What’s new with Coyotes? Coaches, players & Dunkin’ Donuts
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes general manager John Chayka is looking forward to taking a seat and getting a look at the massive renovation project that, for the most part, he oversaw this summer.
The Coyotes didn’t just slap a new coat of paint on a weathered structure. They tore down walls, dug out some of the foundation, replaced some of the landscaping, re-arranged the floor plan and bought new furniture. Now, they’re finally ready to move back in as the team opens the season Thursday in Anaheim against the Ducks.
“It’s been a hell of summer,” Chayka said Tuesday at the Coyotes Face-off Luncheon. “It’s been very busy and any time you put a lot of different pieces together you just don’t know how they will fit. I’d be lying to you if I said I knew exactly what we’re going to get. That’s the fun part about following a team and going along that journey.”
Expectations for this season were addressed in a companion piece Wednesday on ArizonaSports.com, but here’s a look at all that’s new this season, the Coyotes’ 21st in the Valley.
Majority owner Andrew Barroway bought out the team’s other owners in June, making him the sole owner of the franchise. The buyout removed all members of the IceArizona ownership group that purchased the team from the NHL in August 2013, including co-owner and alternate governor George Gosbee, co-owner, alternate governor and president of hockey operations, Gary Drummond, president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc, co-owners David Duckett, Bill Dutton, Craig Stewart, Scott Saxberg, Robert Gwin and others.
“I wouldn’t say it wasn’t working, it was just a lot of voices,” Barroway said. “We had 10 different limited partners. Anyone who has been in business with 10 partners, there’s going to be some different opinions sometimes, but it was always my dream to own the entire thing and that’s why I doubled down on my investment.
“One voice, one vision, everyone heading in the same direction. Everybody is getting along famously. It’s collaborative yet the boundaries are clear, too. It makes it easier to make the tough decisions when it’s obvious where it’s coming from.”
The Coyotes hired former Arizona State athletic director and experienced sports executive Steve Patterson to replace LeBlanc and spearhead efforts to get a new arena built in the Valley. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman closed the door on the Coyotes remaining in Glendale longterm in a letter to the Arizona State Legislature in March.
“The Coyotes current location in Glendale at Gila River Arena is not economically capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise,” he wrote. “For the past 15 years, a succession of ownership groups and the League have tried everything imaginable to make the Glendale location financially sustainable. Our combined efforts all have yielded the same result — a consistent economic loss. The simple truth? The Arizona Coyotes must have a new arena location to succeed. The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale.”
The arena is not Patterson’s only duty, but it is his biggest. Until he has something concrete to announce, however, Patterson will take a decidedly different approach from the previous ownership group.
“In all honesty, our main focus has been getting the season started,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of changes to the organization so we’re focused on our knitting and making sure fans have a great experience. When we get to point where we have something to discuss publicly, we’ll do that. There’s really not anything to report right now, and I think it wiser to talk when you have something to talk about than to talk when you have nothing to talk about.”
NEW COACHING STAFF
The Coyotes brought head coach Rick Tocchet on board to replace Dave Tippett, loosen the reins on the team’s skilled young core, speed up the pace of play and shepherd those young players through the growth process with alternating hugs and hard kicks in the pants.
“There’s different ways to play fast,” Tocchet said. “I don’t want to take the stick out of guys’ hands. We have some creative young players here so I want them to be creative. I want them not to think too much. I want them to play.
“You have to give players freedom, especially in today’s NHL, to play, but I’m not going to sell the farm. It’s not going to be 3-on-1s all night. You have to be calculated.”
Tocchet has said repeatedly that he wants to get off to a fast start because it will create even more buy-in and belief in the system he’s preaching. With so many new faces, a new system and the muscle memory those players bring from years under Tippett, a fast start will be one of Tocchet’s greatest challenges.
Center Derek Stepan: The Coyotes acquired Stepan and goalie Antti Raanta hours before the June draft in Chicago, sending defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick to the New York Rangers. Chayka said he couldn’t go into another season without addressing the team’s glaring need at center.
“This organization has been looking for a No. 1 centerman for over a decade and he’s a guy that can fill that hole,” said Chayka who had been trying to acquire Stepan, 27, for more than a year. “Derek is a solid 200-foot centerman that can make plays, win faceoffs and can play in all situations (against) top competition. He just checks all the boxes for a top-line center for us. We’ve got a lot of great young wingers, but they need that stability up the middle of the ice to have success.”
Stepan has posted four straight seasons of 50-plus points, his possession numbers are good and he can match up defensively against top talent. His leadership qualities have been evident in interviews with the media and the way he interacts with teammates.
Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson: Priority No. 1 for the Coyotes is putting franchise defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson in a position to succeed as they look to sign him to a long-term extension next summer. Chayka signed Ekman-Larsson’s brother, Kevin, to a minor-league deal to help support Oliver after the death of his mother this summer. After consulting with his top player, Chayka also acquired Hjalmarsson from Chicago at the draft for defenseman Connor Murphy and minor-league center Laurent Dauphin to finally give Ekman-Larsson a suitable partner.
“If God would have made him right-handed he would’ve been the perfect fit for OEL,” Chayka quipped. “I just think with Oliver, what makes him special is him playing with the puck and his offensive game, the way he makes plays. Hjalmarsson is an elite defender; one of the best. He kind of covers up and allows Oliver to do his thing.”
Hjalmarsson won three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks and has earned praise from Tocchet throughout camp as the ultimate pro.
Defenseman Jason Demers: Chayka sent underachieving forward Jamie McGinn to Florida for Demers on Sept. 17 in what may go down as the GM’s best deal to date.
Demers should solidify the team’s second defensive pair alongside Alex Goligoski. He gives the Coyotes a much-needed right-handed shot on the blue line, and he brings the type of mobile, puck-moving game that should mesh well with Tocchet’s system.
Goalie Antti Raanta: Raanta has never been a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, but one of the best goalie coaches in the business, New York Rangers assistant and former Coyotes goalie coach Benoit Allaire, believes he is more than ready for the jump.
Raanta, 28, has played four seasons in the NHL, serving as a backup goalie in New York and Chicago. He has started 78 games over those four years, with a goals against average of 2.32 and a save percentage of .917. He won a Stanley Cup as Chicago’s backup in 2014-15.
Raanta is on a $1 million salary for the 2017-18 season. He will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. He’s a low risk. If he doesn’t pan out, the Coyotes could move on.
Defenseman Adam Clendening: Clendening’s underlying possession numbers are good, but they have come in protected situations. He’ll have a chance to earn more minutes, but with the Coyotes blue line solidified, he could just be a nice depth piece on an affordable, one-year $650,000 deal.
Forward Nick Cousins: The Coyotes acquired Cousins and goalie prospect Merrick Madsen from the Philadelphia Flyers in June for forward prospect Brendan Warren and a 2018 fifth round pick. Cousins can play right wing or center, and will serve as a depth option.
Forward Zac Rinaldo: The Coyotes signed Rinaldo, an agitator, to a one-year, two-way $700,000 deal. Rinaldo must still serve a five-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette late in the 2015-16 season. Rinaldo played the 2016-17 season in the AHL so he has not served any games of his NHL suspension.
Tocchet said Tuesday that the Coyotes would name three alternate captains for the season but hold off on naming a captain until that player emerges. Tocchet said there is a “good possibility” that Ekman-Larsson and Hjalmarsson will wear two of the As with the third rotating between several veterans, with Derek Stepan, Alex Goligoski and Brad Richardson in the mix.
Tocchet doesn’t think the C is important because he believes players don’t have to wear a letter to be leaders. The topic is probably more important to the fans than anyone else because whoever earns that C will be replacing Shane Doan. Doan was the Coyotes’ captain for 14 years, representing the franchise, the city and the league with such grace that he became a Valley and hockey icon.
“The process of the captaincy, I’m not ready for that yet,” Tocchet said. “I think it’s important that players just worry about hockey. That thing will sort itself out … Maybe it’s a month from now, maybe it’s four months. I don’t know.”
DUNKIN’ DONUTS HIGHLIGHTS NEW ARENA FOOD CHOICES
Coyotes fans will notice some changes at Gila River Arena this season, including upgrades in club areas to create more seating and some upgrades in the suites.
Tim Hortons donuts and Smoke’s Poutinerie are both gone, but Levy Restaurants will offer 12 new food choices. The biggest news is Tim Hortons’ replacement. The Canadian chain will be replaced by American chain Dunkin’ Donuts, which will serve its pastries and coffee.
Among the 12 new food items:
Bratwurst Burger: A local bratwurst, served with caramelized onions and honey mustard sauce on a fresh Kaiser roll.
3 Little Pigs Nachos: Crispy pork rinds, Monterrey cheese sauce, cilantro chimichurri, green onions, and jalapenos.
The Enforcer: A foot-long ½-pound bacon wrapped southwestern chicken sausage.
The Coyotes home opener is Saturday at 6 p.m. vs. the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.