Over the course of this summer, it was very obvious that the Arizona Coyotes were entering a full-on rebuild. Their general manager (GM) in Bill Armstrong acquired many bad contracts in a number of trades that saw players like Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Andrew Ladd, Anton Stralman and Shayne Gostisbehere brought in. In taking on these bad contracts, the teams trading away these players gave the Coyotes compensation in draft picks, which should help them to speed up their rebuilding process.
For fans in the desert, it signified that there would be a few rough seasons ahead. However, with the lack of overall success they had during John Chayka’s tenure as GM, they were likely accepting of this, as you often have to get worse before getting better. And while the players they brought in had everyone expecting them to struggle, they were and continue to be respected veterans throughout the league who are just on bad contracts. No one expected them to be an easy team to play against.
Unfortunately through the teams first four games, an easy team to play against is exactly what they have been. They currently own a disappointing 0-3-1 record, though it isn’t nearly as much due to their skaters as it is their goaltending.
This team is in clear tank mode. That much was obvious when they made the moves they did this offseason. However, they still would have lost plenty of games regardless of who was in net. They didn’t need to enter the 2021-22 campaign with what they have between the pipes.
Worst NHL Goaltending Duo in Some Time
Before the season began, many were quick to poke fun at the Buffalo Sabres goaltending situation with Craig Anderson and Dustin Tokarski. That certainly isn’t an ideal duo, but is far better than the one the Coyotes have in Carter Hutton and Karel Vejmelka.
In fairness to Vejmelka, he hasn’t been horrible through his first three games, two of which were starts. In those games, the first of his NHL career, he has a 2.82 goals against average (GAA) along with a .908 save percentage (SV%). Those numbers aren’t bad, especially given the fact he is a 25-year-old rookie who spent the previous seven seasons playing professionally in Czech Republic. On Thursday night versus the Edmonton Oilers however, he allowed five goals on just 31 shots, including a couple which an NHL goalie needs to stop, like this Warren Foegele goal which beat him through the “seven hole“.
With Vejmelka, the mistakes are forgivable, given that he is still young and learning. Whether or not he has what it takes to be a full time NHLer moving forward remains to be seen, but he has performed okay to this point. However, he should under no circumstances be forced into the starting role, something that may slowly be happening due to the struggles of his goaltending partner in Carter Hutton.
Hutton, 35, appeared to be done as an NHLer after struggling immensely with the Buffalo Sabres in 2020-21, posting an ugly 3.47 GAA along with a .886 SV% in 13 games. Some of that could be attributed to the struggling team in front of him, but his partner that season in Linus Ullmark fared far better with a 2.63 GAA and a .917 SV%.
The 2020-21 season was not the first time we have seen Hutton struggle either. After a number of solid years backing up for the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, the Sabres signed him to a three-year deal in hopes he could replace their former starting netminder in Robin Lehner. It was a disaster from the get go, as he performed quite poorly in each of the three seasons he spent there.
Due to those struggles, it was quite surprising when the Coyotes chose to sign him to a one-year deal this offseason. What made it even more surprising was that they brought in no other veteran netminder to play in front of him, instead choosing to go with him as the starter on opening night.
To the surprise of no one, that situation worked out very poorly, as Hutton allowed eight goals on just 26 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets. His second start against his former team in the Blues went equally as bad, as he had allowed six goals on 21 shots before being replaced by Vejmelka.
Hutton simply appears lost out there, and given his track record in recent seasons, there is nothing to suggest he can turn things around. He certainly isn’t at fault from this as he wanted to keep his NHL career going and was able to do so, but he simply isn’t capable of carrying the load for a struggling team, and his 8.75 GAA along with his .702 SV% suggest he likely won’t be of much help in a backup role either. He was a very solid goalie for a number of years, but his best days are well behind him.
Unfair to Team and Fans
As mentioned, this team is clearly going through a rebuilding stage, and they would love nothing more than to win the draft lottery to have the opportunity to select Shane Wright first overall at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. While that is the ideal situation, you have to question the way Armstrong is going about it.
Perhaps he was simply just wrong on Hutton, and will attempt to bring in another goaltender. If he doesn’t, it sets a bad precedent, and could actually do more bad than good for this organization. First of all, losing games, especially in the fashion they have been, wears on players. Young guys like Clayton Keller, and even to an extent Jakob Chychrun, are still improving day in and day out, and could have their development severely impacted by losing games in this measure.
Even worse is that it makes games nearly unwatchable for fans. Attendance issues in Arizona have been well documented for some time, and getting blown out every night isn’t going to help in the slightest with that. This current situation isn’t fair to the fans who have stayed loyal to this team over the years, nor is it fair to the team or even the goaltenders themselves. Armstrong needs to make a change here, and he needs to make it as soon as possible.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.