Arizona Coyotes: Can the Team Truly Make the Playoffs This Year?

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 05: The Arizona Coyotes celebrate after defeating the Washington Capitals during at Capital One Arena on November 05, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 05: The Arizona Coyotes celebrate after defeating the Washington Capitals during at Capital One Arena on November 05, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Arizona Coyotes have exceeded the expectations of sports writers, fans, and critics alike. These words are probably becoming tiresome to the Coyotes and their fans.

“We are in a rebuild, we are expected to lose”. Awesome. Change the record already.

Get a room full of NHL players and ask them to lose. Good luck with that. These are some of the best athletes in the world. They hate losing. They do not want any part of a rebuild.

With a roster featuring players that most publications have written off as third or fourth liners/role players at best, has turned into a team that has given the opposition fits. Should this surprise any of us? Meh.

Yes it is early in the season, and yes the team could do a nose dive.  Midnight could strike early on this Cinderella team, turning them back into pumpkins.

I do not think that this team is a pumpkin though. Not with the roster featuring players that any team would covet. Clayton Keller, Karel Vejmelka, Lawson Crouse, and Shane Gostisbehere give this team it’s best foundation since the ‘Yotes had Shane Doan, Ray Whitney, Keith Yandle, and Mike Smith. The difference is, with exception to Doan, these players are younger and have more upside. These are players you build a team around.

Fans outside of Arizona are complaining about how “great they would be if they just played for a good team”.

News flash. If every struggling team traded away their up-and-coming players or current stars, they would never improve.

Its possible though, that this team could continue their unexpected success and push for a playoff spot? For this to become reality, it goes without saying that the team needs Keller, Vajmelka, Crouse, and Ghost to continue to be stars. There are however, several factors that would need to happen in order for this team to make this rebuild super short, and steer this franchise into the postseason.

The Central Division

The Central Division hasn’t been great this season and will need to continue to underachieve in order to give this young Coyotes team a chance to stay in the hunt. The Colorado Avalanche will no doubt win the division and probably repeat as Cup champions. Most fans would agree with that. Looking at the rest of the division it is easy to assume that eventually the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars will wake up and start winning games. They are too good to not be winners.

The Minnesota Wild are not the same team without Kevin Fiala and Cam Talbot. They look very beatable any night of the week. Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon are overpaid, and ineffective. Their window to win closed last season. They are a handful of losses away from firing their head coach, GM, and rebuilding. The clock should also start in the “trade Karpizov” talks. His contract is up in 3 seasons and he will not re-sign if they are rebuilding. General manager Bill Guerin looks pretty foolish for keeping Dumba and Spurgeon’s contracts and letting Fiala go via trade-and-sign for less than he was expected to get paid. Yikes.

Winnipeg and Chicago are not that good. Chicago is actually a real threat to finish dead last in the NHL and should make that happen once they trade away future hall of famers Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

If these teams continue to struggle and the Coyotes are able to stay competitive, they could actually finish in the top of this division. For the Coyotes to make the playoffs, they will need a little help from their “friends”.

Nick Schmaltz

If Nick Schmaltz returns, stays healthy, and picks up where he left off last season, the Coyotes will have a first line that could be unstoppable. Last season Schmaltz looked every bit the player that the Coyotes justified dishing out a 7 year / $40,950,000 contract to (including a $3,000,000 signing bonus, and $40,950,000 guaranteed). Last season Schmaltz scored 23 goals, 36 assists, and 59 points in just 63 games.

Clayton Keller is an elite forward. If Schmaltz can return to the line up and play at the level he did last season, the Coyotes will have a top scoring line that could light up any team in the league. The issue with Schmaltz is his ability to stay healthy. Since being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2018-19, Schmaltz has never played an entire season. Yikes.

If he can return and stay healthy, Schmaltz will give the Coyotes the opportunity to accelerate the rebuild, and possibly make a playoff push.

Jakob Chychrun

It has been made crystal clear that Jakob Chychrun wants out of the desert, and zero part of a rebuild.

Thanks, man.

The team wants a king’s ransom for any return in a trade so this means he is going to have to show the league that he is still every part the elite defenseman from years past. Translation: Chychrun will be playing hockey in a Coyotes sweater this season. If he plays at an elite level, he will add to a defensive group that boasts star Shane Gostibehere and up and coming JJ Moser. In addition to strengthening the blue line, the Coyotes will no doubt win more games as a result.

If the team is winning, and are actually in a spot to make the playoffs, would he consider sticking around? Maybe. Usually winning cures all. Including possible hurt feelings or resentment from the front office. If he does not stick around, whoever or whatever the team gets in return should be sufficient enough to aid in the push for the postseason.

Chychrun has more value for this franchise than just his play on the ice. If he sticks around though, his return would be the same as acquiring a top level defenseman via trade; and wouldn’t that be awesome?

Making the postseason is not a pipe dream. I cannot think of anything more exciting (or funny) than watching the Coyotes host an NHL playoff game at Mullett Arena. The rest of the league would lose their minds. The team has the next few days off from game play, but hits the ice  Monday night in Nashville. The perfect opportunity to take down a Central Division opponent.

Happy Howlin’!