Coyotes GM Armstrong, CEO Gutierrez eager for shortened season to start
The Arizona Coyotes’ COVID-19-shortened 2021 season is slated to kick off in 23 days against fellow West division foe San Jose.
It certainly seems like first-year Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong and team president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez are counting the days, at least, given the way they addressed the team’s outlook for the season ahead on Monday.
Armstrong, who was hired by the Coyotes in September after serving as the assistant general manager and director of scouting for the St. Louis Blues, said this year’s team should hold its own against a difficult slate of opponents.
“This is a young group that’s got a tremendous amount of talent on it. Make no mistake, we’ve got to take a step. With this grind of a season, it’s going to be a great challenge for us because the simple fact that we play Colorado, who’s probably ranked as the No. 1 team in the NHL,” Armstrong said.
“Then you’ve got Vegas and you’ve got St. Louis, you’ve got three of the top teams right there. It’s a tremendous challenge for this young group of players to come in and fight.”
The Coyotes, like all 31 NHL teams, face a 56-game regular season that sees them play eight games against each of the teams in the league’s west division.
Armstrong is not fazed by the number of games that the Coyotes will play, or the number of days in a row they’ll have to compete as the year unfolds.
Instead, he’s focused on how tough this year’s roster is and how well the team is suited to battle its way into the postseason come the spring.
“It will be a good test of our will to fight to get into the playoffs,” Armstrong said. “You’re going to have to scrape, kick and claw, and not only do you have a lot of games in a lot of days, but you’ve got COVID just lingering around.
“So this is a great challenge, it’s a great battle, so I’m excited about taking this group in there. You couldn’t ask for a more exciting division to play in.”
Armstrong added that the Coyotes roster should be well-suited to play such a compact schedule with a youthful roster that’s eager to play together.
“I think it’s going to be a battle. The players aren’t taking it for granted. They’re excited about playing,” Armstrong said. “You’re going to see some great hockey, especially from our young guys who have the ability to kind of pull you out of your seat at times. We’re excited about this group. I think the advantage is probably that we’ve got young legs.”
Gutierrez shared Armstrong’s bullish feelings about the approaching season, saying that the team’s front office, including owner, chairman and governor Alex Meruelo has high hopes for the team in the year ahead.
“From the top down, we’re incredibly thrilled and excited,” Gutierrez said. “This is an incredible team that we have on the ice, and with all of the activity that we’re doing off the ice to really build a model sports franchise.
“This is a great opportunity that we have to really show the progress that we’re making as we position this organization as the premier sports franchise [in the Valley].”