The Arizona Coyotes have been under the hockey microscope for all the wrong reasons for a long time, who can forget the failed ownership groups, being run by the league for a number of years and, the fallouts with the City of Glendale. Recent events in the desert have shown things are beginning to turn around, the past few season off the ice have seen a new ownership group provide stability, on the ice, after a change in Coach, GM and the release of the old guard, after a poor season and a half, the Coyotes are on the upward curve.
Yes the arena is still in the wrong place and yes, last season the Coyotes still finished towards the bottom of the table but, once Tocchet had been able to stamp his mark on the team, players returned from injury and, the Coyotes finished their hellish opening half of their schedule, they posted one of the best records in the NHL and had one of the hottest goalies in the NHL.
The Coyotes have always been a score by committee kind of club, never having the budget to amass a roster of stars the Coyotes have always fused youth with experienced hands to guide the way. Last year it was Clayton Keller, a youngster who lead the way, with the likes of OEL and Stepan providing that guiding hand the Coyotes finished the season strong. Having finally bottomed out in the re-build process the Coyotes have firmly moved on the growth phase.
So far this summer, after being hosed yet again in the draft lottery the Coyotes created a lot of buzz across the hockey world with their draft picks. Most notably, especially for hockey fans here in the UK, drafting Liam Kirk in round 7. Becoming the third player from these shores to be drafted to the show. Watching the prospect camp a week ago, Kirk didn’t look out-of-place on the Gila River Arena ice and, certainly much better than a round 7 pick would suggest. His performance and, subsequent draft by the Peterborough Petes in the OHL should mean he will not return to the Sheffield Steelers for the 18/19 season. A good season and development in the OHL could see Kirk make the step up, perhaps to Tucson which……is only down the road from the NHL!
Kirk wasn’t the only wave made by the Coyotes this off-season. Antti Raanta was rewarded for his fine end to the season with a new 3 year contract, that was followed by Hammer locking up for a further three years. But, perhaps the biggest wave and, a sign the sands are a changing was the extension of OEL for 8 years. This was huge, OEL has become the face of the franchise since Doan retired, a model professional who could walk into every other NHL roster and command hella $$’s! The quote from him sums the guy up in a nutshell:
“It’s just money,” Ekman-Larsson said when asked if he left money on the table in signing with the Coyotes. “It’s not going to make you happier if you go somewhere else. My heart is in Arizona.”
Nice to know, for some players out there, money isn’t everything!
He will likely be given the ‘C’ and well deserved too!
But, that isn’t the end of the renaissance this summer in Arizona, there were some high-profile free agents who became available this year and, from what I can gather, the Coyotes were serious options for all of them. They may not have been in the final dance for Tavares, JVR etc,…..but for those players to even consider Arizona, shows how the reputation of the desert dogs is rising rapidly! The Coyotes have added someone in FA so far, Michael Grabner comes in from the New York Rangers, he add’s a lot of speed to the offense, Being a player Tocchet will like for stretching the game and entering the offensive zone with speed.
So, new Coach settled in, young GM still getting the job done, key players locked up, free agents considering Arizona and signing, finally after so many years, things are looking bright in Arizona!