The Arizona Coyotes have spent years as the unofficial “doormat” for the National Hockey League and chances are that this franchise is finally heading in the right direction. The standings tell otherwise as the Coyotes sit currently at 7-11-4 which believe it or not isn’t the worst in the NHL at the quarter-season mark. The ‘Yotes have struggled for almost three decades to develop into a competitive, consistent organization who can stay viable in the Central Division and maybe, just maybe their time to shine is just around the corner.
For those of you who don’t know the oft-sad story of the Coyotes’ franchise, they were born n 1996 as the result of financial difficulties with the original Winnipeg Jets. The 1990’s were a decade of great expansion in the NHL into Sun Belt markets and the Phoenix was a primary target with burgeoning population growth that included transplanted residents from colder climes in the U.S. and Canada. In fact, the NHL expansion southward and westward produced Stanley Cup winners in Carolina, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Los Angeles and Anaheim while Vegas, Nashville, San Jose and Florida have all made it to the Stanley Cup finals. And then there’s the Arizona Coyotes who don’t make either of these lists. The story of this organization is a story of frustration, bankruptcy and moving from venue to venue just to continue playing in the NHL. Even the “Great One” Wayne Gretzky couldn’t move this franchise forward and for much of the history of NHL hockey in the Arizona desert has been one of turmoil and disappointment.
The Coyotes started life in the NHL as the Phoenix Coyotes but their movement from the America West Arena which they shared with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns to the western suburb of Glendale and the Gila River Arena was a marriage arranged through bankruptcy negotiations and legal maneuvering on the part of the NHL just to find a home for the Coyotes to play. This year, the ‘Yotes had to find yet another venue as the Glendale City Council kicked them out of their year-to-year lease and they found another place to temporarily call home at the Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University. Yes, the NHL’s franchise in the Valley of the Sun has to borrow a college hockey arena in the middle of the Arizona desert just to have a home venue for the next three or four seasons.
Do the Coyotes have any plans to move forward as an organization?
Answering this is like asking the $64,000 question but the Arizona Coyotes, at least in theory, seem to have a path moving forward as an organization and a team on the ice. As previously outlined in my last article, the Coyotes are planning an elaborate sports and entertainment complex east of Phoenix in the city of Tempe (also home to Arizona State University.) The final say-so on this massive undertaking will be decided by the voters in Tempe this coming spring but with private money driving the train on this project, it looks promising that the local residents may welcome a boost to their economy.
The Coyotes have been like a traveling hockey circus for the last 25 years in the desert and finding a permanent home that they own will allow this franchise to finally put down roots in Tempe and stay put as one of the clauses for this project calls for a 30-year no-relocation guarantee. Playing at the highest professional level in venues not designed for hockey or where a team is either a tenant or just plain unwelcome has never brought any level of success to the Coyotes and this arena project may finally shed some positive light on this maligned franchise.
The Coyotes have young talent waiting in their prospect pipeline.
The one thing that could be said that’s heading in the Coyote’s direction is their recent draft picks and how these young players will soon make an impact on this organization. Edmonton native and 2021 first round draft pick Dylan Guenther is one of those key pieces of the puzzle who may help this franchise in the long run. The 19 year old winger originally came up from his hometown WHL team for ten games with the “big club” but his progress has been profound and with three goals and eight assists in 19 games, Guenther has found his way to becoming a permanent part of the Coyotes’ lineup as a third-line right winger Guenther is still a teenager and could possibly become a franchise player for the Coyotes in the long run.
The Coyotes also plucked multiple top draft picks in the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal last summer. Targeting top centers, the Coyotes went after and drafted Conor Geekie and Logan Cooley. Geekie currently is in the WHL with the Winnipeg Ice and in 25 games so far this season he’s put up impressive numbers with 15 goals and 15 assists in just 25 games. Fellow center Logan Cooley also found himself as a first round pick and is working his way through the NCAA ranks at the University of Minnesota with seven goals and 14 assists in just 17 games so far this season.
Arizona found a gem of a winger in the second round by looking at the German playing ranks and selecting Julian Lutz. Lutz plays for the EHC Red Bull München organization and already has five assists as they just started their 2022-23 season. The Coyotes are hoping that Lutz could develop into another fellow German export in the form of Leon Draisaitl and if Lutz teams up with either Geekie or Cooley down the road, the ‘Yotes could turn into an offensive powerhouse in the very near future.