How Not to Rebuild: Arizona Coyotes Edition

rangers coyotes
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

Welcome back all to this week’s edition of How Not to Rebuild. After two riveting examinations of the laughably bad Edmonton Oilers and the actually-just-kind-of-OK Carolina Hurricanes, I figured we’d go back to another team that is really, truly, not very good. For this week I figured it’d be appropriate to take a look at the Arizona Coyotes, our favorite desert hockey team (as opposed to the LA Kings, who are no friends of ours here, or the Vegas Golden Knights, who are just sort of bizarre).

The boundaries we’re going to place on this analysis is the 2012-13 season to present, given that in 2011-12 they made it all the way to the Conference Finals, having lost the previous two post-seasons in the first round. So really, not as if they had a ton of sustained success in the first place (their 2009-10 playoff berth was their first since 2001-02) but whatever, playoffs are playoffs (or so I’m told). It’s worth pointing out that things don’t break down as easily in terms of the rebuild lining up with coaching/management changes either, as Dave Tippett was coach from 2009-2017 and Don Maloney was GM from 2007-2016, with the former being replaced by Rick Tocchet and the latter by the infamous Computer Boy, John Chayka. In any event, let’s take a look at their draft history first.

Since the 2012 draft the Coyotes have had 46 draft picks, an average of just under 8 per draft – in other words although in some drafts they’ve had more picks than rounds and in others they’ve had less, they’ve more or less kept things even. In 2012 their first round pick (27th overall) was Henrik Samuelsson, who played 3 NHL games, with the only other NHLer from that draft being Jordan Martinook, he of 64 points in 238 games. Fine, whatever, maybe they didn’t really consider themselves to be rebuilding at that point.

What is more troubling is that after that, between the the 2013 draft and 2014 draft they only had two bona fide NHLers in Max Domi and Christian Dvorak. Domi was probably the best player available at that point, but in 2014 they used their 12th overall on Brandon Perlini, with the next three players taken being Jakub Vrana, Julius Honka, and Dylan Larkin (further down the board in that first round were also David Pastrnak and Josh Ho-Sang).

The 2015 draft was also not great, with the 3rd overall being used to take Dylan Strome, who hasn’t exactly panned out at 2 points in 18 NHL games played, while guys like Mitch Marner, Zach Werenski, Brock Boeser, and Mathew Barzal all going later in the first round. Catherine Silverman, who writes for The Athletic and InGoal Magazine, pointed out to me that the strategy they employed here, picking for organizational need instead of best player available hurt them, with Marner going the very next pick after Strome.

Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun were great picks in 2016, and it’s still too early to asses their 2017 picks, but if the Chayka intends on turning this thing around he’s going to need to continue to make strong picks like he did in 2016.

Although the Coyotes seemingly fleeced the Rangers in the Keith Yandle trade at the time, in retrospect things don’t seem as rosy, with Anthony Duclair not really turning into the top-line scoring threat they needed him to be and John Moore eventually winding up a depth defenseman on the Devils. However, since becoming GM Chayka (who was not the GM when Yandle was traded) has made some strong moves on the trade market, with SB Nation’s Coyotes site Five for Howling detailing his history here.

Notable acquisitions of course are the Derek Stepan/Antti Raanta deal, getting Niklas Hjalmarsson for two prospects, and Jason Demers for Jamie McGinn (also a fun tidbit is that the Coyotes acquired Anthony DeAngelo, who they would later trade to the Rangers, for the pick used by Tampa Bay to select Libor Hajek, recently acquired in the McDonagh trade). He’s also got a fairly easy cap situation on his hands, with Derek Stepan being his only real long-term commitment at forward and Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski being his two biggest commitments on defense.

Another strong point for Chayka has been using his extra cap space to take on bad contracts in return for assets, as he did with both Pavel Datsyuk’s contract after he left for the KHL and Chris Pronger’s expiring deal given the his status on IR (both of which have expired at this point). A point of intrigue here is what Chayka ends up doing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is signed through the end of the next season to a $5.5m AAV contract. His deal expires the same year as Hjalmarsson’s (which carries a $4.1m cap hit), but it’s more likely OEL finds himself on another team than Hjalmarsson does I think, as he is certainly due a raise and could prove to be an excellent trade chip for a GM looking to accelerate his rebuild.

I’m not going to speak too much to the coaching situation in Arizona given that I honestly don’t watch them too much and don’t want to speak from a position of ignorance, but I think it’s also a reasonable thing to say that we don’t exactly know whether coaching is the issue for the Coyotes. Their roster, despite Chayka’s improvements upon it, still isn’t great and it’s entirely possible that Tocchet turns out to be a good coach when he’s given the right roster. Of course, great coaches are the ones who can take any roster and make it the right roster, and Tocchet didn’t exactly do too well in his stint with Tampa Bay (his win percentage in 2008-09 was 36.5% and then 48.5 the following year) but maybe Chayka, for all of the analytically minded expertise he brings to the table, can put together a team that Tocchet can make some noise with. Or, he could move on, who knows.

As Catherine Silverman also mentioned to me though, the big coaching issue has less to do with Tocchet and more to do with his predecessor Dave Tippett, who, not unlike AV had an over-reliance on favored veterans, a resistance to shaking things up, and a reputation (in this case “doing so much with so little” in the past) that ran stale. Sticking with Tippett as long as they did, in Silverman’s estimation, delayed things somewhat.

In broad strokes according to Silverman the operative concern for the Coyotes has been patience. Not getting impatient with the rebuild and either trying to accelerate or start over (as a team like Buffalo for example might try to do) has been a positive for them. Instead of being sellers this year they’ve allowed things to work themselves out and are currently on a 100-point pace through 2018. To that end they’ve got a CF% of 50.8 and a GF% of 53.85%, although they do have an underwhelming 48.98 xGF%. Their shooting percentage is a fairly normal 7.76, although their save percentage is an elevated 93.46 – things may cool off a little bit for them but it’s certainly an improvement from their abysmal 46.92 CF% from the start of the season to the end of 2017.

If Chayka makes the right moves (or if they win the draft lottery, as they currently have the best odds at the #1 pick for the generationally talented Rasmus Dahlin at 18%) and keeps with both his patient pace and savvy trades, then the Yotes may be on a solid road to recovery. Indeed, the addition of Dahlin, a slam dunk OEL trade, and the maturation of players like Keller and Chychrun would build an excellent foundation for years to come. Along those lines it’s important to remember that the current Cup favorites out of the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning, drafted Stamkos in 2008 and Hedman in 2009 -it’s taken a while but patience has paid off, and now a decade later they’re looking like they could really do the damn thing (and actually they’ve been contenders for quite a few years now and likely won’t be stopping anytime soon).

So really, although this started out as a cautionary tale of what not to do when rebuilding, it actually turns out that the Arizona Coyotes are not such a bleak image of things after all. Sure, they’ve had plenty of issues that left Chayka a rough team to start with, but things have started to look up under his watch. Bad draft picks seem to have given way to smarter selections, a few clever trades have given them some solid veteran pieces to build around (we miss you, Step), and the continued patient development has put them on the right track.

If they win the draft lottery this year it’s also a solid lesson that being bad while laying the groundwork for the future can pay dividends (not unlike the Toronto Maple Leafs, who restocked the farm while tanking, and then upon selecting Matthews and letting their best prospects simmer came out the gate flying). As much as Chayka is maligned for being a young stats nerd, he’s actually done a pretty great job of rebuilding a team that seemingly wasn’t sure they were even rebuilding up until he came into the picture. I guess what I’m getting at is don’t do what the Coyotes did from 2012 on, but definitely do what they’ve been doing lately, including, yes, tanking all the way.

"How Not to Rebuild: Arizona Coyotes Edition", 3 out of 5 based on 4 ratings.

16 thoughts on “How Not to Rebuild: Arizona Coyotes Edition

  • Mar 18, 2018 at 11:21 am

    I guess the rule is make smart moves, watch your Cap space and get a little lucky in the draft. I feel we are on a good path, but unsure we can get a stud if we pick 9th or 10th. I see a sprinkle of youth combined with a quality veteran or 2. Can only hope we grab someone who can help add offense from the backline.

  • Mar 18, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Yotes screwed the mintute they thought Stepan would be a 60-65 point 1c. JG was very smart to pull that plug on that.

  • Mar 18, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    You could write a book on how wrong everything has gone in Phoenix since even before the Coyotes came to town.

    Things in the 1st rebuild went south when Turris sulked his way out of town and 1st rd pick Blake Wheeler never played a game for them.

    • Mar 18, 2018 at 2:31 pm

      In 91, the NHL was looking to expand and put out feelers to Phoenix as the Roadrunners were playing to 10k+ on weekends and selling out 14k in the Turner Cup playoffs.

      Jerry Colangelo talked the city of Phoenix into building the Suns a new arena that was completely unsuitable for hockey because he was afraid of the competition.

      A year after the Arena opened, the city figured out they got hosed on the deal as they made zero money in a season where the Suns went deep in the playoffs. So the deal was renegotiated.

      The new deal meant that the Suns needed teams to divvy up day to day operational costs to keep their profits up. The Suns started up Arena football, indoor Soccer and team tennis teams, but it wasn’t enough. So Colangelo asks the Roadrunners if they’d like to become tenants.

      Lyle Abraham, who made his money in Canada in the oil biz, had a tremendous lease at the coliseum so passed on the inferior offer.

      Colangelo then offered to buy the team outright, allegedly Abraham counter offered to buy the Suns in cash.

      The Winnipeg Jets were getting killed financially between a a horrible lease and weak CDN$, so Colangelo offered that group a slightly less bad lease and the prospect of getting a new barn in a place with plenty of room to build one. The suckers bit, came down and the Roadrunners lasted(IIRC) two more seasons before moving to Edmonton, then Toronto.

      More later.

  • Mar 18, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    Unless the Rangers make trades that move them into a lower draft position it appears that they are still too good to tank enough to have any chance at someone like Dahlin. Their scouting staff is going to do their homework and I imagine they will go after the best remaining players after the lottery teams pick. They will end up with some very skilled kids when all is said and done.

    • Mar 18, 2018 at 5:40 pm

      Skilled but not game-changing skill

      • Mar 18, 2018 at 7:45 pm

        Picking somewhere between 7 – 10 in this draft will bring some game changing skill. They might not be Dahlin or McDavid, but they are going to be terrific young players.

    • Mar 19, 2018 at 12:05 pm

      You could also make a case that the reason the Coyotes are struggling to build is the lack of elite picks. The one they had was picking 3rd in the McEichel draft and fumbled by selecting Strome.

      2017: 7th and traded to NYR who drafted Andersson
      2016: 7th, drafted Clayton Keller (20-34-54 in 74 games)
      2015: 3rd, drafted Dylan Strome
      2014: 12th, drafted Brendan Perlini
      2013: 12th, drafted Max Domi
      2012: 27th, drafted Henrik Samuelsson

      Interesting thing here is that the Rangers drafted Skjei with the pick after Samuelsson. The two picks after Strome were Marner and Noah Hanifan. Had they taken Skjei and Marner / Hanifan, we might be having a different conversation about them.

  • Mar 18, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Tocchet is a good coach, but the team couldn’t string 60 minutes together until February. Now they are way more often than not and are something like 12-3 in their last 15.

    Now they have to use their call ups to sandbag the team the rest of the way.

    • Mar 19, 2018 at 5:51 pm

      Part of that was they didn’t have their defense healthy until the second half of the year. I don’t think Hjarlmarrson played before 2018.

  • Mar 18, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    If our management does the smart thing, they draft the best player available, not for position. That was the philosophy of the Dallas Cowboys for years, early in their history, and that’s why they were always successful, until Jerry Jones came along, and the rest is history.

    I was pulling for the dive, pride took over, and we now sit in the 11th position for the draft. That’s not to say we end up there, but the super cream will have been drafted by the time we get to pick, we’ll get very good quality, but not the cream.

    This is a very deep draft, we can’t miss getting some outstanding kids with our three picks, and probably get some very good players in the second as well. JG will do the right thing, that I’m sure of, unless the idiot twins stick their fingers in the pie. Maybe we should kidnap Sather, and Dolan the day before the draft takes place, to assure us of success that day!!!!!!!!

  • Mar 18, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    I know most dislike Larry, but my man is spot on here, this is the real reason it is hard to win!:

  • Mar 19, 2018 at 12:17 am

    You should do a how not to rebuild with the current Rangers….idiotic falling out of a high draft position….talk about shooting yourself in the foot…..really dumb

  • Mar 19, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    How many teams have won the cup without one or two generational star players recently? 0 How many generational players are drafted lower than 5th overall? 0
    The only way to win it all is to have generational players on your roster. End of story. You guys are stuck on a word “rebuild”. That does not mean they have to have young drafted players to succeed, you need you generational players to win a cup. So if you can’t draft them because you are always to god to get into the top 5, what is a GM supposed to do? In the next two years no less than 4 or 5 generational players are coming on the market. Tavares, Karlson, Doughty, Hughs and Dahlin. Please explain to me logic in saying even though our favorite team is the wealthiest team with the most resources (see Forbes) with an owner that is willing to spend we should not spend money on generational free agents because they were not drafted by our team even though we were to good to get them in the draft.

    • Mar 19, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      because they’ll be old by then!!!!!!! you sign them to huge contracts, and get maybe 1-2 good years, and then the decline begins!!!!!!!

  • Mar 19, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    By the way Larry Brooks is wrong. The Rangers are a god candidate for Tavares.
    He does not have to move his family. The owner will do anything to win. The team has unlimited resources. The has had a history of recent success without a generational player and between the kids and the remaining veterans the team is not that bad. The best goalie in Europe is the coming over in a year to be the successor to Hank.

    I think we should start a petition that Edmonton can not draft in the top ten for the next ten years.

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