As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaches, PHR will be taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2023-24. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Arizona Coyotes.
Who are the Coyotes thankful for?
Durzi is quickly looking like one of the more shrewd trade acquisitions of the offseason. The now-25-year-old defender had decent stock as a young prospect coming up through the Maple Leafs and Kings systems – he was one of the core pieces in the trade that brought Jake Muzzin to Toronto in 2019. Emerging into the NHL with the Kings two years later, Durzi showed promise as a capable puck-mover, notching 65 points in 136 games while playing over 19 minutes per game.
There were some defensive holes in his game, though. When the Coyotes picked him up for the price of a second-round pick last summer, most viewed him as a higher-ceiling, higher-risk project.
So far, he’s brought most of the ceiling with little of the risk. Durzi has taken the title of undisputed number-one defenseman in the desert and ran with it. He leads the team’s blueliners in average ice time (23:20), points (12 in 18 games played), and leads the team’s regular defenders with a 50.8% Corsi share at even strength. Quickly, he’s become a more well-rounded player than most expected at this stage, helping transform a long-lowly Coyotes squad into a team that looks likely to be playing competitive games late into the season.
What are the Coyotes thankful for?
An aggressive offseason from GM Bill Armstrong.
It’s not just Durzi. Armstrong’s moves this summer showed a willingness to believe in the core he’s constructed – spending significant short-term money to bring in players like Jason Zucker and Alexander Kerfoot up front and Mathew Dumba on the backend. Even if all the signings haven’t worked out wonderfully thus far, it does seem to have precipitated a bit of a culture shift that the squad sorely needed.
Combining that veteran leadership with a solid development coach in André Tourigny, as well as solid netminding from Connor Ingram, has positioned the Coyotes as one of the more entertaining squads this season.
Perhaps bringing in Nick Bjugstad for a second stint with the squad has been the best out of the team’s UFA additions. With 11 points in 18 games, he’s tied for sixth on the team in scoring and is logging nearly 17 minutes per night. He’s been far more consistent and productive than Kerfoot or Zucker while taking on a larger role.
What would the Coyotes be even more thankful for?
Things seem to be on a sustained, upward on-ice trajectory for the Coyotes for the first time in quite a while. The same still can’t be said off the ice, however, as concerns about an NHL-capacity home in the Phoenix area continue to grow as weeks go by without any update of real progress.
The timeline has been rather drawn out since voters in the City of Tempe struck down plans to build a multi-purpose entertainment district that would house a new arena for the Coyotes in a well-located area near Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo has continued to pursue potential sites in the Phoenix metro area, likely one that would not require public approval.
The local tide on the Coyotes may be turning, however, if their TV numbers are any indication. Moving to more public-access TV mediums and dropping the regional sports network model has increased their viewership an incredible amount over a year-to-year basis, although a much more exciting team headed up by a strong first line and a flashy rookie in Logan Cooley has piqued public interest. If the team truly has aspirations of being championship-caliber in the next few seasons, though, they’ll need to give their players certainty around a long-term home.
What should be on the Coyotes’ holiday wish list?
The Coyotes will be in a bit of a bind over the next few weeks without Barrett Hayton due to injury. The team’s fifth-overall selection in 2018 appeared to have a breakout campaign in 2022-23, scoring 19 goals and 43 points, both by far career-highs. But so far this season Hayton has been almost entirely unable to find the scoresheet and has registered just four points in 16 games.
For a Coyotes team that could seriously contend for a Wild Card spot this season, that isn’t going to cut it from the first-line center role. In Hayton’s absence, the Coyotes are trying Cooley in the first-line center role.
While Cooley is undoubtedly the most gifted player, at least offensively, that they could have tapped for that job, it’s a lot to ask of a rookie to not only play center, but also play center on a team’s first line next to two star scorers.
It remains to be seen whether Cooley will mesh with Schmaltz and Keller, but regardless of if it’s Cooley or someone else Coyotes fans will have to hope that there will be a pivot that emerges as a consistent, lasting fit between Schmaltz and Keller.
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