I spoke to Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong at the Ice Den Scottsdale on Wednesday. He provided updates on several housekeeping items ahead of training camp, which begins on Sept. 21 with physicals, fitness testing and media.
Defenseman Jakob Chychrun is expected to report to camp, Armstrong said. Chychrun has been the subject of rampant trade speculation after pointed remarks he made about his future, following the conclusion of the 2021-22 season.
Chychrun was spotted at the Ice Den recently, rehabbing an injury.
“It is what it is,” Armstrong said. “Jakob is a great kid. We’ve had continued, healthy conversations throughout the summer, trying to make sure that he was on the right track to be healthy. He’s a professional. He’s a pro’s pro. He’s been good in that element, and we continue to have great conversations with him and encourage him to be at his best when training camp opens.”
Armstrong said that contract negotiations continue with restricted free agent center Barrett Hayton, who did not accept his qualifying offer but did not have arbitration rights.
“We’re in a staring contest,” Armstrong said. “It’s hard on the player. Barrett is a great player, someone that we really like. It’s just doing business and working with his agency, trying to get a deal done.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s kind of dragged on. It’s unfortunate. We’d like to have everything wrapped up by this point, but at the same time, everybody thinks we have this massive amount of money in the salary cap. Everybody thinks that at the start, but everybody’s in the same predicament at the end. I thought when we were with the Blues, we did a good job of making sure, even though we had money to spend, that we kept it to what we thought it should be and we held our ground on that.
“At the end of the day, it’s all got to align. If you don’t take care of it and make sure that it’s exactly what it should be for every player, it can get out of hand pretty quick. One mistake can become a bad mistake and it can truly change your team. We’ve always had that philosophy from the opening get-go that we wanted to reward players but at the same time, reward them with what we think is a fair amount.”
The future of forward Andrew Ladd is still uncertain. Ladd is entering the final year of his contract with a cap hit of $5.5 million and a salary of $4 million, including a $3 million signing bonus that has already been paid.
At the end of the 2021-22 season in which he accomplished many of his goals, Ladd said that he was uncertain of his plans due to yet more wear on his oft-injured body.
“When you get to my age you have to see how you feel,” he said. “The last two or three weeks was a big grind just to get through those games, and a third surgery on that knee [he missed six weeks] is not good, but it is what it is.
“I don’t know what I want to do yet. It’s easy to make quick, emotional decisions. I think it’s better just to take some time, let everything settle and then make a decision from there.”
That decision could come next week.
“He’s gonna go through physicals and he’s still got to get through that,” said Armstrong, who wasn’t certain about Ladd’s plan after the testing. “I can’t answer that right now. That’s a medical thing.”
If Ladd plays any professional games in 2022-23 while under his current contract, or if he retires before the season, the Coyotes will lose the conditional 2023 third-round pick that they acquired from the New York Islanders last summer.
As for the goaltending situation, Armstrong said the team is still open to adding another player.
“We’re still active in that market and we’ll see how that works and what’s available,” Armstrong, who will watch the waiver wire and other team’s camps for opportunities. “One thing with our (training) camp is that it’s the same as last year. There’s a ton of opportunity. There were kids sitting in the same chairs that some guys are sitting in right now. There is opportunity in this organization. Make no mistake about it. Come in and try and earn your job. It starts here.”
The Coyotes have had their eyes on other goalies this offseason, but the situation wasn’t right for a variety of reasons. One player whom sources say that they targeted was free agent Charlie Lindgren, whom the Washington Capitals signed to a three-year, $3.3 million contract to back up Darcy Kuemper.
Gutierrez addresses ticket sales
Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez appeared on the PHNX Coyotes show on Thursday to discuss ticket sales and a variety of other topics. Here are some of his main points.
- Gutierrez said that the team has sold more than 2,200 season ticket plans while at this time last year they were at 1,200. Additionally he said the team was below $4 million on plan sales last year at this time. Now, due to the premium nature of the seats at Mullett Arena, that figure is $16.5 million.
- To critics who contend that the Coyotes are charging too much, Gutierrez said: “We were well below the standards, the averages of where the NHL should be. Yes, we are re-pricing, kind of repositioning to the market.” For comparison, Gutierrez noted that comparable glass seats in Columbus cost $645. The Coyotes’ cost about $550. Center ice seats in Vegas cost $475. The Coyotes’ cost $360, including food and beverage.
- Gutierrez said that the ticket-sales revenue is in line with what the team had projected from Mullett Arena. “We think that toward the latter half of the season it will actually continue to accelerate and go beyond our expectations as people start experiencing hockey there, on that campus with all the excitement and entertainment that we want to bring to the game-day experience.”
- Gutierrez said that between 60 and 70 percent of the team’s previous season-ticket members have already renewed with many of them going to plans rather than full season tickets. He added that there has been a 50-percent renewal rate on full season-ticket plans.
- Gutierrez said that that between 60 and 65 percent of the team’s fan base comes from the East Valley (including Scottsdale and the Northeast Valley communities). When central Phoenix is added, it’s closer to 80 or 85 percent. That jibes with previous analysis of the team’s base over the years.
- Gutierrez said that the team is planning numerous ways for fans who can’t afford or obtain tickets to Mullett Arena to watch games in a festive atmosphere. “We’re talking about watch parties. We’re talking about being out in the community, bringing players, bringing alumni, having more connectivity to the community than we’ve had in the last couple years.” Gutierrez also said that the team plans to hold more open practices in the various communities with ice sheets later in the season when the team plays more home games. They also want to activate all of the spaces around campus including plazas, hotels or businesses on Mill Ave.
- Gutierrez said that the team will have mobile trailers in and around Mullett Arena that will sell Coyotes merchandise since the team will not have a shop inside the arena. ASU is also allowing the Coyotes to sell merchandise in bookstores around ASU.
Middle core’s mission
André Tourigny had a lot of leadership to lean on last season in his first year as an NHL head coach.
Between Ladd, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, Anton Strålman, Jay Beagle and Phil Kessel, Tourigny liked to say that he had had six players with about 6,000 games of NHL experience.
While the Coyotes added players such as Nick Bjugstad and Troy Stecher for leadership, the veteran group is not as big as it was last season. That means more duties will fall on the middle core of Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Lawson Crouse, Christian Fischer and perhaps Chychrun.
“They had great seasons last year but we had really good leaders last year,” Tourigny said. “Those guys, they have Stanley Cups, they have all of it but those guys are not here anymore. That’s a lot of leadership [lost], but they groomed our next generation and now that next generation is at the moment where they have to take charge and they are ready for it. That will be part of our development this year; to see those guys bloom and get to be the players they have to be.”
Alex Chiasson testimonials
One year ago, Alex Chiasson signed a PTO with the Vancouver Canucks and made the team, scoring 13 goals in 67 games. This week, Chiasson signed a PTO with the Coyotes.
There’s no guarantee that he will make the team, but if he does, he will bring more size (6-4, 208 pounds) to a lineup that already features a lot of it. With Eriksson, Roussel, Strålman, Beagle and Kessel gone, two of Chiasson’s former teammates believe that he could also help fill a leadership role.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” said former Coyote Conor Garland, who played with Chiasson last season in Vancouver. “He would be such a great addition for that room. Great pro, great guy.
“We became close as the year went on. He was huge for us down the stretch and he will go down as an all-time favorite teammate for me.”
Garland said Chiasson possesses the “lost art of just going to the right places and scoring goals,” and he is also a fun teammate. “He was at a card table with me so just lots of laughs. He can tell great stories, too, but any time someone makes a bad card play he’d make me laugh with his reactions.”
Former Coyote Alex Goligoski, who played with Chiasson in Dallas for two seasons (2012-14) agreed with Garland’s assessment.
“He has great experience and has played with elite players and leaders everywhere he’s been,” said Goligoski, who called Chiasson a natural goal scorer around the net. “He’s a guy that would have no trouble leading a room and pulling guys into the fight.”
Demers lands PTO
Jason Demers had been taking part in the Coyotes informal skates at the Ice Den recently, alongside good buddy Brad Richardson.
On Thursday, he found out that he would have a chance to resume his NHL career after a one-year odyssey. The Edmonton Oilers signed the right-handed defenseman and former Coyote to a PTO and he will take part in their training camp.
“I just wanted an opportunity,” Demers said. “That’s kind of been the goal for this whole summer and even last year through what was a weird year overall. I took time off physically and mentally before the Olympics. I had to take some time to fix my body and my mind. It was a rough couple of years in Arizona with how everything ended so I’m over the moon. I feel rejuvenated. I changed a lot in my life so I’m super excited and super grateful for the opportunity in Edmonton.”
Demers hasn’t talked much about his final season in Arizona but he did not leave on good or happy terms with the previous coaching staff.
“I could get on a soapbox and complain and say that it’s wrong, but what happened to me happened to a lot of guys before me. I just let it affect me more than I should have,” Demers said. “Some people will say it’s a small thing, but to not be able to play in my 700th (career NHL) game
— to kind of beg for it and not get it — was tough. It’s not something that I’m owed but to say that it hurt was an understatement.”
Demers is currently stuck at 699 NHL games. The Coyotes ended that season with back-to-back games at San Jose where Demers began his career. He played the first game; not the second, and he only played 41 games that season, sometimes sitting out as a healthy scratch.
“Seven hundred games might not seem like a lot to people but for somebody like me who was a seventh-round draft pick, I always had to earn a spot so it was a big milestone for me and it’s something that was circled as like a silver lining on that last year in Arizona,” he said. “It’s something that I had to kind of go and work on afterward, just to get to a positive mindset about that.”
Demers did not receive any offers to play in the NHL last season so he undertook a handful of life-altering events.
First and foremost, he got his body and mind healthy.
“Physically. I had some back stuff that I was kind of grinding through so I got that cleaned up last year,” he said. “I kind of kept it quiet just because I still thought I had a shot at potentially making a team but I didn’t know if I was gonna play again. I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to skate again. I had something in my back where getting it removed was a little bit difficult and there were some nerve issues.
“After having surgery, I went into rehab by myself, I also went over to Philadelphia with Bill Knowles and worked with someone locally [Denise Herrera] and I just kind of rebuilt everything because I wanted to make sure that, at the very least I was healthy. Whenever I do decide to retire, I want to have a good quality of life.”
He also changed agents to Pat Morris, the same agent who represents Richardson, Chiasson and unsigned RFA Barrett Hayton. He competed for Canada in the Channel One Cup in Russia, and when the NHL pulled the plug on its players competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, he landed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in China.
The Channel Cup led to another opportunity; one that Demers never imagined a year earlier. He played for Kazan Ak-Bars in the KHL in Russia.
“Right after that first game in the Channel Cup, they asked me if I wanted to play on a Russian team,” Demers said. “[Teammate] Eric Fehr and I were in the same hotel and we were just looking at each other like, ‘Are we really going to play in Russia? Like, is this happening?’ At like two in the morning, we signed our deals.”
They only played five games before COVID-19 shut things down.
“We went back to Switzerland to wait for probably a week or so for the Olympic roster to be announced,” he said. “I literally was already in Zurich and I had to go wait to go to Davos for all Team Canada to get in. I ended up spending like a month in Switzerland without playing a hockey game; just training and staying ready. It was kind of just crazy looking back on it. I was hoping that by playing in the Olympics, some teams might see me and maybe bring me in during that window, but instead we went back for the KHL playoffs.”
Just as he returned, Russia invaded Ukraine and the situation turned tense.
“I was probably there for a month after the war broke out,” Demers said. “Nobody there wanted war. None of the people within the country wanted it, and none of the hockey teams wanted it. They wanted to play sports and entertain people.”
Demers said Kazan’s distance from the war front helped him feel safe.
“They were super supportive if we wanted to leave, but they assured us of our security,” he said. “We were in Tatarstan and we actually got to sit down with the president [Rustam Minnikhanov]. He came in specifically to kind of assure us that his private security was going to watch us.
“My parents were nervous but my mother called me and said, ‘It’s up to you. I kind of did enough of my own research, and asked around to feel comfortable. Their minister of sports talked with all of our families and answered questions. They had exit strategies for us if we needed to get out quickly and we were in touch with the American embassy and the other embassies so it was like every box was checked.
“Mostly, you just felt badly for everybody that was in Ukraine. We had a lot of guys on the team that had family in Ukraine and people that they knew so it was a tough time. We almost felt obligated to kind of stick it out with them. They were paying me and they treated us very well.”
Kazan Ak-Bars lost in the first round of the Gagarin Cup playoffs and Demers finally returned home on what was roughly a 24-hour travel day through Turkey. Now he is eyeballing an opportunity with a coach, Jay Woodcroft, who helped shepherd him for the first six seasons of his career in San Jose.
“They’re just giving me a look, they’re giving me a chance; maybe it’s even a favor,” Demers said. “I’m listing myself as a longshot, but I think I can go and shoot the lights out there and shock some people because it’s very much an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality in this league. When you’re not around, teams kind of write you off a little bit and think you might have stopped or you’re not training so I’m hoping to surprise them when I go.
“I started my career with a team like this in San Jose, and I did very well there and in Dallas as well, playing with a high-octane offense. The good thing is that he’ll be honest with me and tell me where I stand, whether it’s good or bad. At my age that’s all you can hope for.”