Here’s what’s on the Coyotes’ Christmas list, and Arizona’s New Year’s resolutions
Dec 25, 2023, 11:15 AM
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
For the first time since the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season, the Arizona Coyotes are in the playoff hunt and hope to host a home playoff game for the first time since 2012.
While the Coyotes’ playoff push could be the driving force behind the rest of the season in Tempe, there are several other storylines to keep an eye on that could help Arizona this season and provide stability for years beyond.
We’re taking a look at what the Coyotes should be asking for as Christmas presents, what New Year’s resolutions they should make and what to watch for through the rest of the regular season.
The Arizona Coyotes’ Christmas list
A new arena
It’s no secret the Coyotes need a new place to play. There have been positive developments on this front as the team reportedly intends to pursue a land plot near the Phoenix-Scottsdale border.
In addition to the Phoenix-Scottsdale plot, Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo put in a letter to purchase 41 acres in Mesa, reportedly near Alma School Road and Loop 202, as another potential site.
Tempe voters shot down an attempt to build a $2.1 billion entertainment district in May that would have included an arena, practice rink, retail shops, apartments, two hotels and a movie theater.
Despite the setback, the Coyotes and the NHL have said repeatedly they wish to remain in Arizona and the greater Phoenix area, specifically. There appear to be options on the table.
Guenther has been lighting up the AHL with the Tucson Roadrunners this season. In his first year with the AHL club, Guenther leads the team with 25 points in 26 games. He has eight goals and 17 assists.
The No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft appeared in 33 games last season for the Coyotes and put in a respectable six goals and nine assists for 15 points.
A mid-season call up for the top prospect could give the Coyotes a shot of life if things stall out in the middle of the year.
Hard to believe, but Hayton, 23, is in the midst of his fifth NHL season. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 draft has been on the shelf with a hand injury since Nov. 16 but was ranked third on the team in ice time per game among forwards before his injury.
He had become an integral part of the forward group, peppering opposing goalies with 34 shot attempts in 16 games played. It’s an aspect the team has needed a boost in for several years.
The Coyotes have ranked last in each of the last two seasons and are near the bottom of the league in the category again.
Hayton is expected to return in February.
Things to watch:
Team lead in goals
There are four Coyotes with double digits goals led by Michael Carcone and Lawson Crouse with 14, Clayton Keller (12) and Nick Schmaltz (10).
Carcone played in just nine games last season with the Coyotes but led the AHL in points with the Roadrunners. His activity on offense has been a huge boost to start this season.
Crouse is coming off back-to-back seasons with 20 or more goals scored and is on pace to obliterate his career high of 24 he had last year.
Keller, meanwhile, led the team last season with 37 goals and is breathing down the necks of Carcone and Crouse.
While Chicago Blackhawks rookie Connor Bedard might be the runaway favorite for the Calder Trophy this season, Cooley is still in the conversation amongst Bedard’s biggest threats.
Cooley ranks tied for 5th among NHL rookies in points with 17 and tied for 3rd in assists with 14.
Those numbers might be higher if Cooley could get more time on the ice. His 16:23 minutes per game ranks 14th on the team and 8th among forwards.
His odds to win the Calder Trophy could see a bump if head coach Andre Tourigny lets the reins loose on his prized rookie despite some clear room for improvement.
Cooley has posted a -12 plus/minus and his shot percentage of 5.9% leaves more to be desired. His improvement will be worth monitoring as the season goes along.
Juggling act in net
Connor Ingram has been fantastic for the Coyotes this year, posting a 12-7-0 record to go with 2.62 GAA and .916 save percentage. But he’s faltered as of late, winning just one of his last six starts and being pulled in the first period of a 4-3 win against Ottawa on Tuesday.
Karel Vejmelka has been the steady hand between the pipes for Arizona after registering 49 starts in each of the last two seasons. This year he hasn’t seen as much action and struggled to a 5-7-2 start.
But Vejmelka is 3-1 in December and just earned NHLPA Player of the Week honors after winning three straight games and allowing just two goals.
It’s a long season, and Tourigny will have to juggle the fragile goaltending situation to determine who has the hot hand and who to keep on the bench.
Beat the Oilers
The Coyotes haven’t beaten the Edmonton Oilers since February 2020. That’s a six-game losing streak for the Coyotes against Connor McDavid and Co.
While the game is no longer a division matchup, the Oilers represent a formidable opponent as a potential competitor for a playoff spot.
They play each other three times this season and two of the last three games of the season are against the Oilers.
Feb. 19 in Tempe is the first matchup. They play in Edmonton on April 12 and end the season in Tempe on April 17.
Beat the Stars
Another team that has had the Coyotes’ number is the Dallas Stars.
The Coyotes are on a five-game losing streak to the Stars with the last win coming in April of 2022.
They stole a point against them in November with a 4-3 overtime loss — but a loss is a loss.
They get two more chances to redeem themselves with matchups on March 20 in Dallas and March 24 in Tempe.
The Stars are tied for first in the Central Division and a win would show the Coyotes that they can skate with the big dogs and provide a nice confidence bump down the stretch.
No more buying empty contracts
In March, the Coyotes acquired the $8.25 million contract of forward Jakub Voracek. They already have the $7.85 million contract of Shea Weber on the books through the 2025-26 season.
Both contracts were purchased to help the team reach the salary floor despite the presumption that neither player will see the ice in an NHL game ever again.
Now that the Coyotes are in the midst of the playoff hunt, the team should focus on spending money on players who will contribute on the ice.
While the contracts have served their purpose, tanking season is over in Arizona and all resources should be aimed at helping the Coyotes become contenders.