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Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong wants to bring gritty, collaborative change

Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez introduces new GM Bill Armstrong on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, via a Zoom press conference. (Screenshot)

New Arizona Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong is not shy about how he worked his way from scout to top executive.

He isn’t sheepish about his three championships at various points in his career, the last of which came in 2018-19, when as assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues his team won the Stanley Cup Final.

During his introductory Zoom press conference Tuesday, he spoke confidently about his path here but also in Arizona’s ownership that had to sell him on taking the Coyotes’ GM vacancy as much as he needed to sell himself.

“For those of you who don’t know me, I would say this: I have won three different championships at three different levels in three different roles, and I didn’t come all the way to the desert to get a tan,” Armstrong said. “I came to win a championship. This is complex, complicated job.

“But it’s also simple. You hire the right people, you find good players, you stack good player on good player on good player.”

Armstrong commanded a his conference call Tuesday like he apparently commands a room and an NHL front office, said Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez.

“This guy is a hockey guy’s hockey guy,” Gutierrez said, adding that Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo texted him during their interview with Armstrong.

It was the moment, Gutierrez said, he knew the team had the perfect fit to lead the hockey operations department.

“‘I’d run through a wall for this guy,'” Meruelo texted to Gutierrez after 15 minutes of speaking to Armstrong.

Last Thursday, the Coyotes, who went 33-29-8 in 2019-20 before losing in the first round of the coronavirus-altered playoffs, made it official. Armstrong was hired to replace interim GM Steve Sullivan, who filled in for John Chayka after Chayka quit in July.

He hopes to turn the Coyotes into consistent winners. This past season, due to a qualifying postseason round created because of the pandemic — Arizona defeated the Nashville Predators — the Coyotes made the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. They fell in five games to the Colorado Avalanche.

On Tuesday, Armstrong admitted that he had voices from the NHL community texting him, worried about how he could build a winning hockey team in Arizona.

The GM said he was sold after meeting Meruelo.

“He convinced me the day that I met him that he was committed to winning in the desert. I would not have not taken this job if it were not for him or Xavier,” Armstrong said.

Why does he feel like the fit for the Coyotes? They believe Armstrong has a rounded out resume and the drive to work with others on staff to create a winning team.

Armstrong was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1990 and spent his career in the American Hockey League and International Hockey League before retiring as a player in 1999. He joined the Blues as an amateur scout in 2004 and in six seasons was promoted to director of amateur scouting.

Armstrong was named assistant GM of St. Louis in 2018.

At his roots, he remembers driving through the wilderness, dodging logging trucks in the middle of the night to do his job. He will remember those moments when reshuffling the Coyotes staff and hiring scouts who can break down analytics, background reports and film to evaluate prospects and NHL players.

He called himself a “hybrid” type of GM who likes numbers, video and more to scout players. He replaces Chayka, who was known for his strong reliance on analytics.

The new Coyotes leader admits there will be culture shock.

“But at the same time, that has to happen,” Armstrong said. “We have to have a culture of collaboration.”

Arizona Sports confirmed the team fired assistant GM Lindsay Hofford and has opted to retain Sullivan, according to AZ Coyotes Insider Craig Morgan. However, Armstrong is only in the beginning stages of determining what his front office structure will look like.

He just knows he wants a blue-collar mentality in order to produce a perennial winning team.

“I didn’t realize, and I’m only going to say this once … how beautiful it is here,” he said. “I didn’t know until I stepped off the plane and I was like, ‘Woof, oh my God, this is incredible.’ But we’re never telling the players that. What we’re going to tell the players is it’s not a nice place to live. It’s a place to win a championship.

“You’re investing in this team with everything you have. Weather has nothing to do with it. I told them in the interview process, ‘I will see my house, the car and the office and not much of Arizona.'”

Armstrong said meetings have yet to be conducted about how the Coyotes roster will reshape around his vision. He did say he wants players who will make first, second and third efforts. He wants genuine investment in the organization from the players.

“There’s some good core young players here that are difference-makers, impact players, that I’m a big fan of,” Armstrong said. “There’s also some older guys who are good players too.

“I like challenges … I was extremely excited about getting into an organization and putting (my) thumbprint in there.”

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