With an NHL season now in order, Coyotes General Manager Bill Armstrong and President Xavier Gutierrez met with media on Monday afternoon to discuss the logistics and challenges of the upcoming 2020-21 season.
Here were a few of the talking points from Monday’s meeting:
Fans In The Stands
Hockey fans have not been in the seats at Gila River Arena since March. That appears it’s going to change in the coming weeks, according to Gutierrez.
The Coyotes are working with the league and local health officials to get limited fan attendance in Gila River Arena. Although the full schedule hasn’t been released, during the Zoom call on Monday, Gutierrez noted that the Coyotes opener is on Jan. 14 against the San Jose Sharks.
“We will be opening up and beginning the season with a limited capacity seating. We have been working very diligently with all the local, state, and federal authorities, as well as the NHL. We are going to be announcing further details, but we are really excited to announce we will be opening our season on Jan. 14 against the San Jose Sharks with limited seating capacity…We’re excited,” Gutierrez said. “We think that we will be announcing some very innovative and tech enabled services to enable the health and safety of our fans. We would like to announce that we will be opening up with limited season capacity.”
Drake Caggiula Signing
It wasn’t officially announced until Monday’s Zoom, but Armstrong confirmed that former Chicago Blackhawks forward Drake Caggiula will be signing with the organization on a one-year deal worth $700,000, according to Pierre LeBrun.
Last year with Chicago, Caggiula had 15 points in 40 games. In Arizona, he is going to be with his former college teammate at the University of North Dakota, Nick Schmaltz. The duo won a national title in 2016 and also played together when Schmaltz was with the Blackhawks prior to being traded to the Coyotes in 2018.
“One of the things that we loved about him and bringing him on board is he’s just a competitor and he also played with Schmaltz and they had some great chemistry at the University of North Dakota when they won a National Championship together,” Armstrong said. “We’ve added another competitve player that can play a lot of different roles. He can jump up on your first or second line, or be your spark plug on your third or fourth. He can play left or right side, so we’re very exicited about him.”
OFFICIAL: GM Bill Armstrong has announced the signing of forward Drake Caggiula.
Welcome to the desert, Drake! ?https://t.co/QPidwpOqSo
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) December 22, 2020
The 2020-21 NHL season is going to be a grind. It’s 56 games in 110 days for the Coyotes. Similar to baseball or a weekend series in college hockey, games are going to be played in two to three game spurts, with teams playing the same opponents in the same city repeatedly in an intra-division format.
Roster Construction, Goaltender Depth
This year’s Coyotes roster hasn’t changed much from the groups playoff run in the summer. Minus the additions of a few physical players, it’s a core group that has made strides, but needs to take bigger steps going forward to try and compete against the elite of the league.
One of the ultimate strenghts is the Coyotes goaltending depth on the back end. Darcy Kuemper was a legitimate Vezina candidate before getting injured last year, and the backup support of Antti Raanta and Adin Hill will only supplement Arizona between the pipes during a year when condensed games makes goaltending depth that much more important.
The Coyotes have returning players that have been together for a few years, including Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Conor Garland, Christian Fischer, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alex Goligoski, Jakob Chychrun, and many others.
Despite not being a preseason cup contender on paper, Armstrong likes the challenge lying ahead.
“I was just doing the Vegas odds and I think Vegas has us 26th out of the 31 teams in the NHL,” Armstrong said, “which is underestimating our group. This is a young group that has a tremendous amount of talent on it. Make no mistake, we have to make a step with this grind of the season. It’s going to be a great challenge for us because of the simple fact that we play Colorado, who is probably ranked the number one team in the NHL, then you’ve got Vegas and St. Louis. You’ve got three of the top teams right there.
It’s a tremendous challenge for this young, talented group of players to come in and fight. It will be a good test of our will to fight and get into the playoffs. You are going to have to scrape, kick, and claw, and not only do you have a lot of games in a lot of days, but you got COVID-19 just lingering around. This is a great challenge and it’s a great battle, and I’m excited about taking this group and you couldn’t ask for a more exciting division to play in.”