The 2016-2017 season has been disappointing for the Coyotes. After what appeared as a promising campaign to build off the year before there have been several hurdles. Lack of scoring from second year winger Anthony Duclair, a drop in production and play from defenseman Ekman-Larsson, and the struggles in net by Domingue as a backup are all contributors. Sure much may have been different had Richardson not been injured early on, or had Max Domi not broken his hand, but it’s hard to imagine them sniffing the playoffs even had those two not gone down with injury. The Coyotes as of this moment sit in 29th place with 63 points in 77 games played. It’s not as bad as it may seem, or at least it could be worse. They are within a reasonable striking distance two teams (Devils and Canucks) which would require them to get back on track for their remaining 5 games but as few as two weeks ago they were on a tear of points in 7 of 10 games winning 5 of them. This will be difficult with a game against Washington, finishing the season series with Minnesota, LA, Vancouver, and Dallas. The realistic view is they may only win one or two of their remaining games with a potential of sneaking in a win against Minnesota with their recent struggles.
This late season surge has been received with mixed reviews among fans, some preferring better odds at the lottery picks, others wanting to see this young core grow. While both have merits it would be far more beneficial for the likes of Dvorak, Chychrun, DeAngelo, Perlini, Crouse, and maybe even Domi, Duclair, Rieder, and Martinook to finish this season strong and learn how to win against teams fighting for playoff lives and playoff seeding. There’s also the benefit of having the recently turned pro Keller gain valuable NHL experience to give him an idea of what he needs to prepare for to make the roster next season. The benefits of growth paired with the uncertainty of the potential ceiling for Nolan Patrick and maybe Nico Hischier, in addition to the lottery process that the Coyotes have had zero luck with it is far more important to control what they can, which is how these young players finish. It will already be hard enough to get needed free agents in the offseason with the well noted off ice issues.
It does get better though, this isn’t your typical NHL season. We have the expansion draft. The Coyotes should be cognizant of the potential difficulties in signing any (underwhelming) free agents this offseason and use the expansion to their benefit. They don’t have that many players they must protect since most of their roster is lacking the required experience to be exposed in expansion. The Coyotes could and should leverage their asset of roster space to acquire some vulnerable teams. Anaheim may have to expose one of their promising young defenseman or even RW Silfverberg, Nashville could be in a similar situation and as could Minnesota or Chicago. To be clear I am not saying they should do conditional trades where they take on a player and give back for a future draft pick, they should exploit these teams fear of losing a quality player for nothing. The common consensus is the Coyotes will lose one of Schenn, Connauton, or Richardson to the expansion draft, if that is the case they could easily trade their extra first round or potential other picks depending on the quality of player coming back. An example scenario would be instead of Anaheim surrendering Silfverberg, a proven commodity, for nothing they may be able to get back Duclair and a mid-round pick if the Coyotes give up on him, or they could try for a player like Vatanen or Fowler and give up a draft pick and send a player like Connauton their way. Due to the likely difficulty in bringing in a player in free agency this may be the best tactic for the Coyotes to use to help get their partner for OEL or to get a solid right winger.
The only thing that is certain is the remainder of the regular season and everything up to free agency could be an exciting time for the Coyotes organization.