Coyotes Have Mistakes to Clean Up Before Contention

The Arizona Coyotes are just a little under two weeks away from kicking off the 2023-24 NHL season with two preseason matchups against the Los Angeles Kings in Melbourne, Australia. This historical feat marks the first ever NHL games to be played in the Southern Hemisphere as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

Arizona Coyotes Bench Celebration
Arizona Coyotes Bench Celebration (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As training camps kick off for a handful of organizations around the league, general manager Bill Armstrong has remained at the forefront of it all. After addressing the team’s direction at the start of the offseason to build a competitive, well-rounded roster, the Coyotes GM, who signed a contract extension this past week, has stayed true to his word with veteran additions such as Matt Dumba, Jason Zucker, Nick Bjugstad, Troy Stecher, Alex Kerfoot, and Travis Dermott, along with some youthfulness in Sean Durzi, Dylan Guenther, and Logan Cooley.

The Coyotes have certainly made their intentions known this offseason, being considered a dark horse by many experts this upcoming season. If the club plans to be a potential wildcard/playoff team they need to tackle and fix three big areas during the course of this season: limit the number of penalties, have greater offensive production, and be better defensively as a whole.

Cutting Down On the Penalties

The first of three key areas that could turn Arizona into a playoff contender this season is cutting back on penalties. During the 2022-23 season, the team took 387 penalties for a whopping 972 penalty minutes (fourth in the league). A large portion of the Coyotes’ penalties came from the quintet of Liam O’Brien, Josh Brown, Jack McBain, Juuso Valimaki, and Zack Kassian who accounted for 374 of the team’s 972 penalty minutes, roughly 38 percent.

Jack McBain Arizona Coyotes
Jack McBain, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In comparison to the Vegas Golden Knights, this past season’s Stanley Cup champs, who finished the year with the league’s fewest penalty minutes with 589, the Coyotes looked undisciplined. They struggled to keep their tempers cool when games got out of reach. If they want to keep the puck out of their net, head coach André Tourigny and his staff need to preach better discipline, and that starts with taking better care of the puck and making smarter decisions.

New Additions Need to Make an Impact

Perhaps one of the bigger keys to success, the Coyotes need offensive contributions from all of their star players, including this offseason’s newest additions. Last season the star of the desert was Clayton Keller, who registered 86 points in 82 games after rehabbing from a scary injury late in 2021-22. His teammates McBain, Lawson Crouse, Nick Schmaltz, Matias Maccelli, and Barrett Hayton, along with a couple of key defensemen, all shined at points, but ultimately played second fiddle to the breakout year the future captain had.

Related: 3 Keys to a Successful Arizona Coyotes Season

Latest News & Highlights

The Coyotes will need their newest additions to make an impact if they want to push themselves over the needle and make the playoffs. Newest Coyote Zucker had his best season in a Penguins uniform this past season, putting up 48 points. It’s his first time registering over 40 points since the 2018-19 season with the Minnesota Wild, and his highest point total since recording 64 points in 2017-18.

Zucker’s former teammate Dumba is hoping to find his game again in the desert, struggling for the past five seasons after recording a career-high 50 points in 82 games during the 2017-18 season with the Wild. Former Yotes Bjugstad and Stecher both returned to the valley this offseason after being dealt at the deadline last season and know what is expected. Durzi and Dermott round out the defensive offseason additions, with Durzi looking to take the next step in his game, while Dermott (who continues to battle the injury bug) looks to offer some wisdom and knowledge (from ‘2023 NHL predictions: Why the Arizona Coyotes are set for major success,’ New York Post, Sept. 9, 2023).

Sean Durzi Los Angeles Kings
Sean Durzi, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kerfoot rounds out the offseason additions list, looking to find his 2021-22 form once again, registering 51 points that season. He’ll be counted on to serve as the leader and catalyst for the team’s third line this season. Closing out the new additions are two of the Coyotes’ top prospects, Guenther and Cooley. While Guenther played 33 games last season before going back to juniors, he’s expected to make an impact this upcoming season. Accompanying him is the highly coveted Cooley, who signed his entry-level contract this offseason, after originally committing to return to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore season. He’s an expected finalist for the Calder Trophy.

With a lot of offseason hype surrounding the desert, comes a desire for delivery, and oh boy is the Coyotes fan base craving it. The Coyotes scored 228 goals last season, ranking them 28th in the league. While the team wasn’t shooting for the playoffs, they didn’t exactly try and score many goals either. But, with a load of exciting talent and prospects on the roster, optimism looks to be swinging in the right way for once.

Cleaning Up Defensively

The Coyotes need to focus on scoring more, but they also need to keep the puck out of their own net/clean up defensively. They allowed 295 goals last season, which ranked 25th in the league, leaving their goalie tandem of Karel Vejmelka and Connor Ingram out to dry most nights. They struggled in their zone, failing to get the puck out, while turning it over too many times to count.

Juuso Valimaki Arizona Coyotes
Juuso Valimaki, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Not only did the Coyotes struggle with the puck, they struggled defensively on the powerplay, finishing last season with a 74.6 penalty kill percentage, 27th in the league. They recorded a save percentage of .897, further stressing the need for defensive changes. With the addition of Stecher, Durzi, Dumba, and Dermott, along with their current core of Brown, Valimaki, J.J. Moser, and Victor Söderström, the Coyotes didn’t overly impress in defensive additions, but they improved the position overall.

Final Thoughts

With the 2023-24 NHL campaign being unpredictable like every other season, the Coyotes have just as much a chance as anyone else to make the playoffs as of right now. Whether the pieces can click is yet to be seen. Coach Tourigny, who was extended this past week, continues to build his reputation and support around the league. The Coyotes have to make the necessary corrections if they want to avoid the Central Division basement. With teams like the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, and Chicago Blackhawks all dealing with uncertainty, the Coyotes have a shot, one they haven’t had since 2012, to be one of the top teams in the league yet again.

Substack The Hockey Writers Arizona Coyotes Banner