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The Athletic: Coyotes could make leap, become breakout playoff team

Goaltender Antti Raanta #32 of the Arizona Coyotes skates onto the ice during the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Gila River Arena on October 30, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes’ acquisition of Phil Kessel has been much-discussed and well-documented. How it will affect the Coyotes’ chances of success this season has been a common point of prognostication.

Kessel and other factors have some feeling like the Coyotes could have a big year this season. That wasn’t the case, apparently, for the statistical model of The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn.

An article from Sean McIndoe, also of The Athletic, said “Luszczyszyn has kindly given me a sneak peek at the ten teams his model expects to have the worst seasons in 2019-20. I’m going to try to figure out why it’s wrong, and why those bottom-feeders will actually turn out to be playoff teams, if not Cup contenders.”

The Coyotes ranked seventh on Luszczyszyn’s list, meaning the model pegged them as the seventh-worst team in the NHL. Last year, they were the 14th-worst team in the league, so this would be a significant step backward for Arizona. Already, that raises an eyebrow. The model said the Coyotes would have a point total in the mid-80s and have a 1-in-4 chance of making the playoffs.

McIndoe wrote, “To be honest, I’m a little surprised to see the Coyotes show up here. Dom’s model isn’t projecting any significant improvement for the Coyotes, despite them being a young team that battled through injuries and just added a legitimate star winger.”

He defended the Coyotes further:

Their big problem last year was that they couldn’t put the puck in the net; Clayton Keller led the team with just 47 points, which wouldn’t even have cracked the top five on a dozen teams. So they went out and got Phil Kessel, who always wears out his welcome eventually but scores plenty in the process. That won’t turn them into some sort of offensive juggernaut, but it will help.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes finished sixth in goals against, largely on the strength of Darcy Kuemper’s breakout. He’s no sure thing to repeat that performance, but they’re also getting Antti Raanta back and have some depth in the system. Pencil them in for another top-ten finish defensively and add a few more goals from Kessel and the kids, and the Coyotes should finally have the breakout we’ve all been waiting for. Granted, sometimes those breakouts never come. But as the 2017-18 Jets and 2018-19 Hurricanes remind us, sometimes they do, and when it happens the jump can be a big one.

Kessel had 27 goals and 55 assists for 82 points last year, which would have led the Coyotes in both goals and points by a huge margin had he had that same production in Arizona. His roster in Pittsburgh was more loaded with superstar talent, but even with some regression, Kessel figures to play a huge impact for the Coyotes.

And as McIndoe notes, goal prevention was a big factor in Arizona’s success last year. It’s true that part of that hinged on a monster season from backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper, but it’s also true that systems and defensive personnel play a role in why the Coyotes were able to limit goals. Furthermore, as McIndoe does point out, starting netminder Antti Raanta is back.

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