ARIZONA COYOTES

In 2019-20, Coyotes must seize chance to return to the playoffs

Oct 3, 2019, 11:41 AM | Updated: 10:18 pm
(L-R) Derek Stepan #21, Clayton Keller #9, Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 and Conor Garland #83 of the Ar...
(L-R) Derek Stepan #21, Clayton Keller #9, Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 and Conor Garland #83 of the Arizona Coyotes celebrate after Keller scored a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on January 18, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Here we are again: The start of a new NHL season where the Arizona Coyotes are 0-0-0 and high expectations are a valid currency. The Coyotes have a decent amount of it this year.

Soon, that currency will no longer be accepted. Arizona will be tasked with living up to its playoff hopes on the ice, starting with the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night at the Honda Center. It’s step one of 82 in which the Coyotes will try to match the offseason hubbub — however justified — and make their first playoff appearance since 2011-12.

The playoff expectations for the Coyotes make sense. They finished just four points shy of a playoff spot last year and then added Phil Kessel in the offseason. Kessel is one of four players in the NHL to score 20 or more goals in each of the last 11 seasons (joining Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane). That’s good for a team that really needs help on offense and the power play.

Arizona also found itself a new owner in Alex Meruelo, who excitedly proclaimed, “I sure as [expletive] want to win” in his introductory press conference. The Coyotes are up against the salary cap for the first time in recent memory.

And with so many players missing significant amounts of time last year due to injury, there’s some artificial “additions” on the basis of health alone. The Coyotes are hoping all of this amounts to a long-awaited return to the big dance.

“We feel good. This has been a build-up of a number of years now to get to this point where we feel like we’ve got a strong team, a team that has high expectations,” general manager John Chayka told the media at the beginning of training camp. “Obviously last year was disappointing, coming short like we did. But it also provided a lot of motivation. That’s what I feel with our group.

“I feel like we’ve got a group that’s got something to prove and guys that have got some chips on their shoulders and looking to take that next step. So as much as it hurt to miss, we’ve got to learn from that, too, and I think this group has.”

The Coyotes making the playoffs is not a guarantee; there are at least eight other teams in the Western Conference who are plenty capable. But it should be the goal and the standard now after several years of roster construction by Chayka and character-molding by head coach Rick Tocchet.

I asked Tocchet at the start of camp what would have to happen for him to call this coming season a success. He avoided looking months ahead to playoffs and stuck to the very thing he preaches every day to his players.

“Everybody likes to talk about playoffs,” he said at the time. “Thirty-two teams talk about that. It’s Sept. 12. That’s the wish list of everybody. But unless you … do the right things, the end result doesn’t matter. So that’s why I keep saying we’re just going to commit to our process.”

If the Coyotes don’t make the playoffs this year, the silver lining is this: There isn’t an aging core or group of key free agents-to-be that will leave the front office scrambling to give it another try.

But 2019-20 is an opportunity for them; a year in which a Gila River Arena filled with waving white towels is within reach. It’s an opportunity that should be seized.

Penguin Air

Penguin Air

Arizona Coyotes

Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper celebrates after the Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay L...
Nikash Nath

Coyotes awarded 2024 3rd-round pick from Darcy Kuemper trade

Darcy Kuemper was traded to Colorado in July 2021 for a package including a conditional 2024 third-round draft pick that is now Arizona's.
4 days ago
Fans watch as the Arizona Coyotes warm up before the NHL game against the Nashville Predators at Gi...
Character Counts

Arizona Coyotes Foundation’s 2022-23 grant cycle to open July 1

The Arizona Coyotes Foundation announced that the 2022-23 grant cycle will open from July 1 and run through Aug. 1.
11 days ago
National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announces the Arizona Coyotes #3 overall draft...
Arizona Sports

Here’s where the Arizona Coyotes pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft

The 2022 NHL Entry Draft is set to be a big one for the Coyotes, having seven selections in the draft's top 45 picks.
3 days ago
Logan Cooley speaks at the Top Prospects Media Availability at the NHL Scouting Combine at HarborCe...
Sam Graveline

Coyotes nab F Logan Cooley in Bleacher Report’s latest NHL mock draft

Bleacher Report's Lyle Richardson has the Coyotes taking American center Logan Cooley with the No. 3 overall pick in his latest mock draft.
13 days ago
President, CEO & Alternate Governor Xavier A. Gutierrez (Photo by Kelsey Grant/NHLI via Getty I...
Arizona Sports

Coyotes hope to agree with Tempe on arena plan by end of year

Arizona Coyotes CEO and president Xavier Gutierrez said an ideal timeline to get an agreement on a new arena would be by the end of 2022.
17 days ago
(Twitter Photo/@NHL_On_TNT)...
Jake Anderson

Paul Bissonnette gets new haircut after losing bet on Stanley Cup Playoffs

Former Coyotes player and current analyst Paul Bissonnette paid up after losing a Stanley Cup Playoffs bet with an interesting haircut.
24 days ago
In 2019-20, Coyotes must seize chance to return to the playoffs