This offseason for the Arizona Coyotes is one that has had the most headlines ever, and that is saying something for this organization. News of a General Manager vacancy due to a rapidly strained relationship put a cloud over the team as they headed to the Edmonton bubble for its first postseason action.
Despite winning the first postseason series in eight years, the Coyotes were knocked out of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. Seven days later, it was announced the Coyotes would have to forfeit its second-round pick in 2020 and its first round pick in 2021, along with a cash fine, for the scouting scandal the recently-departed John Chayka was involved in. On top of all that, rumblings of missed payments to players and the Gila River Arena management company have been confirmed within the last week.
With all of the grey clouds creating a hurricane-level storm around the team, a strong ray of sunshine burst through on Tuesday. The Coyotes introduced its new general manager Bill Armstrong, the man tasked with making sure the playoff appearance this season become the rule, not the exception.
Brining in Armstrong, and the subsequent introductory press conference, brings similar feelings of strong hope that was felt when Alex Meruelo took over ownership of the franchise. Meruelo uttered a famous phrase to show how bad he wanted to win in the Valley, and Armstrong said something similar on Tuesday about his goals in Arizona.
“I didn’t come here, all the way to the desert to get a tan,” Armstrong said. “I came here to win a championship.”
Armstrong knows about winning a championship at the NHL level, and he reminded everyone on Tuesday, as he wore his Stanley Cup Championship ring he got from the St. Louis Blues last season. A lot of those players on that championship team, such as Joel Edmundson, Jordan Binnington, Colton Parayko and Robert Thomas, were drafted during Armstrong’s ten years as the Assistant General Manager and Director of Scouting.
Chayka was known for his analytics work, as he is the co-founder of Stathletes, a company that analyzes video for advanced analytics purposes. Armstrong will still use advanced analytics as a tool to evaluate players, but will create a scouting department that has strengths in all areas on top of analytics.
“Your scouts are actually changing,” Armstrong said. “A good scout moving into the future is a hybrid that can read analytics, watch video, go to games and do the background research.”
Armstrong is going to get his largest test in his career not even a month into the job. He will not be a part of the Coyotes draft in 2020, a draft where Arizona’s first pick comes at 111th overall. Assistant GM Steve Sullivan, who was filling in as GM during the playoffs and offseason to this point, will be in charge and making the selections.
When Armstrong finally takes over after the draft, he will have new players he had no say in selecting, and a roster that is currently up against the salary cap ceiling. It feels that Arizona is at a crossroads at this time, and some of its top players may be able to recoup the draft capital lost over the past two seasons.
The biggest free agency story of the 2020 offseason has the Coyotes in the center of the entire conversation. Taylor Hall cost the Coyotes its first round pick this season, and in theory, cost them the first round pick next year, as the punishment handed down in the scouting scandal may have seen Arizona lose its first rounder this year if they still had ownership of it.
Re-signing Hall would upgrade the 2021 third round pick sent to New Jersey in the trade for the winger to the 2021 second round pick. This means if Hall remains in the Desert, the Coyotes would not have a pick in the top 64 for the second consecutive year. Armstrong has an incredible history in the draft, and if he values draft capital highly in his current vision, Hall may be in his third different organization in a calendar year.
The success the Armstrong has at all levels makes him the perfect person for the job. He was a key reason to constructing a Stanley Cup roster through the draft and homegrown talent. When Armstrong took over as the Director of Scouting, the Blues had missed the playoffs four times in five years, and had not been out of the first round in seven years. Since then, St. Louis has missed the playoffs only twice, and won it all in 2019. Armstrong has the opportunity, along with the skill set, to push Arizona to that success, but is asked to do so with limited short-term draft capital and large long-term contracts.