Are you ready, NHL fans? We’re back to the 82-game regular-season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly-flopping into an empty swimming pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Arizona Coyotes
Last season: It was not a memorable season even though it was their 25th since moving from Winnipeg. They were competitive on the ice, getting eliminated from playoff contention in their 54th game of the season and got a breakout season from Jakob Chychrun, but anything beyond that was pretty bare. The roster lacked high-end talent, the defense was too thin and their goalies couldn’t stay healthy. For the Coyotes, this isn’t a one-summer fix – they’re thinking long-term and nothing exemplifies that more than the eight picks (one is conditional) they own in the top 64 selections of next year’s NHL draft.
Best option: Jakob Chychrun, D
Clayton Keller may lead the Coyotes in scoring but he’s not an elite option at his position like Chychrun, who finished 10th in scoring (41 points) among defensemen, first in goals (18), second in shots (176) and 25th in TOI/GP. For a few seasons, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was also a top-notch defenseman even though the Coyotes were never very good, and Chychrun’s fantasy value faces the same challenges even though his offensive ceiling seems a lot higher. Phil Kessel is coming off a strong 20-goal season, but the Coyotes have been very aggressive in turning their roster players into draft picks and I would be shocked if Kessel wasn’t dealt before the trade deadline.
Hidden gem: Shayne Gostisbehere, D
The Coyotes blueline is intriguing because if Gostisbehere and Conor Timmins can provide consistent performances, they could have a very good group. According to naturalstattrick.com, Gostisbehere’s 52.34 5v5 xGF percentage ranked first on the Flyers (min. 300 TOI) and ranked 19th among defensemen with 101.1 shot attempts per 60 minutes (min. 100 TOI) on the power play. When he played well, he showed flashes of what made him a Calder Trophy runner-up, but he was very inconsistent along with the rest of the team. A change of scenery should help a lot, which makes him a potential late-round gem, and the Coyotes aren’t deep enough on the back end to really justify making him a healthy scratch as the Flyers did. The Coyotes ranked 13th with the man advantage, though that number could dip without Conor Garland, Christian Dvorak and perhaps Kessel later in the season.
The best part about Carter Hutton and Josef Korenar this season is watching them set a new record. In the cap era, the three worst defensive teams were the 2005-06 Penguins (3.78 GA/GP), the 2019-20 Red Wings (3.73 GA/GP) and the 2018-19 Senators (3.67 GA/GP). All three teams had better tandems on paper. Hutton had just one win last season, and according to naturalstattrick.com, his -9.01 GSAA ranked 90th out of 98 goalies even though he had the second-fewest appearances. Korenar has only 10 games of NHL experience. It’s literally the dog’s breakfast in the Coyotes’ net.
The only players who should be drafted are Chychrun and Keller. There are only so many fantasy options on a team bound for the lottery, though Chychrun’s shooting percentage was well above his career average, and that usually means a potential regression. His supporting cast is expected to get even weaker as GM Bill Armstrong continues to trade players for picks, and don’t forget the Coyotes are going to be the hunted now that they’re in the tougher Central Division. No one will admit it, but losing games is a good option for the Coyotes right now.