TEMPE – New is always better.
The Arizona Coyotes are hoping that is the case as they embark on a new era in Tempe with a fresh batch of faces. But testing out their new arena will have to wait, as the Coyotes first face a grueling six-game road trip. They kick off their season tonight at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh with a game against the Penguins.
Arizona fans will get a look at the team and its new digs in the Coyotes’ Oct. 28 home opener against the Winnipeg Jets, one of only five home games scheduled through early December. That’s because the Coyotes this season are sharing Arizona State’s newly-constructed multipurpose arena, also home to Sun Devil hockey, wrestling and gymnastics.
The Coyotes finished the 2021-22 season with a 25-50-7 record, placing them last in the Western Conference. A Stanley Cup may not be on the horizon for the Coyotes, but they have other aspirations.
“For us to have a successful season, it looks different than the Colorado Avalanche, and going far and deep into the playoffs,” Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said during media day, referring to last year’s Stanley Cup champions. “For us, we want to be competitive every single game. We want to make sure guys bring their ‘A’ game every single night. We want to be a hard, gritty team that comes to compete in your face hockey every single night when you come watch the Coyotes play.”
Only three players on the Coyotes’ final 23-man roster are 30-years-old or older. Being a primarily younger team, the Coyotes are bound to go through some growing pains during this season. However, Stanley Cup contenders are not built overnight and the Coyotes are focused on developing their young talent.
“For us, player development is really important but maximizing the potential of all our players is also important,” coach Andre Tourigny said. “I think that’s the job we have. We need to take the roster and increase the level of everybody on your roster.”
Forwards Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Lawson Crouse anchor the young offensive core for the Coyotes, but the bright lights were not shining on any of them during this year’s training camp. Dylan Guenther, the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, stole all the headlines.
As a result of his impressive play throughout training camp and the preseason, Guenther earned a spot on the Coyotes’ 23-man roster just a year removed from being drafted. Guenther said he is honored to have the opportunity to put on the Coyotes sweater and is ecstatic to start the season.
“I was just sitting in my bed last night just kind of thinking about it, wrapping my head around it,” Guenther said. “If I were to look back five years and see that I was in this position, I wouldn’t believe it. It’s really exciting, and I’m going to take it all in.”
Despite a primarily younger core, the Coyotes also value a strong veteran presence in the locker room as they traded for right winger Zach Kassian and defenseman Patrik Nemeth while also signing center Nick Bjugstad, plus defensemen Troy Stecher and Josh Brown.
With these additions, along with veterans such as defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and center Travis Boyd, the Coyotes believe they are instantly a more competitive and gritty team. The younger players also have teammates they can lean on for support and learn from as they still work on developing their game.
“I think last year we had great leaders who passed on a lot of knowledge to us,” Keller said. “And again, it’s another great year of leadership. For us, guys that are in our fifth and sixth years, that’s something that we are ready to take a bigger role in. So I think this will be an exciting season. People can say what they want but I mean, we know what we have in our locker room and what we’re capable of.”
The 2022-23 season marks a new era for the Coyotes. After 19 years of playing in Gila River Arena in Glendale, the Coyotes relocated to Tempe and will play in the newly built Mullett Arena. The unique 5,000-seat arena is something the NHL has never seen before and should make games feel intimate, and loud.
“I think it’s a new era of hockey in Arizona,” Keller said. “We’re done with Glendale and moved on to Tempe. So I think that’s exciting. More people are going to watch hockey. It’s closer to where we all live and where a lot of our fans are. So I think it’s an exciting time.”