: Coyotes — C Brad Richardson (leg) is out for the season. D Oliver Ekman-Larsson (mother’s death) is also out. Wild — D Jared Spurgeon (lower body) is questionable. RW Chris Stewart (sick) is expected to rejoin the team.
Scouting the Wild: Former Coyotes Martin Hanzal, who is expected to play, has three goals and 12 points in 19 games for Minnesota. … G Darcy Kuemper is expected to start. … A Wild win would give it a franchise-record 49 victories and one more point would also eclipse the franchise record for points of 104. … Minnesota is locked into second place in the Central Division and the third overall seed in the Western Conference.