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2021-22 Division Preview: The Arizona Coyotes are (still) a mess

At least they’ve decided to go scorched earth.

2021 Rookie Faceoff Tournament - Vegas Golden Knights v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Just like in last year’s divisional preview, it’s hard to look at the roster that the Arizona Coyotes plan to ice this season and see any glimmers of hope for the wayward franchise.

They’ve been on the treadmill of “rebuilding” since the end of an era that was signaled by Shane Doan’s retirement in 2016. Since Doan’s retirement and longtime coach Dave Tippett mutually parted ways with the franchise, the Coyotes saw their high-risk/high-reward GM hiring of John Chayka crash and burn and trudged along with a 92-102-26 record. On top of that, they’ve been mired in off-ice scandals and are always involved in relocation rumors.

The bevy of young, exciting players they once had have all but fizzled out or moved onto greener pastures, as ownership and management have finally taken the scorched-earth approach to the next chapter in their eternal rebuild.

The Coyotes haven’t seen the playoffs since 2012, where they lost in the conference finals, but this year is all about hitting that gigantic red reset button.

The Fresh Faces

Shayne Gostisbehere, D

He may have been on waivers earlier last season, and his defense is rightfully scrutinized, but the former-Flyers defenseman is only 28 years old, tallied 20 points in 41 games last season and scored 65 points in 78 games way back in 2017-18.

Ghost Bear is a reclamation project, but he’s always shown flashes of being special. He is likely a pump-and-dump candidate but will be given the rope he was never really given by the Philadelphia Flyers.

A collection of bad contracts

Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd, Anton Stralman, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel.

At this point, the Coyotes should have a replica Statue of Liberty out front of the arena with a giant banner that reads, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

The Departures

Alex Goligoski, D/Niklas Hjalmarsson, D/Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D

This group and the next will all be lumped together because I don't know if we’ve ever seen the back half of a roster get decimated this much in a single off-season. Goligoski, Hjalmarsson and OEL were the backbones of this defense of this team for years. There is no denying they are all past their prime, but they were still effective to some extent.

In a single off-season, you lost three of your top five contributors on defense. There is going to be a rough adjustment period.

Antii Raanta, G/Darcy Kuemper, G/Adin Hill, G

Has a team ever lost their 1A/1B and promising backup goalie all in one season?

The Coyotes have mitigated these losses by bringing in Carter Hutton, a 35-year old goalie with vision problems whose play wasn’t good enough for the Buffalo Sabres.

The Difference Makers

Clayton Keller, LW

Once touted as the “next Patrick Kane,” the 23-year old has struggled to live up to his early career hype. After scoring 65 points in 82 games his rookie season, his production has only gone down, failing to break the 50 point plateau since.

While his quality of teammates has undoubtedly decreased, Keller will be given plenty of opportunities to find his footing and run the powerplay with Jakob Chychrun and veteran sniper Phil Kessel.

Jakob Chychrun, D

Another 23-year old, Chychrun, has definitely lived up to his hype, if not surpassed it.

My number one candidate for the most under-appreciated player in the NHL, Chychrun, has posted gaudy numbers on a god-awful team. He’s a force with the puck, consistently able to gain the zone with the puck, while also contributing offensively, tallying 18 goals and 23 assists in 56 games this past season.

Jakob Chychrun Player Card from Evolving Hockey
Evolving Hockey/@EvolvingHockey/Evolving-Hockey.com

It has been a lifetime since we saw a team get built around an elite defenseman, but Chychrun and the Coyotes are in a good position to do so.

If they can’t make this team competitive in the next couple of years, it shouldn’t take much to get the #FreeChychrun movement started.

Predicting the Season

Much like last year, the Coyotes are likely to be the punching bag of the division, but it will likely be worse with the departures this offseason.

They won 24 games last year and finished fifth in the division last season, and it would be a miracle if they improve on that. Now that the Central Division is back together, the Coyotes will face tougher opponents than they have in a couple of years. There is a chasm between themselves and the next team.

The Wild will only face the Coyotes three times this season, and it would be a disappointment if they didn’t win all three games (and by a wide margin).

But hey, they committed to wearing the Kachina jerseys full-time this year.