I’m making a New Year’s resolution for 2023. I’m not going to freak you out over the possibility of the Coyotes not landing Conor Bedard, Adam Fantilli or Leo Carlsson in the upcoming NHL Draft.
The odds of the Blackhawks (18.5 percent), Blue Jackets (13.5 percent), Ducks (11.5 percent) or Canadiens (11 percent because they own Florida’s pick as well as their own) are not so appreciably better than the teams outside the top spots that you would call them a lock.
Seriously, the Blackhawks have less than a 1-in-5 chance of landing Bedard. The team with the worst record has won the lottery just four times in the past 12 seasons while a team outside the top three has won it three times.
There is hope and that is the mindset that Coyotes fans should take into 2023, both because they are overdue for some good fortune, and because it appears that the darkest days of the franchise are behind them in Glendale while a lot of hopeful possibilities can be found in this calendar year.
I have whittled those key dates down to one for each month of 2023. Before I get to those, I want to hand out some thank yous.
A heartfelt thankful to all of the Coyotes fans who have stuck with me throughout this odyssey of a career while chronicling this always fascinating organization. We have built a tightly knit community and that may be my greatest source of pride along with the work that I have done over the past four years at The Athletic, at Substack and now with PHNX Sports.
A tip of the cap to my PHNX Coyotes cohorts, Steve Peters, Leah Merrall and Shawn DePaz who have made this transition a whole lot of fun while creating some of the best content I have been a part of in my 27-year, full-time journalism career.
A big thanks to ALLCITY Network CEO Brandon Spano for making that phone call a year and a half ago that I initially figured would lead nowhere, but quickly realized would alter the trajectory of my career.
And a fist bump to the PHNX Sports leadership of Saul Bookman, Greg Espositio and the entire PHNX crew for making this the hippest workplace I have ever experienced. Spano always talks about creating a vibe. We definitely have a vibe at PHNX, even if it takes this middle-aged guy a little longer to catch it.
Happy New Year, everybody. Here are my 12 key Coyotes dates for 2023.
January: Coyotes with All-Star aspirations
The NHL will likely annonce its All-Star lineups shortly after the World Junior Championship has concluded on Thursday. It comes in two stages. There’s a fan vote for certain players and others are selected by hockey ops. In my mind, the Coyotes have five candidates:
Clayton Keller: This would be Keller’s third All-Star selection (2019, 2022). He leads the team with 34 points (13 goals) in 35 games.
Karel Vejmelka: His traditional stats (3.16 GAA, .907 SP) won’t get him there, but Vejmelka is fourth in goals saved above expected (16.8) and second in the Western Conference. There is no way that the Coyotes would have won this many games without him. In my mind, he has been the team MVP so far.
Shayne Gostisbehere: Gostisbehere made the Flyers look foolish last season for trading him for nothing when he registered 51 points (tied for 15th among NHL defensemen). This season, he has 26 (again tied for 15th among NHL defensemen), he is on pace for 61 points and could eclipse his career high of 65.
Jakob Chychrun: In 19 games, he has 17 points and he is a team-high plus-11 one season after finishing minus-20 in just 47 games. There have been several games since his return when Chychrun has been the best Coyote on the ice.
Lawson Crouse: Proving to critics that last season’s career-high 20 goals were not a fluke, Crouse leads the team with 14 goals, he’s one of seven Coyotes with a plus rating and he embodies the type of two-way play and leadership that Armstrong and coach André Tourigny want from their players.
February 11: Kings unveil Dustin Brown statue
I needed some humor in this column. Truth be told, there are not many key dates in February.
I would have circled two games against Chicago and one against Columbus before the Coyotes coaches and players decided they wanted no part of a franchise center and started beating Cup contenders at Mullett Arena. It no longer appears that the Coyotes are capable of catching the Hawks and the Jackets are a stretch.
I have two gripes with the Brown statue, and no, worthiness is not one of them. Some critics believe that Brown was not good enough as a player to warrant a statue, but he was the captain of the teams that won LA’s only two Stanley Cup titles and by all internal accounts, he was a good one.
My main gripes are Coyotes related. Arizona should have been the opponent for this game; not the Eastern Conference’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
The second gripe? The statue should have depicted Brown delivering a knee-on-knee hit to Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival. Brown had 325 goals and 712 points in 1,296 career games, but the Brown whom I will remember is the edgy and sometimes dirty player.
March 3: The NHL trade deadline
This is the first critical date on the Coyotes’ 2023 calendar. If they haven’t moved players before this date, they’ll need to get some deals done on this day in order to acquire the draft or prospect assets that GM Bill Armstrong hopes to have to bolster the rebuild.
By now, almost everyone knows that Jakob Chychrun wants to be traded. He has helped his case by playing extremely well. In 19 games, he has 17 points to move into a tie for fifth place on the team in points despite missing the first 16 games of the season while rehabbing from wrist surgery. The likely asking price for Chychrun is two first-round picks and either a second-round pick or a prospect. Chychrun is under contract for two more seasons past this one with a cap hit of $4.6 million, although his actual salary jumps to $5.4 million next season and $7 million in the final season of the deal.
Right behind Chychrun is current defensive partner Shayne Gostisbehere — the guy whom the Coyotes got from Philadelphia for literally nothing — who is on pace for 61 points and could eclipse his career high of 65. Gostisbehere carries a cap hit of $4.5 million but an actual remaining salary of just $1 million because his $2.5 million signing bonus was already paid. It’s hard to gauge what the market for Gostisbehere will look like but it makes little sense to deal him for less than a second-round pick. He’s an offensive force, but still prone to glaring defensive mistakes.
The dark horse would be goalie Karel Vejmelka, who is currently fourth in goals saved above expected behind the Bruins’ Linus Ullmark, the Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin and the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck. Do teams have enough faith in Vejmelka’s body of work to offer something meaningful? If not, does it make any sense to trade him at this point? The Coyotes are unlikely to sink to one of the bottom three spots in the standings, given the gap that they have opened on those three teams, and losing Vejmelka could really hurt morale.
Other to watch at the trade deadline are power forward Nick Ritchie (if he heats up), center Nick Bjugstad (if the return is worth trading such a positive force in the dressing room), defenseman Troy Stecher (expiring contract but likely limited interest) and forward Christian Fischer, who is on an expiring contract but remains under team control for one more season and carries the same sort of influence in the room as Bjugstad.
April: NHL Draft Lottery
We all know the history. The Coyotes have never moved up in draft position via the NHL Draft Lottery and they have often fallen below their slotted standings spot.
Of the NHL’s current 32 teams, only the Coyotes, the Calgary Flames, the Minnesota Wild, the Dallas Stars and the 6-year-old Vegas Golden Knights have never had a top-two pick in the NHL Draft.
Here’s a look at the Coyotes lottery luck the past 10 seasons since the NHL changed the lottery rules for the 2013 draft to allow every non-playoff team a chance to land the top overall pick.
|Year||Standings finish||Draft pick (player)|
|2013||12th worst||No. 12 (Max Domi)|
|2014||13th worst||*No. 12 (Brendan Perlini)|
|2015||2nd worst||No. 3 (Dylan Strome)|
|2016||7th worst||No. 7 (Clayton Keller)|
|2017||3rd worst||**No. 7 (traded)|
|2018||3rd worst||No. 5 (Barrett Hayton)|
|2019||14th worst||***No. 14 (traded)|
|2020||10th worst||****No pick (traded)|
|2021||10th worst||*****No pick (forfeited)|
|2022||Second worst||No. 3 (Logan Cooley)|
* — The Coyotes only moved up one spot because the New Jersey Devils (11th worst record) were penalized for signing forward Ilya Kovalchuk to a salary-cap circumventing contract. The NHL dropped the Devils to the last pick of the first round.
** — The Coyotes acquired center Derek Stepan and goalie Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft. The Coyotes later chose Pierre-Olivier Joseph with the 23rd pick.
*** — The Coyotes traded the 14th pick and the 45th pick to the Philadelphia Flyers to select defenseman Victor Soderstrom 11th overall.
**** — This pick was part of the package used to acquire Taylor Hall.
***** —The Coyotes forfeited this pick due to league sanctions for illegal testing of draft-eligible prospects before the 2019 NHL Draft, but GM Bill Armstrong eventually acquired the No. 9 pick in the draft in the deal that sent Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to the Vancouver Canucks.
This season was all about tanking to acquire as high a pick as possible in a draft that includes top centers Conor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson. Given how well the Coyotes have played at home, it seems unlikely that they will finish with one of the league’s three worst records. They already lead the Chicago Blackhawks by 11 points; and the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Anaheim Ducks by seven.
The Coyotes are more likely to finish among the next group of teams with the likes of Philadelphia, San José, Montréal and Vancouver. They’ll need some luck that they have never had in the past. Is this the year that the law of averages finally plays in their favor?
May 16: The referendum vote
This may be the most critical date on the Coyotes’ 2023 calendar.
The Tempe City Council voted 7-0 in favor of pushing all three points of the Coyotes’ proposed arena and entertainment district to referendum. Once that vote was complete, the Coyotes collected twice the necessary signatures from Tempe citizens in about a week (far less than the allotted 30 days).
Those signatures have since been verified and deemed sufficient so propositions 300, 301 and 302 will go to Tempe voters on May 16. Per sources, two polls conducted by an independent firm found that more than 60 percent of voters favored the project.
The proposal has had its detractors, but Sky Harbor Airport no longer appears to be one of them and the Goldwater Institute appears likely to sit this one out as well, leaving some citizens groups and CASE as the only notable opponents.
To date, their campaigns have been muted but we’ll see what the next four and a half months bring. The same goes for the Coyotes’ campaign.
If the referendum passes, Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez has estimated that the clean-up timeline for the former dump site along the Salt River would take between six and eight months and the construction timeline would require an additional 23 to 24 months.
June 28-29: NHL Draft in Nashville
The Coyotes have nine picks in the 2023 NHL Draft. They have one in each round except the seventh (none) and the third in which they have four; their own and these three as outlined by puckpedia.com.
It’s unlikely that the Coyotes will exercise this pick from Toronto. They are far more likely to exercise the Leafs’ second-round pick in 2025 (they have that option), which would bring them to eight picks this year. The Coyotes will gain the pick from the Islanders if Andrew Ladd does not play or retire this season (he won’t).
The goal, of course, is to acquire more picks via the trade deadline scenarios outlined above. Analysts disagree over the depth of this draft but most agree that it is heavy on forwards and a bit light on defensemen and goalies.
It would not be at all surprising to see Armstrong use those third-round picks (and perhaps others that he has yet to acquire) as assets to move up in the draft. We’ll have a good sense of the Coyotes’ draft pieces by March 3, but draft-day deals could add or subtract from that stash.
July 1: Coyotes free agency
I have not spoken with Armstrong about his plans for free agency but I suspect, given the trajectory of the rebuild, that the Coyotes will not be major players in a market that the Coyotes GM generally views as in two lights: a place where financial mistakes are made, and a place where you dip your toes only when you feel like you are one or two pieces away from contention.
That likely means another summer of acquiring veterans who can help the culture and help the future by bringing in more draft or prospect assets at the trade deadline.
There are also 10 current Coyotes on expiring contracts: Christian Fischer, Nick Ritchie, Nick Bjugstad, Jack McBain, Matias Maccelli, Michael Carcone, Laurent Dauphin, Shayne Gostisbehere, Juuso Välimäki, Troy Stecher and Connor Ingram. There are 11 more in the system.
August: My so-called vacation
August is the only dead period in the NHL season. The free agents have mostly signed, the arbitration hearings have been held and training camp is still more than a month away.
It’s a great time to take a vacation.
Unless you’re a Coyotes beat writer.
Most of you know my history with vacations and breaking news. Someday, I will recount all of the times that news has broken while I’m on vacation. Major news. Not the kind of news that you ignore.
I don’t see anything on the radar in August that could qualify as such news so I plan to take some time off.
In other words, plan on some major news.
September: Coyotes training camp
There will be so many things to wonder about when 2023 training camp arrives.
Will Dylan Guenther cement a regular role instead of the limited and highly sheltered role that he played this season when he made the roster, in all likelihood, a year before he was fully ready
Will Logan Cooley be a one-and-done at the University of Minnesota or will he take another year under coach Bob Motzko to further fill out his slight frame?
Which, if any of the unrestricted free agents will be back with the team?
Will Jakob Chychrun be playing for another team?
Will any unexpected prospects rise to the occasion and make the roster?
Will coach André Tourigny be entering the final year of his contract?
Will there be any surprise prospects in Tucson who are ready to make their mark on North American soil or simply in the AHL?
Will the Coyotes have a franchise center skating in their midst?
OK, I’ll stop there and let your imagination run wild.
October: Season opener
We won’t know the Coyotes’ 2023-24 schedule until June, but here’s a guarantee: They will not play 20 of their first 24 games on the road. The Mullett Arena annex is up and running and the Coyotes have established quite the home-ice advantage early in the 2022-23 season with a 7-3-2 record (6-1-1 in their past eight).
It is unclear whether more hints of the future will be on display on the ice next season, but if the referendum passes in May, there will be a palpable excitement about this team for the first time in a long while. Coyotes fans will be able to put to bed, once and for all, all of that outside chatter about relocation.
November: Thanksgiving test
If you don’t know, U.S. Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal in the NHL. Since the 2005-06 season, more than three quarters of the teams in a playoff spot by that very early cut-off date have made the eventual playoffs. You’ll only see, on average, about three teams outside the picture each season that do make the postseason.
What does this have to do with the Coyotes, you ask? We don’t expect them to be a playoff team next season.
I don’t expect the Coyotes to be a playoff contender until the 2025-26 season, but what happens by Thanksgiving could provide an early read on the direction of this group. If they have some lottery lock and one of Bedard, Fantilli or Carlsson joins the likes of Guenther, Cooley, Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Crouse, Fischer and Co. in the lineup, maybe they’ll surprise early in the season with a precocious push.
December: Shovels in the ground?
Remember, Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez has estimated that the clean-up timeline for the former dump site along the Salt River that would become the Coyotes’ new arena should take between six and eight months. So if voters approved the entertainment district on May 16, the short end of that timeline puts completion of the clean-up in mid-November and the far end of that timeline means completion in mid-January.
Construction timelines are notoriously fluid, given the variables involved, but let’s split the difference and imagine a sweet Christmas present for Coyotes fans: a late- December ground-breaking ceremony for the arena that will house the Coyotes for the rest of my career.
Top photo courtesy of Arizona Coyotes