Bill Armstrong was announced as new general manager of the Arizona Coyotes last Thursday. The next day, the former St. Louis Blues assistant GM was already on the job in Glendale.
There is much to address for Armstrong and the franchise, as he gets set to meet with local media for the first time Tuesday morning. He’s scheduled to be joined by team president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez, who could face some inquiries as well, given the team’s tumultuous offseason away from the ice.
On the hockey side, Armstrong has upcoming free agency and potential trades on his plate. He can’t help the Coyotes with whom to pick in next month’s NHL draft, per an agreement between the Coyotes and Blues before he took the Arizona job, but he can alter the roster by cutting payroll and acquiring draft picks.
Here are some questions Armstrong may have to answer:
1. Is the team looking to bring back unrestricted free agents Taylor Hall, Carl Soderberg and Brad Richardson? Hall is the biggest name on that list, but it will cost the Coyotes plenty to retain his services. It already cost the team a first-round pick this year and either a second-round or third-round pick in 2021 to acquire Hall from the New Jersey Devils last season. Soderberg and Richardson are veterans with value, but Armstrong might decide he needs the extra salary cap space and let them walk.
2. Are Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Darcy Kuemper on the trade market? It’s hard to imagine the team dealing away their captain and the goaltender who helped make them eligible for the NHL bubble and led them to a qualifying round series win over Nashville. Furthermore, is anyone not on the trading block? It appears defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson is staying, as the shot-blocking specialist may have already told the team he’d like to return for his final year on that contract.
3. Is a team rebuild in store? A rebuild is tough to do without a good number of draft picks. The Coyotes at present don’t have a pick in any of the first three rounds this year thanks to the Hall trade, Soderberg trade and the NHL’s sanctions handed down for violation of the league’s Combine Testing Policy. In 2021, the team has no first-round pick because of the violation, and might not have a pick at all until Round 3.
4. What happens to Steve Sullivan? The former interim GM was able to get third goaltender Adin Hill to re-sign, which gives the Coyotes depth and experience and a potential No. 2 if Kuemper or Antti Raanta are traded. Sullivan has six seasons of service in the organization’s front office, as assistant GM and general manager of the AHL Tucson Roadrunners, among other titles, and Armstrong might prefer the continuity.
5. Keep the veteran core of the team together and believe in the younger players to improve their play for next season – whether it starts in mid-December, early January or whenever — or make trades and begin the youth movement? The Coyotes must choose. The decision with Hall could factor heavily in what happens beyond that, but it’s clear that under Rick Tocchet, the current roster has made strides.
“You can’t keep switching games plans midstream,” Tocchet said after the Coyotes were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last month. “We’ve made a lot of traction in the last couple of years and started to play more important games.”
Tocchet made it clear where he stands.
“Whenever the new GM comes … what’s his game plan, his philosophy? All that stuff has to keep us moving forward,” he said in a Republic article last month.