32 Thoughts: What’s next for the Arizona Coyotes?

Sean Reynolds and Elliotte Friedman discuss their takeaways from the 2024 NHL GM Meetings, weighing in on league plans towards the Arizona Coyotes, what the revenue projections means for the salary cap, and what a few rule tweaks might mean.

• Wrapping up this week’s GM Meetings
• How the Washington Capitals are hanging in the playoff race
Sean Couturier, John Tortorella and the healthy scratch

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly admitted Wednesday there was probably not enough time to relocate the Arizona Coyotes should everyone wait until June’s scheduled land auction to determine the franchise’s future. 

By now, we’ve learned not to assume anything when it comes to this story. There are always twists, nothing ever happens as scheduled or expected. That said, to those present, it sounded like we should prepare for the possibility — if not likelihood — the Coyotes play in Mullett Arena in 2024-25. And I do believe that is a potential outcome.

It’s definitely what the NHL prefers. A long, healthy future in a state it has fought for like Mamma Bear protecting her cubs.

“We would have preferred to be in a new arena by now,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We would have preferred the referendum in Tempe went the other way, but it didn’t. So we deal with what we can deal with. Having said that, we believe that Arizona, particularly the greater Phoenix area, is a good NHL market.”

Bettman said he has a good idea of the auction date. Multiple sources have advised to wait for auction details, because those could reveal what the winner must do with the land. If it is directed for arena use, it will be interesting to see if owner Alex Meruelo faces competition.

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Some of my tin-foil-hat wearing friends took time away from their Kate Middleton watch to say they interpreted Daly’s comment to mean that, if the NHL sees any concern prior to June, they might decide on a move before the auction date. I include that because I do think the league is working on contingencies in case something strange happens. 

In the meantime, employees wait for clarity and players investigate their options, which may be limited to asking for a trade if they don’t like the outcome. 

But I do believe the preferred path is to see how the auction unfolds — what must be done with the land, if Meruelo faces competition, and if he wins, as he is determined to do. 


1. Other stuff from the now-concluded GM meetings: there are people in the NHL who don’t like it when there are so many proposed rule changes, as this get-together had the most since the 2005 post-lockout crackdown. They’re worried it will lead to a million think pieces the game is bad. I don’t agree with that. There’s nothing wrong with tinkering to make things better. Even though, by the NHL’s own count, it has just 14 incorrect puck-over-glass calls out of 766 during the past three seasons — very impressive — I don’t see anything wrong with a coach’s challenge on one of those penalty calls. We will see how the Competition Committee feels, as the Board of Governors generally rubber-stamps anything that gets to it. 

2. Interesting thought from a TV producer: on that particular challenge, video coaches will have to know each building well and/or who is broadcasting the game. He says “there is the possibility of a distinct competitive imbalance” if one is aware of these subtle, but critical, differences. Some broadcasts use more cameras than others, and locations differ too, rink-to-rink. There is some standardization — the overhead camera above the nets and blue line cameras for offside — but not necessarily beyond that. 

3. The Competition Committee last met in 2022. The non-voting heads were Colin Campbell and Ron Hainsey. Newly retired David Poile (now looking so relaxed when he stops by these events) and Doug Wilson, a senior advisor in Pittsburgh, must be replaced. There’s one owner (Minnesota’s Craig Leipold) and four GMs (the others were Ken Holland and Steve Yzerman). The players were Paul Byron, Connor Hellebuyck, Chris Kreider, Morgan Rielly and James van Riemsdyk. 

4. In my old age, I’m starting to agree with Mickey Redmond’s caddy, Ken Daniels, on the idea the centre-ice side of the blue line — not the inside — should determine whether a play is on-side or offside. It would save a ton of time on review. 

5. Last September, when the GMs and coaches met in Chicago, the league made it very clear it was important they agree to wear microphones and allow access where they’d been stingy in the past. In December, Bettman, unhappy about the number of times promises were denied — in some cases after initial approval — made his disapproval very clear and demanded things change. Several sources who saw his memo said he included something along the lines of, “It is not exaggeration to say the future growth of the NHL depends on it,” which is pretty bold from him.

The reported Amazon show following 10-12 players is the kind of thing Bettman is referring to. I believe it’s called “Fire On Ice” and is being produced by Box-to-Box Films, which produced Drive to Survive, Full Swing and Six Nations: Full Contact. The fact Amazon is involved is leading to more conversation about the future of digital rights. We will see where we go, but there’s a lot to be unpacked here.

6. Doctor of Discipline George Parros faced pointed questions from one GM, but it wasn’t the showdown some envisioned. If anything, there was talk about “more engagement” with the managers. What do they want from supplemental discipline?

7. I didn’t realize this until I saw it Tuesday, but the NHL sets up a Situation Room in the host hotel for these meetings. There were 13 games that night, and at least that many people working. 

8. Columbus is not hiring a firm to handle its GM search, and the real process begins very soon. There are lots of rumours about favourites. John Davidson, who attended his first-ever meetings, said all of that is premature. 

9. Washington GM Brian MacLellan had a great line. Asked if we could chat, he asked, “Is this about our goal differential?”

10. We’ll get to that, but he revealed something pretty interesting about hiring Spencer Carbery. The Capitals play a lot of defensive-zone man-to-man, and, when the coach said that was his philosophy during the interview process, MacLellan didn’t like the idea. But, the organization knew Carbery, wanted to hire him and decided that wasn’t going to be a dealbreaker. “I talked about it with our staff,” MacLellan said. “If you’re going to hire a coach, you have to let him coach the way he wants.” Carbery’s done a great job keeping Washington in the race. Early in the season, they looked slow and discombobulated. 

11. The Capitals lost 7-3 to Toronto on Wednesday night. They are one point out of the playoffs, although their .551 points percentage is tied with Detroit for eighth in the east and their regulation wins (27, the first tiebreaker) number is good. For years, we saw a team that happily outscored anyone, now the identity is totally changed. After a 7-2 loss in Edmonton, they grinded out wins over Seattle (2-1), Vancouver (2-1) and Calgary (5-2). MacLellan credited Charlie Lindgren (of the .911 save percentage), adding that Alexander Alexeyev, Hendrix Lapierre and Ivan Miroshnichenko — given greater roles due to trades — injected fresh energy into the roster. 

12. OK, the goal differential. The Capitals are at minus-31 and the Islanders minus-23. The worst to make the playoffs in the salary-cap era are the 2011-12 Florida Panthers, at minus-24. If you remove shootout results (as one of our statisticians, Jason Murdoch, did) the Panthers were minus-19, the 2006-07 Tampa Bay Lightning minus-16 and 2009-10 Ottawa Senators minus-13. All lost in the first round. 

13. Other teams really respect that Boston’s leading the east (although Florida has two games in hand). To do that after losing their top two centres hasn’t gone unnoticed. 

14. OK, Sean Couturier. No one should be surprised. John Tortorella has no sacred cows. Could happen to anyone and everyone with him, and he’s pushed almost every right button in Philadelphia this season. From what I’ve heard, it’s a “pace” issue. No one questions Couturier’s will or desire and no one should. He easily could have stayed injured and cashed the checks. And I don’t have a problem with his initial disappointment. Even as captain, he’s entitled to a day of frustration.

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There are two things about it I find weird. First, almost everyone who’s played for Tortorella says, “You know exactly where you stand with him.” So I’m surprised to hear Couturier didn’t know the reason why he was scratched. That seems…strange for this coach. Also, I thought Tortorella should have met with the media before the game. I know the Flyers have a unique routine (I really like that it allows Brad Shaw and Rocky Thompson face time), but this one called for the boss. The Flyers play Carolina on Thursday, and Couturier seems like the kind of player you’d want in the lineup — even if you just won without him. 

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15. Ryan Johansen is on Philadelphia’s roster, as he rehabs from a hip injury.

16. It sure sounds like Rod Brind’Amour is all but extended in Carolina. He has waited for his assistants to be taken care of. You will remember that, in 2021, Dean Chynoweth left for Toronto when he felt he could do better on the open market. 

17. Carolina’s 6-1 since the trade deadline, the only loss a terrific game: 1-0 to the Rangers. It’s not a coincidence. During their trip through Toronto, players made it very clear they were extremely happy at their deadline adds. Sebastian Aho admitted he was one of the players Carolina asked about bringing in Evgeny Kuznetsov. Aho called Justin Williams, who played two seasons in Washington. “When he said it was okay, that was good enough for me,” Aho smiled. 

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18. Nine days after his trade, Jake Guentzel was still emotional describing the goodbyes to those Penguins he won a Cup with. GM Kyle Dubas went to Guentzel’s home to inform him, then the winger went to the rink to meet with those teammates.

19. I’d expect Pittsburgh to be one of the teams taking a long look at Quinnipiac’s Collin Graf, generally viewed as the top available NCAA free agent.

20. Winnipeg is operating under the assumption Gabe Vilardi will return this season, which is great to hear.

21. Before leaving sunny Florida for wintry Toronto (ugh, I’m soft), attended the official ribbon-cutting of the Panthers’ new practice facility, Baptist Health IcePlex. The host of the event, play-by-play man extraordinaire Steve Goldstein, set the tone by immediately tampering with potential free agents, saying the word is getting out on how nice it is. GM Bill Zito told his compatriots they were welcome to practice there, to which they replied, “I’m sure you want our guys to see it.”

The key for the Panthers is that it will save 30 minutes each way to and from the main arena, which is massive for the players. (Apparently, all but a couple live nearby.) You’ve probably seen the videos of them driving golf carts from their homes, and the parking lot is set with chargers for them. Some of the nicer perks: the same architects did the Dolphins practice facility, so they suggested football-sized chairs for the video room; there are several public pickleball courts, with the Panthers given two hours per day to use one; and the lounge/meal room has an outdoor patio with two available barbecues. Neat thing only I might care about: the barbell weights are in team colours. They did a really nice job.

22. Of course, the other important thing is how it is used to get the public — especially kids — more interested in hockey. It gives the market approximately 10 sheets of ice (this one has two). Get a stick in their hands and skates on their feet. The main sheet has approximately 1,000 seats and team practices will be open to the public.  

23. Excellent to hear Lanny McDonald telling Ryan Leslie he’s walking seven/eight kilometres per day, just six weeks after a cardiac event on the way home from All-Star. He is to present Darryl Sittler with the Conn Smythe Life Achievement Award on March 27 in Toronto. 

24. I didn’t know Konstantin Koltsov, but can relay a story about Chris Simon. During Calgary’s 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final, we had to cut down on interviewing him between periods. Because he was bad? No. Because he was too good. Simon gave lengthy, thoughtful answers and those interviews (which were supposed to go 60-90 seconds) ended up almost two-and-a-half minutes. When Don Cherry was on, they had to be dropped, because there wasn’t enough time to air them. Very, very sad to read about suicide in both cases — hope their memories are a blessing for families and friends.

If you, or someone you know, needs help, there is the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours in English and Spanish (call or text 988). There is always someone willing to help. Always. Was disappointed to see some online criticism of Aryna Sabalenka, Koltsov’s girlfriend, for playing the Miami Open. No one gets to tell others how to process grief.

When my son suffered his first concussion, I did as much research as possible on how to proceed, learning as much as I could about the dangers, preventions and methods of recovery. I’m a believer that repetitive brain trauma is one of the main factors causing CTE. Hockey will never be a “safe” game, even before you reach the professional level. I would recommend following former NHLer Riley Cote (@rileycote32) on Twitter. I have learned a lot from him about emerging therapies and hope for the future. 

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