Coyotes ‘OK with that’ if NHL season has already ended
When, or even if, the NHL schedule resumes, several scenarios are out there regarding how the remainder of the season could take shape.
Does the schedule pick up from the point of the pause on March 12? To allow for positioning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, could a tournament be held?
With 70 games already in the books and eight of the 12 remaining contests at Gila River Arena, the Arizona Coyotes could be on the precipice of post-season play.
At the same time, should NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and other league officials declare the season over and no Stanley Cup awarded, could the Coyotes accept this resolution? Perhaps, and that was the accord coach Rick Tocchet and forward Derek Stepan hinted during Zoom video chats with reporters in early April.
Should the season end at the current stage, the Coyotes would not make the playoffs, and that’s under the assumption the playoffs would pick up immediately.
This appears unlikely, but as Stepan pointed out, “I would like to see some type of tournament. What shape and form, I’m not certain, but I think a tournament is something I would like to see.”
If that happens, there is a vital and important variable to the Coyotes fortunes. That would be scoring for a team that suffered from scoring droughts over the past several seasons.
When play stopped last month, the Coyotes scored 187 goals over their 70 games. That’s an average of 2.78 goals per game, but that total ranked near the bottom in reference to league production. At that time, only the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings scored fewer goals.
With the resumption of play, if that happens, scoring would be a priority.
“Once you get down to the final games, scoring becomes much more difficult,” Stepan said. “Teams tighten up and you need to find ways to score from secondary sources. It comes down to your ability to generate scoring opportunities from different locations on the ice.”
From experience, Stepan could be the Coyotes go-to player in time of need. For all seven years with the New York Rangers, Stepan helped the Broadway Blues to the post-season each season. During the 2014 and 2015 playoff campaigns, Stepan tallied 10 goals and recorded 17 assists. He scored game-winning goals twice during the 2013 playoffs.
If the Coyotes have an opportunity to get back on the ice this spring, Stepan must have a supporting cast. At the pause, the Coyotes had but one player over 20 goals and that was Conor Garland with 22 tallies. Only two players recorded 40 or more points – Clayton Keller (17 goals, 27 assists, 44 points) and Nick Schmaltz (11 goals, 34 assists, 45 points). In terms of goal scorers, Christian Dvorak was second with 18 and Lawson Crouse chipped in 15 goals.
From a team hovering around first place in the Pacific Division for the first half of the season, the Coyotes took a nasty fall from grace, and lack of scoring was the main culprit. From Jan. 9 to March 12, the Coyotes managed to win back-to-back games only twice and had lost five of their previous eight games as of the pause.
“If we pick up the season, some players have to raise the bar,” Tocchet said. “We lacked the killer instinct, especially late in games. Once we scored, we couldn’t make 2-0 or 3-0 and we didn’t score that goal we really needed. It came down to missing many chances to pull games out.”
Tocchet and his coaching staff are taking this down time to figure out why the Coyotes collapsed in games and during critical times.
“I’m asking coaches and players how we can get better,” Tocchet said. “We want players to get better in their conditioning and be ready if the time comes.”
If the Coyotes do not get back in the ice until the 2020-21 season, Tocchet said he is satisfied with the course of events, adding “the 70 games was a good guide.”
“Whatever goes, I’m OK with that,” he said.
— Mark Brown
(May 12, 2020)