The Arizona Coyotes don’t like to let things linger.
In the past couple years, the team has been very aggressive in locking up its young core to long-term deals well before any restricted free agent squabbles could take root. And while the rest of the league is just gearing up for trade season — the deadline is exactly three weeks away — the Coyotes jumped in early and hard, acquiring Taylor Hall from the New Jersey Devils just before Christmas to aid their playoff pursuit.
In fact, Arizona’s big move was long enough ago that the club has already had time to turn into a cautionary tale about how even the most sensible and strong actions don’t guarantee you a thing.
The Coyotes entered their first game with Hall on Dec. 17 as leaders of the Pacific Division. Following Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Arizona sits in the final Western Conference wild card spot, just three points ahead of those same Blackhawks and the Winnipeg Jets — both of whom hold at least one game in hand on the Desert Dogs. The Coyotes have just one win in their past nine outings and are 7-9-3 since the 2018 Hart Trophy winner joined their ranks.
(The team is also now dealing with off-ice concerns, with reports surfacing the Coyotes are being investigated by the NHL for breaking league rules about physically testing draft-eligible players before the annual NHL Combine.)
I loved the Hall swap for Arizona. This organization hasn’t seen playoff hockey since 2012 and simply qualifying for the post-season — even if it resulted in a short stay — would be a meaningful step for this young squad.
Sometimes you go out and get a guy like Hall to put you over the top in a Cup quest. Other times — as was the case last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Matt Duchene — you pull the trigger on a marquee rental because you know your fans are long overdue to see a playoff series win or post-season action of any kind.
As it turns out, the Coyotes’ souring fortunes stand in contrast to some productive play by Hall. Overall, he’s put up 17 points in 19 contests for Arizona and he’s actually been a point-per-game player with four goals and five assists during the team’s current nine-game rough patch.
The problem — in addition to the fact the big trade basically dovetailed with the squad losing Vezina-calibre goalie Darcy Kuemper to a lower-body injury he’s still not back from — is some of the players Arizona was counting on before the Hall deal have hit the wall.
Clayton Keller has just one assist in his past nine outings and Phil Kessel — who’s been a colossal disappointment in Year 1 as a Dog — has one even-strength tally in that duration and is on pace to net just 17 goals this season.
The good news for the Coyotes is they play in a Pacific that’s more bunched than a rush-hour bus.
Two hot weeks and this club could be right back atop the division. That said, they’re more than a month into life with Hall and things are trending the wrong way fast. If the guys they’ve had all season don’t pick it up soon, maybe the team that got a head start on trade season should contemplate a follow-up before it’s too late.
Other Weekend Takeaways
• Hall might be the UFA headliner this summer, but Torey Krug is going to attract all kinds of attention if he makes it to the open market, too. The 29-year-old had five points on the weekend, with four of them coming during a two-and-two performance in Boston’s 6-1 beatdown of Minnesota on Saturday.
That’s a slightly undersized player laying a completely clean hit on a six-foot-three guy who popped right back up. The only logically next step is for peaceful and slight Neal Pionk to charge in and do his best Bob Probert? There have been so many awesome developments in hockey during the past decade; by far the worst is the mentality that clean, awesome hits must immediately be answered with a fight.
• This season’s first head-to-head between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin was a spirited Sunday afternoon beauty. The Pittsburgh Penguins left Washington with a 4-3 win and Matt Murray has now won his past six starts. It will be interesting to see how things shake out between the two-time Cup champ and his breakout battery mate, Tristan Jarry, down the stretch — and who winds up being the man come Game 1 of the playoffs.
• Twenty years ago, Petr Sykora was knocked out of the Cup-clinching game by the type of hit we saw far too often in those days. He was carried off the ice in the first period of a contest Jason Arnott eventually won in overtime to deliver a Devils championship. While celebrating that club two decades later, the team finally got Sykora his lap with the Cup. This, from Saturday night in Jersey, is awesome.
This happened hours ago and we're still thinking about it.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 2, 2020
• No better way to kick off Black History Month than with this stirring opening to Hockey Night in Canada dreamed up and voiced by one of the best in the Sportsnet newsroom, Donnovan Bennett.
Red-and-White Power Rankings
1. Vancouver Canucks (30-18-5) – The J.T. Miller trade continues to look like a winner. Miller netted his 20th goal of the season during Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win versus the New York Islanders and that first-round pick Vancouver gave Tampa to get him is almost certain to be outside the draft lottery, as the Pacific-leading Canucks march toward the playoffs with a 14-3-1 mark in their past 18 outings.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-17-7) – The Leafs have picked up a huge six points in three games coming out of the all-star break, including Saturday’s 2-1 extra-time victory over Ottawa. Will a healthy scratch kickstart Kasperi Kapanen?
3. Edmonton Oilers (28-18-6) – Lost in all the Battle of Alberta blood lust; the Oilers have just one regulation-time loss in their past 11 games.
4. Calgary Flames (27-20-6) – Every team currently holding down a playoff spot in the West has a positive goals for/against ratio, except the minus-17 Flames.
5. Winnipeg Jets (26-23-4) – The Jets snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday, but this season is quickly slipping away and it sure sounds like we won’t see Dustin Byfuglien this year.
6. Montreal Canadiens (24-23-7) – With three points in Montreal’s annual pair of Super Bowl Weekend afternoon affairs, Nick Suzuki is now second in scoring among rookie forwards with 33 points in 54 games.
7. Ottawa Senators (18-24-10) – Another extra-time loss for the Sens on Saturday brings their total to 10 on the season. Only the single-point stars in Boston (12) have more.
In Your Ear
February is trade season, so how could we start the month on Tape-to-Tape with anything but swap talk? Sportsnet insider Chris Johnston joined the show to give his take on what we’ll see league-wide and specifically from the Canadian clubs in the coming weeks.
The Week Ahead
• The Leafs and Panthers — both vying for the third seed in the Atlantic — will play a huge tilt in Toronto on Monday. Florida lost Aleksander Barkov to a lower-body injury on Saturday and while the results of an MRI were positive, the Cats will still be holding their breath hoping the captain misses as little time as possible.
• Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh have been two of the league’s best clubs in 2020. They will square off in a tasty matchup in Florida on Thursday.
• Zach Parise is slated to play game No. 1,000 for his NHL career on Friday in Dallas. Anyone else feel old when you realize it was eight years ago he and Ryan Suter “came home” by signing twin 13-year deals with the Minnesota Wild worth $98 million apiece?