The Arizona Coyotes are even worse than you thought

    In his second game with his new team, Peter Holland scored the shootout-winning goal to put the Arizona Coyotes past his former team, the Leafs. In light of this most recent “Leafiest thing ever”, I wanted to talk a bit about the Coyotes and take a look at where they’re at this year.

    In 2016, the Arizona Coyotes did a lot of (seemingly) good things. They finished 24th in the NHL with a 35-39-8 record for 78 points. The team was still very bad by most standards, but was trending up after a disastrous 29th place finish in 2014-15. Their offense and defence had both improved somewhat, in terms of real goals and expected goals.

    Season GF60 GA60 GF% xGF60 xGA60 xGF%
    2014-15 1.98 (29th) 3.21 (28th) 38.19 (29th) 2.42 (26th) 2.95 (28th) 45.09 (27th)
    2015-16 2.52 (23rd) 2.95 (28th) 46.02 (27th) 2.46 (22nd) 2.66 (18th) 48.08 (24th)

    Perhaps the most important move of 2016 was the team’s promotion of John Chayka to the position of GM. The league’s youngest-ever GM, Chayka is well known for his analytics-heavy, new-school approach. Chayka’s impact was felt immediately on the first day of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, with the addition of Clayton Keller at 7th and Jakob Chychrun at 16th overall. Keller was seen as a savvy pick due to his incredibly high offensive upside and ludicrous point totals in the USHL, which were overshadowed in many pre-draft rankings by concerns about his size (5’10”, 168 lbs). Chychrun was seen as a top 5 candidate for most of the season, and Arizona pounced on him after he slipped, using their cap space to trade with Detroit and move up 4 spots in exchange for Datsyuk’s contract. While the trade value at the time was not in favour of Arizona, Chychrun has seemed like a good pick, making an immediate impact by logging 25 games with the Coyotes already and posting a +2.3% Corsi Rel.

    Chayka made further use of the Coyotes’ cap situation to acquire Lawson Crouse over the summer. While we’re all a bit wary of how much value Crouse actually has, Chayka demonstrated that he was going to use all of the resources available to improve the team, adding more youth to one of the most impressive prospect pools in the league. Chayka also made a big play by adding Alex Goligoski on a five-year contract after obtaining his negotiating rights from the Stars for a fifth round pick. For a money-starved team, Chayka has seemed like the perfect “Moneyball” type leader to make the small market competitive again.

    However, things have really not gone the way this year. The Coyotes have been absolutely terrible to start the season, with very few positives to talk about. Despite receiving .928 goaltending from Mike Smith (possibly the only good thing going for them right now), the team sits 29th in the league, with a 11-16-5 record and -29 goal differential. Sounds pretty bad, right?

    This team isn’t just bad. They’re one of the worst teams in the last decade.

    I compared the Coyotes’ season so far to every season by every team going back to 2007 (thanks Corsica!). This team isn’t just bad in terms of their record, they’re terrible according to most advanced metrics. Here’s a quick summary of just how bad they are by a few all-situations stats:

    Rank Corsi % Fenwick % xGF % Scoring chance %
    2016-17 (out of 30 teams) 30th 30th 30th 30th
    2007-17 (out of 300 teams) 291st 295th 299th 300th

    You can nitpick about the stats if you want, but man does that ever look bad. This Coyotes club is on par with infamous teams such as the 2007-08 Altanta Thrashers, Randy Carlyle’s 2013-14 Leafs, and the Buffalo Sabres during the worst of their recent (ongoing) rebuild. It’s understandable for a team to have a poor performance during a rebuild, but this team looked like it was looking up, with new management leading the way. So what’s gone wrong for them this year?

    The team has absolutely cratered in terms of puck possession, and the biggest culprit here is their defensive play and penalties. The Coyotes are giving up shots and scoring chances at the highest rate in the league by a wide margin, and have supported it with a meagre showing on offence. Goligoski and Crouse, those key acquisitions I mentioned earlier, are among the worst players on the team in terms of possession. The team has been shelled in the defensive end with Goligoski on the ice. With Ekman-Larsson and Murphy eating up a lot of the tough defensive minutes, there are really no excuses; this is definitely not what the team expected when they acquired him. Meanwhile, just as many prospect evaluators warned, Crouse has only 3 points in 28 games this year. It’s incredible to think that prior to the 2015 draft, he was ranked by many over prospects like Werenski, Provorov, and even hockey wizard/film noir fashion icon Mitch Marner prior.

    The Coyotes have also really hurt themselves by taking a ton of penalties – they’re tied for last in the league with a -20 penalty differential. While their penalty kill is one of the only things about the team that isn’t terrible, taking so many extra penalty minutes is a killer. Mike Smith has had an .897 save percentage on the powerplay – if that regresses to his career average of .875, the Coyotes are going to be in an even deeper hole.

    As bad as the season has already been, from what we know about this Coyotes team, things are probably going to get even worse before they get better. While the team has a lot of young talent on the way up, Yotes fans are might have to wait a bit longer before they see their team revived by kids like the Leafs have this year. Here’s hoping that they do one thing right and get these jerseys out as many times as they can this year.

    This jersey is objectively fantastic and I will fight you if you disagree.

    • Dan

      To be completely honest, I liked a lot of the things Chayka has done in his first year (besides Lawson Crouse) – but these are some brutal numbers

      • Andrew

        Chayka’s definitely doing a lot of the right things, he’s building them the right way in the long run. Whatever is the root cause of this year’s performance (I suspect a combination of coaching and roster), they’ve definitely got the right pieces to be good in the long run.