TEMPE – Although their recent efforts on the ice left the Arizona Coyotes optimistic about their future, it’s what will happen off it that could most affect the trajectory of the team.
Tuesday is the deadline for Tempe voters to turn in their mail-in ballots that will decide the fate of a proposed 46-acre arena and entertainment district. For the measure to pass, the Coyotes need a majority vote on propositions 301, 302 and 303, which would change the classification of land from a city-owned commercially zoned property into a mixed-use project.
“If we can take a landfill and make it a landmark in Tempe, we have a chance to become an elite NHL franchise right here in the city,” Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said during a Tempe City Council meeting in November.
They were encouraged enough by play in the 2022-23 season to believe the proposed arena is the only missing link.
Their 28-40-14 regular season record doesn’t tell the whole story. Arizona finished the 2021-22 campaign with 57 points, enough to place last in the Western Conference. The Coyotes ended this past season with 70 points, a clear improvement in just one year.
“I’m extremely proud of the way the players battled,” Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny said. “The way they stick together and the brotherhood, we keep improving year after year.”
It was right winger Clayton Keller, 24, who provided a glimpse of what is to come in the future, posting a career high 37 goals, 49 assists and 86 points.
During the past 11 seasons, the Coyotes have only made the playoffs one time but following a year where the team seemed to make major strides, Touringy is ready to take the next leap as a franchise.
“If you’re looking at the summit, you forget what’s at the next step,” Tourigny said. “We’re really proud of how tight and competitive we were. We made a step this year. So, there’s no way we’re accepting anything other than another step next year. We want to be better and one thing I like about our young group is that they’re so competitive.”
Entering the 2022-23 season, the Coyotes came in with the third-youngest roster in the NHL and have more much-watch prospects on their way to the NHL including center Logan Cooley, winger Dylan Guenther, center Connor Geekie and defenseman Victor Soderstrom.
The Coyotes’ young core is starting to come together but in order to reach the elite status of teams such as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche, it’s essential to be active during the offseason, whether it’s signing players during the free agency period or staying engaged in the trade market. Armstrong has made it clear that he plans on being active in the offseason.
“I liked our group,” he said. “I think there are some pieces that have emerged for us that are exciting. … I still think we need to add some pieces to bolster who we are. I think we’re going to become a better team in the offseason. I don’t think we’re going to do anything crazy, but there are some small pieces that we can add in that will make us a better organization.”
Although the Coyotes are trending in the right direction, becoming a Stanley Cup contender does not happen overnight. The organization knows it’s critical to stay patient as it continues rebuilding with young fresh talent.
“If you look at most rebuilds, they get messed up because they think the rebuild is over,” said Armstrong, adding that the team “has to show us that we’re there. What we want to do is let this happen naturally, let the group dictate where we’re going.”
The Coyotes may not be in a rush in terms of their rebuild, but the search for a new arena to play in is something the organization is looking to get done sooner rather than later. This past season, the Coyotes played at Arizona State’s newly built Mullett Arena, which has a capacity of 5,000 people. It provides a unique viewing experience for fans due to its limited capacity.
“It’s small, but (you) have the atmosphere,” right winger Christian Fischer said. “It’s the first year since I’ve been here where you score a goal and you get the crowd behind you and you get momentum.”
Despite its unique features, Mullett Arena is not a feasible long-term solution for the Coyotes.
The organization believes if the referendums pass, it would start a new era for the Coyotes and hockey in the desert.