As things stand, the NHL is planning to have games resume at some point over the coming weeks. Assuming the regular season continues (something the league remains hopeful of doing), there will be plenty of things to watch for over the stretch run. Over the weeks ahead, PHR will examine the top stretch run storylines for each team. We continue our look at the Pacific Division with Arizona.
This was the year for the Arizona Coyotes who looked to be a playoff team finally after a lengthy rebuild. The team was clearly headed for the playoffs at Christmas, loaded with star scorers in Phil Kessel and newly acquired Taylor Hall leading the way. However, the team slipped down the standings after suffering several key injuries in the second-half of the season and currently sit outside the playoff race, but if the team gets another chance at finishing up their regular season, they could surprise some teams.
Making the Playoffs?
If the regular season ended today, the Arizona Coyotes would not be heading to the playoffs. They still have a slim chance, but the word slim is optimal. They currently own a .529 points percentage with 12 games remaining. Unfortunately, the Calgary Flames would currently own the second wild card slot with a .564 percentage and both Winnipeg and Minnesota stand between the Coyotes and the playoffs. That’s three teams they would have to jump over, suggesting that it might be quite a challenge for the team.
The team might have advantages with a healthy goaltender tandem, and a defense-first system, but even if they dominate in the final 12 games, they might still have to hope for several teams to struggle out of the gate to help hoist them into the playoffs.
Taylor Hall’s Decision
The decision to trade for Taylor Hall wasn’t just for the final piece to the Coyotes puzzle. The move was also meant to convince the former Hart Trophy winner to sign a long-term deal to stay in the desert. Arizona, at the time of the trade was at the top of the Pacific Division and looked like a lock to make the playoffs. Hall was intrigued to go there.
Instead, the team has struggled since Hall joined the team, going 14-17-4 before play was suspended and it now looks like the 28-year-old will miss the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons on the ice. General manager John Chayka is going to have to convince Hall, who had already decided he didn’t want to stay in New Jersey who was in a rebuild, that the Coyotes are a playoff team. With plenty of other teams ready to bid for the star’s services, likely with better playoff resumes, Hall may want to go elsewhere.
To make matters even more difficult for Chayka is that the team’s salary cap situation isn’t good right now and the GM will likely have to move out some players/contracts if Hall is willing to sign.
Kuemper Ready for Final Run?
Much of the Coyotes success was a result of the spectacular play of Darcy Kuemper, who established himself as the team’s No. 1 goaltender over injury-prone Antti Raanta. He played 55 games in 2018-19 with a 2.33 GAA and a .925 save percentage and those numbers only got better. At Christmas, Kuemper was amongst a short list of Vezina candidates with his play. So far this year, he has played 29 games and improved his numbers to a 2.22 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
Unfortunately, Kuemper went down with a lower-body injury on Dec. 19 and didn’t return to the ice until Feb. 25. While he played well in the four games upon his return, he did lose three of the four. However, with plenty of extra time to fully heal, could Kuemper bounce back and lead his team to another string of victories?
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.