Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny and GM Bill Armstrong enter Phase 2 with new contracts
Oct 6, 2023, 3:30 PM
(Photo by Josh Chadwick/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bill Armstrong’s first move as the Arizona Coyotes’ general manager was to do nothing.
Wanting to take a calculated look at the moribund franchise, Armstrong sat back and watched for an entire season before deciding on a course of action.
His plan: a nearly complete overhaul.
To pull off his rebuild, Armstrong needed a coach who could connect with and develop young players.
André Tourigny was the perfect fit.
“The one thing about him was that he was firm with his players, he motivated his players, but didn’t leave a scar,” Armstrong said. “I felt like we needed that type of coach because we were in the process of gutting everything, keeping what we liked then added in young players. You need to bring them in properly and I felt like he could do that.”
The Coyotes have been a curiosity across the league as the franchise has gone through a string of owners, including four years of being operated by the NHL, regularly missed the playoffs and struggled to find a permanent home.
Playing at Arizona State University’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena since last season has only intensified the novelty of hockey in the desert.
Now the franchise may finally be banking toward a better future, at least on the ice.
After years of trying to add players to their existing core, the Coyotes went all-in on Armstrong’s ground-up plan. Arizona started unloading veteran players to accrue draft picks, a decision that left them talent-thin on the ice, but fortified for the future.
When the franchise opted to part ways with coach Rick Tocchet after four seasons, Armstrong wanted a coach who had experience developing young players since that would be the primary makeup of the roster.
Tourigny has spent much of his career working with younger players, starting with an 11-year stint as the head coach and general manager for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Tourigny also served as an assistant coach for Colorado and Ottawa in the NHL from 2013-16 before returning to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Halifax. He moved on to coach the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League in 2017.
Tourigny began coaching with Team Canada as an assistant coach for the 2010 world under-20 championships and was the head coach for the 2021 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, earning a gold medal.
Tourigny’s past meshed perfectly with the Coyotes’ plans for the future.
“He knows how to manage the room and he’s very good at engaging personalities and kind of where we’re at,” Coyotes forward Nick Bjugstad said. “And he knows when to pedal down and kind of expect more from his players.”
As the Coyotes enter their third season under Tourigny, they’ve reached what Armstrong calls phase two of the rebuilding project.
Arizona labored to 57 points and a last-place finish in Tourigny’s first season. The Coyotes took a step forward last year, earning 13 more points while going 21-15-5 at The Mullett.
Now they’re on to the next step of Armstrong’s plan, centered on a youth movement.
Three-time All-Star Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Barrett Hayton have already proven to be effective NHL players who are reaching the prime of their careers. Forward Matias Maccelli is coming off a stellar rookie season that was interrupted by a lower-leg injury, while former first-round picks Dylan Guenther and Logan Cooley appear to be NHL-ready.
To complement and guide the young core, Arizona was aggressive during the offseason, adding forwards Jason Zucker and Alex Kerfoot, defensemen Sean Durzi and Matt Dumba.
Armstrong and Tourigny both received contract extensions before the season, ensuring they will get a chance to see the fruits of their rebuilding efforts.
“The moves they made in the summer allowed us to be more competitive,” Tourigny said. “So I think they kept their word and so far that every step Billy has planned, we’re on par with where we want to be.”
Everywhere except the arena front.
The Coyotes thought they were going to get a long-awaited new arena via a referendum this spring but voters in Tempe shot it down. Owner Alex Meruelo bought a parcel of land in Mesa to potentially build a new arena and may buy more land to give the franchise options.
With nothing concrete in the future, the Coyotes will continue to play at The Mullett.
The arena shared with Arizona State University has given Arizona a decided home-ice advantage, but the NHL Players Association has expressed concerns about the long-term viability of playing in a college arena.
“I always felt deep in my heart this would work,” Armstrong said. “I think we’re going on a timeline with our team and a timeline with our rink, it’s probably on pace and it’s going to come.”
Tourigny will be there to make sure they keep pace on the ice.
“I don’t know what it is, but they just don’t stop and they go and they work hard,” NHL Network analyst and former player Mike Rupp said. “I think that when you’re building a team, the hardest thing to establish is an identity and kind of the work ethic, and for it to just kind of roll from game to game. They’re going to play you hard.”