This season, the Arizona Coyotes are perceived as a contender (for Connor Bedard). Aside from Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, the roster lacks players with an All-Star-like, threatening aura who can take over games. Given how the Yotes were almost evicted from Gila River Arena last season due to unpaid bills, the current rebuild, and the team’s new, small, and shared arena, it’s been challenging for hockey fans to view the Coyotes franchise seriously and as a legitimate NHL team.
Thus, it’s been challenging for Arizona to recruit and sign big-name free agents. Most of Arizona’s free agent signings are players hoping for a bounce-back year or at a dead end with limited remaining options. Given the adversity and a large amount of outside noise, it is crucial to set realistic expectations for the Yotes. Here are some realistic expectations that the Yotes should consider for the upcoming season.
Play Meaningful Hockey
Teams with an abundance of superstar power may perceive date nights with Arizona as an easy W. The Yotes need to debunk that perception by playing meaningful hockey every night for all 82 games in the season. This means going balls to the walls for all 60 minutes (or more if the games go into overtime).
Be Gritty and Physical
The Coyotes should take note of the Danbury Trashers. Extending beyond the previous point of playing meaningful hockey, a gritty, physical team ensures that games versus the Coyotes are not an easy win. Although it was difficult to see Troy Terry get beat up and injured by Jay Beagle during the dramatic game versus the Anaheim Ducks last season, Beagle sent a powerful message and the Coyotes need to replicate the same emotion and passion through grit, physicality, and never backing down.
Players and fans should be expecting a lot of physicality and hits. This shouldn’t be an issue for the Yotes as the roster contains many big guys like newly acquired Josh Brown (6’5”, 225 lbs), Zack Kassian (6’3”, 211 lbs), Nick Bjugstad (6’6”, 218 lbs), as well as returning players like Lawson Crouse (6’4”, 215 lbs) and Nick Ritchie (6’2”, 234 lbs).
Don’t forget Milos Kelemen (6’2”, 212 lbs) from Slovakia who signed a two-year, two-way contract with Arizona this past year. Kelemen might need to spend some time in Tuscon to adjust to North American hockey, but I hope to see him in the Coyotes lineup at some point. It’s also worth noting that Kelemean is a winner, he was part of the Slovakia Olympic team that won bronze at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, 2021 Tipos Extraliga (Slovak) championship team, and the 2022 Czech Extraliga (ELH) Rookie of the Year.
Create a Positive Culture
A locker room culture is indicative of a team’s success. The Coyotes’ culture should revolve around hard work, grit, continuous improvement, and winning. The latter part is crucial because once losing is accepted as a norm within the dressing room, the losing culture will have adverse effects on the players, and this may lead to the teams continuously missing playoffs. Just look at the Florida Panthers during the 2000s and the recent Buffalo Sabres. Although Buffalo has a promising future, the organization is I do believe that there was a losing culture within the team at one point as the Sabres are currently in a 11-year playoff drought and has not made the post-season since 2012. This undesirable state may already exist within the Coyotes organization as former-Yotes, Phil Kessel said “it’s going to be nice playing on a team that wants to win” upon signing with the Vegas Golden Knights. Interpret the quote as you wish, but it is essential to establish a firm expectation that losing will not be accepted, especially with so many up-and-coming prospects.
Have Committed Players
For a team to have a positive internal culture, there has to be committed players who buy into the process, overarching goals, and their roles. If you don’t see the value of this point, perhaps look at how the Buffalo Sabres out-performed most of our expectations last season despite not having Jack Eichel. Also, do you remember how the Colorado Avalanche started consistently making playoffs and being cup contenders after All-Star Matt Duchene was traded away? In other words, the Coyotes need to avoid controversial, locker-room cancer players, even if they are super talented, in order to create the proper team culture.
If the Coyotes are able to enforce these expectations onto the players, the team could potentially outperform our expectations.