What Went Wrong is our annual series where we look at the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the weeks, we have gone through them team-by-team to discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
You can check out our previous editions on the Ottawa Senators, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers.
Arizona missed the playoffs for a seventh straight season, which is the second-longest active drought in the league. The Coyotes posted a 39-35-8 record to place 18th in the overall standings. Arizona had one more victory than Colorado, but finished four points behind the Avalanche for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They were mathematically eliminated on the second-to-last gameday of the season. Still, the Coyotes had their most successful campaign since 2013-14, when the club posted 89 points. Unfortunately, they missed the playoffs that year as well.
Arizona was in the playoff picture late in the year when the team went 13-4-0 from Feb. 9 to March 14. They registered the best record in the Western Conference during that stretch and were riding a 10-2-0 run as of March 14. That successful span gave them a four-point cushion on the Minnesota Wild for the second Wild Card slot. However, the Coyotes lost control of their own destiny with a 2-4-3 slide in their next nine games and it ended up costing them a spot in the postseason.
Scoring goals was an ongoing issue for the Coyotes all season and it was evident during the team’s late-season struggles. Arizona scored two goals or fewer in eight of those nine contests. The team ranked 28th in goals for per game (2.55) and finished last in the NHL in 5-on-5 goals for with 132. They were also 31st in the league in even-strength goals with 151. The Coyotes didn’t have any 20-goal scorers in 2018-19. Alex Galchenyuk and Brad Richardson tied for the team lead with 19 markers apiece. Clayton Keller led the team with 33 assists and 47 points, while blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson was close behind him with 44 points. Galchenyuk was the only other skater on the Coyotes who topped the 40-point plateau. The power play didn’t do them many favors either, placing 26th in the league (16.3%).
Injuries were a major problem for the Coyotes last season. They did a remarkable job to stay in the mix for a playoff spot considering the key members of the squad who were missing from the lineup. Number one goaltender Antti Raanta didn’t play after Nov. 27 and Nick Schmaltz, who made an immediate impact as a top-six forward after he was acquired from Chicago, missed the last 43 games of the year. They were both sidelined by lower-body injuries. Michael Grabner was out of action for most of the season as well, as he sat out 41 matches due to an eye injury. The Coyotes also had to play without the services of Richardson, Galchenyuk, Derek Stepan, Christian Dvorak, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jakob Chychrun and Jason Demers for extended stretches. The team persevered despite what seemed like an ever-growing injury list, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
Even though it was a disappointing finish, there are plenty of positives that Arizona can take into the off-season. Coach Rick Tocchet deserves a great deal of credit after he helped guide the Coyotes to a 16-point improvement after they finished last in the Western Conference in 2017-18. Darcy Kuemper was a big reason behind the team’s success after he emerged as a starter between the pipes following Raanta's injury. He posted 27 wins with a 2.33 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in 2018-19. They should form a strong goaltending duo in 2019-20 for the Coyotes. The Coyotes tied St. Louis for the fifth-fewest goals against per game (2.68) and the club had the third-best penalty kill (85.0%). The Coyotes have to address their offense, though. Carl Soderberg was acquired from Colorado recently as a potential second-line center and getting Schmaltz back will help, but they will need more than that to end their playoff drought.
Clayton Keller - Keller slipped from 23 goals and 65 points during his rookie campaign to 14 goals and 47 points last season. The 21-year-old still led the Coyotes in points, but more will be expected from him in 2019-20. Keller will be an integral piece of the team moving forward and he needs to build off his impressive first-year performance. Getting a healthy Schmaltz, Stepan or perhaps even the arrival of Soderberg could help him, but he needs to contribute more. The Coyotes need goals and all eyes will be on him to get them.
Alex Galchenyuk - Galchenyuk tallied 19 goals and 41 points in 72 games during his first season with the Coyotes. He went through hot and cold stretches before struggling down the stretch. Galchenyuk notched just four goals and one assist in the final 18 games of the regular season. He is capable of hitting the 20-goal and 50-point marks. The Coyotes could use that and more from him next campaign.
Nick Schmaltz - Schmaltz was playing great for the Coyotes following the trade that landed him from Chicago. He had five goals and 14 points in 17 contests before an injury took him out for the rest of the season. Even though it was small sample size, Arizona locked Schmaltz up to a seven-year contract extension at the end of March. The Coyotes see him as a core member of the team and they love the upside that he brings to the table. Schmaltz will be looking to reward the faith the organization has showed in him next season.
Antti Raanta - Raanta was a disappointment in 2018-19 after he performed well the previous campaign during his first season with the Coyotes. He was limited to just 12 starts, while posting a 2.88 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. Raanta posted 21 victories in 2017-18 to go with a 2.24 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and three shutouts. There’s a chance he will have to battle with Kuemper for starts early next season to reclaim his role as the number one netminder on the Coyotes.