At this point and time, the Arizona Coyotes are in playoff contention. Let that sink in.
This is a club that has dealt with perennially low expectations since the outset, almost every single season. And, not for nothing, they’ve earned those lowered expectations with a lacklustre roster and some troubling play.
But this season, Arizona is sitting just two points out of a wild card spot with a bye week after the All-Star break. They’ll return to action February 2 against the San Jose Sharks and are 23-23-4 after dropping a decision to Montreal. It won’t be an easy ride if they do make it in. They’re a point behind the Anaheim Ducks and two back on the Canucks, but they’ve gone an impressive 6-2-2 in their last 10 and could pull up to the gate.
What’s more, the Coyotes have done this with an astounding amount of man games lost to injury. Make that 218 games to injury, in fact. Last season, they lost 146 man games to injury. All season.
That puts things in perspective and framed this season for Arizona. This season, they battle. This season, they overcome. And if that attitude can bend them into the post-season for a shot at wonder, so much the better.
Totalling it up, the Coyotes are missing three of four regular centres – Christian Dvorak, Nick Schmaltz and Brad Richardson – and their top goalie Antti Raanta. Oh, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jason Demers are on the shelf too. No big deal, that’s just their top defensive pairing. Luckily, Ekman-Larsson is day-to-day. But Demers hasn’t played since November.
They may get some players back soon, though. Thank goodness.
The situation has pushed other players to the fore, like Conor Garland of the epic face-smash goal and goalie Darcy Kuemper. The latter has played well in Raanta’s stead, piling up a goals against average of 2.63 and a .914 save percentage.
Still, there are problems. The Coyotes aren’t exactly the most offensive team, scoring just 132 goals in 50 games for an average of 2.64 goals per contest.
That could put John Chayka’s squad in a unique position at the trade deadline, as they could be buyers. Yes, really.
The Coyotes don’t have a lot to offer the open market, with maybe only pending UFA Richard Panik a player the team would part with. Arizona does have all of their draft picks for the next three seasons, however, so that means some bait could be offered if the right player comes along. Think depth scoring.
And if these desert dogs can get some players back to good health and generate some wins, think playoffs.
(Photo credit: Rob Schumacher)