The Arizona Coyotes won their play-in series against the Nashville Predators and with that win, the organization made the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that once the team was officially in the playoff picture, the Coyotes proceeded to get stomped by the Colorado Avalanche.
Arizona hung in for the first three games on the back of great goaltending. The realty though, was that as the Avs began to take control of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series and eventually win it four games to one, it was display of one strong team versus one that had no right to be there.
The Avalanche exposed Arizona and it was easy to see who the better team was.
A team that’s good enough to hang around the middle of the pack, it’s becoming clear the Coyotes are not a team with the pieces to really contend. “We’ve got a long way to go,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said Wednesday. He called their effort embarrassing, but one could argue that the team simply didn’t have the guns to win the battle.
Colorado Put A Stamp On Their Series Win
The real exclamation point on the series were back-to-back 7-1 wins by Colorado. These were to the two most lopsided games in the entire 2020 NHL playoffs to date and it’s not a coincidence.
Take nothing away from the Avs who have a ton of firepower and should be considered top contenders for the Stanley Cup, save for Oliver Ekman-Larsson, there are no real “stars” on the Coyotes roster. The closest are Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel and neither are necessarily known as leaders who offer enough gusto to lead a franchise.
The Coyotes certainly have some good young pieces (Clayton Keller and Conor Garland) and some underrated workhorses (Niklas Hjalmarsson), but after another early exit, there are as many people asking if the Coyotes need to rebuild as there are people asking if this team is only a few pieces away from contending.
The Last Two Losses Will Stick
Coyotes center Derek Stepan said:
“Obviously, losing the last two games the way we did, I hope it sticks in their brain just how important every little play matters, every little detail matters this time of the year. If there’s any doubt, any questioning within your lineup, it exposes you.”
Stepan is probably right, in that, these losses won’t be leaving the minds of the players anytime soon.
That’s great for members of the team who will be back. What about players who still have to decide?
Taylor Hall Has to Plan His Future
The Coyotes are interested in retaining Taylor Hall. We know this because there were plenty of reports the ownership group met with him over the break and while in the NHL bubble. Terms weren’t reportedly discussed but the expectation is that’s not far around the corner. Now that the Coyotes are out, they can focus on the business of hockey and get down to extensions.
But will Hall want to extend?
Hall has 10 years of NHL experience under his belt and in that time has only two playoff wins. He’s a good player who’s never gotten as far as a Game 6, and he’s consistently been on teams that draft high in the lottery.
Hall is coming up for an extension in a very strange offseason where free agents may not get to hit financial home runs like they’ve done in the past and like Stepan said, these losses will stick. For someone like Hall, that’s probably not a good thing.
Hall will now have to ask himself if this Coyotes team is really that good. He’ll have two ugly losses as the most recent recollections of how the team performed to help influence his decision.
This Is No Ordinary NHL Offseason
For Hall, this offseason could be as much about picking the right destination as it will be about making the big bucks. Some have suggested that big-ticket unrestricted free agents will always get their money. Those people have argued it will be the restricted free agents who feel the pinch of a flat salary cap.
For Hall, the more he plays on losing teams, the more his value drops. The less playoff experience he gets, the less he can argue he’s a value piece to invest in.
Some had already wondered if Hall would be thinking about signing a one-year deal with a contender. Ironically, many pegged the Avalanche as a favorite.
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