Arizona Coyotes have limited tanking options in 2020-2021 NHL season

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Different NHL teams are starting the 2020-2021 season with different expectations. Still, as COVID-19 looms to throw a wrench into the best-prepared plans, PHT asks: what if each of the 31 NHL teams were to ‘kick off’ their 2020-21 season? Some situations are more realistic than others, but I hope this is an interesting exercise. In the latest edition of Pandemic points, PHT watch 2020-21 Arizona Coyotes.

For previous editions of Pandemic points, click here.

Chayka leaves behind a mess for Armstrong and the Coyotes

Leaving the Arizona Coyotes in a spectacularly messy fashion, former GM John Chayka might as well have handed new GM Bill Armstrong a hand grenade. Armstrong inherited one of GM’s toughest jobs in hockey, if not professional sports.

More blatantly, the Coyotes escaped their 2020 second-round and 2021 first-round picks after violating the NHL’s Combine Control Policy.

More understandable but still quite disastrous, the Coyotes have also branched off on their 2020 first-round (and a 2021 third-round pick) in Taylor Hall trading. While the pandemic made Taylor Hall’s rental even shorter than expected for the Arizona Coyotes, the bottom line is that it ended up being another mistake.

And when you look up and down this list of Coyotes, you’ll see a lot of Chayka errors.

It’s a mess, and the Bill Armstrong era began with a colossal mistake as the Coyotes drafted Mitchell Miller, to give up his rights. While it’s hard to place specific blame for this mistake – Armstrong was not cleared to make the 2020 Coyotes NHL Draft – it’s still a horrible mistake.

Just watch how outclassed the Coyotes were in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and you’ll be hard pressed to find much reason to believe this team will fight in 2020-21. And this interpretation of the Coyotes was clubbed with a Taylor Hall hoping to recover his value as a free agent. Without him? Well, the Coyotes best competitive odds can come down to the hope that their goalie gets them wide enough to compete.

(Seriously. Even when they beat the Nashville Predators, they did so relying almost entirely on a splendid Darcy Kuemper.)

Coyotes can only truly tank / punt to a limited extent

So the Coyotes have already come across an extremely limited performance in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Combine the remnants of the Taylor Hall trade (2021 third round) and that rule-breaking mistake (2021 first-round pick), and the Coyotes can’t even appease the failures of 2020-2021 with thoughts on the lottery of the 2021 NHL Draft. Brutal.

Given these circumstances, it’s easier to defend their inability to trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson. While it’s fair to wonder if OEL was worth all the hype, the Coyotes might be better off seeing if it can regain some value. Again, stripping everything makes less sense when the Coyotes don’t even have a first round after 2020-21.

At least … the Coyotes won’t get their first round.

What about going back to the early days of Chayka and tackling other teams’ cap issues, for a price? Is there another Pavel Datsyuk or Chris Pronger contract to absorb?

Well, even that is tricky.

Among other vestiges of the era of Chayka mistakes, the Coyotes don’t really have a lot of salary cap space. Perhaps a LTIR move or two could ease things up a bit, but Cap Friendly puts them around zero. Stunning.

(Photo par Dave Sandford / NHLI via Getty Images)

Punting on future possessions? A certain positivity of the Coyotes

To accentuate that football analogy, the Coyotes are fundamentally hoping they can shoot a Donovan McNabb and convert to 4th and 26th.

Maybe hope can come in “future possessions” then?

Move things over the line and the Coyotes can see some daylight. If you are Bill Armstrong, that’s what you preach: let’s make the most of this bad situation, then unveil our vision later.

Consider:

  • A lot of bad money and / or aging contracts soon dissolve.

Via Cap Friendly, the Sabers are essentially going from the cap of $ 81.5 million in 2020-2021 to less than $ 50 million at 12 players for 2021-22. Pledges drop again to $ 30.3 million at five players for 2022-2023.

While it’s not all peaches and cream, even in this regard – it can never be easy for these Coyotes – it still gives Bill Armstrong a pretty clear table for the next offseason. Derek Stepan’s $ 6.5 million milestone is disappearing from the books. Even Phil Kessel’s disgusting investment ($ 6.8 million) only lasts until 2022-2023.

  • Maybe leverage is also opening up?

Memorably, Oliver Ekman-Larsson apparently only gave the Coyotes room to trade him for the Bruins or the Canucks. That’s the power and the peril of a prohibition of movement clause.

But what if he expands that squad, perhaps after a strong individual season but weak team-wise in 2020-2021?

With patience, some windows might open for the Coyotes, including one if there is a 2021 NHL trade deadline. The room looks particularly dark right now.

A few caveats, even with this optimism

Of course, some of these shorter contracts are some of the Coyotes’ best deals.

Kuemper, 30, could order a huge increase to his cap of $ 4.5 million after it expires after the 2022-23 season. If Conor Garland proves that his breakthrough in 2020-21 shouldn’t have been surprising at all, he will receive a massive raise of $ 775K.

When Kuemper injured himself, Antti Raanta (31, cap of $ 4.25m) showed why the Coyotes targeted him in the first place. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, they may not enjoy the Kuemper-Raanta luxury any longer as Raanta enters a year on contract.

(Note: For Chayka’s many mistakes, he had his moments. The Coyotes made absolutely deft goaltending moves, from identifying talent to awarding them affordable contracts.)

With goalies in particular, Armstrong can find himself in a tough spot.

On the one hand, Raanta – Kuemper is giving this flawed Coyote roster its best chance at surviving, if not thriving, in 2020-2021. On the flip side, the Coyotes could derive a lot of value from moving one or both of those goalies.

Put simply, modern NHL goaltenders don’t tend to keep up Kuemper’s impressive pace. Since the start of 2019, Kuemper has recorded a sparkling .931 save percentage in 66 regular season games. This is the highest save percentage of any goaltender with at least 20 games played. (Star studs Ben Bishop [.928] et Anton Khudobin [.927] struggled for the second. Fourteen goalies have achieved .920+ save percentages.)

Combine this race with a fantastic playoffs, and Kuemper’s action is in full swing. If it made sense for the Coyotes to punt, then it would probably be wise to trade Kuemper as soon as possible. But without the incentive to add futures and cynically increasing their odds in the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery? It is less attractive.

(You can still argue that this might be the best move. After all, would it be shocking if Raanta ended up outperforming Kuemper, anyway?)

Deciding on the longer term plan for the goaltender ranks is just one puzzle Bill Armstrong must solve.

Overall: Punting is a complex issue for the Coyotes

Few teams want to land in puck purgatory. It’s a way of saying “not enough to win the draft lottery; not good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Oddly enough, the Coyotes might be better served by hovering around that playoff bubble, however.

If the Coyotes have a competitive season, it maintains commercial value for Kuemper, Raanta and even OEL. If the Coyotes are a little too good, it could be a PR problem to sell high. Conversely, a sad team of Coyotes could really underwater these trading values. Somewhere in between? This could be the perfect temperature for this porridge.

It all seems… pretty difficult, right? If we’re in awe of a strong Coyotes team down the line, give Bill Armstrong a lot of credit. It doesn’t sound easy.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk sur NBC Sports. Drop him a line at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.



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