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How the ‘Yotes can reach the Playoffs

© Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2023-24 NHL regular season is only a few weeks away, this years Arizona Coyotes roster looks vastly different and it possible that playoffs could be at Mullett Arena this season.

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Here is the recent playoff history, roster improvements and teams the Coyotes need to pass to make the playoffs:

Playoff Drought

Since they got bounced by the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 in the 2011-12 Western Conference Finals, the Coyotes have only been in the playoffs once.

That once, even though some may put an asterisk around it, was when the 2020 NHL Western Conference Playoffs were held inside a bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada at Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL allowed 12 Western and 12 Eastern Conference teams into the playoffs instead of the usual 8 per conference.

Coyotes were 11th that season and they faced #6 Nashville, at the time, in the Qualifying Round.

In the Qualifying Round, 12 would play 5, 11 would play 6, and so on to qualify to make the playoffs. The qualifiers were a best-of-5 series.

The top 4 teams in each conference automatically made the playoffs.

Former Coyotes center Brad Richardson scored the game-winning-goal in overtime against the Predators as they won 4-3.

Eventually, Arizona played the Colorado Avalanche and were swiftly knocked-out of the playoffs series 4-1 in the First Round.

Since then, former Coyote stars like Taylor Hall, Darcy Kuemper and Jakob Chychrun have all went elsewhere and Arizona have been in a “rebuild” since.

Roster Upgrades

When the proposed Tempe arena and public complex deal failed, uncertainty arose around what would happen with the Coyotes.

Instead of hesitating, Arizona general manager Bill Armstrong made deals to strengthen the Coyotes line-up as they transition out of a rebuild and into a contender, with players like Clayton Keller in his prime.

The first move he made was that he traded a second round pick to the Kings for offensive-defensemen Sean Durzi.

Durzi is going into his third season in the NHL as he 12 goals and 53 assists in two seasons with the Kings.

With Los Angeles, he was on the second power-play combination and has an opportunity with the Coyotes to be the first-line power-play defenseman.

Initially, top Arizona prospect Logan Cooley looked like he was going to return to the University of Wisconsin for a sophomore season.

Instead, he  signed a three-year entry-level contract with the “Desert Dogs” in the offseason.

Former Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguin Jason Zucker signed a one-year contract with the Coyotes.

Zucker recorded 27 goals and 21 assists for Pittsburgh last season.

So far this preseason, he has been on a line with Cooley and winger Dylan Guenther.

Matt Dumba signed a one-year $3.9 million contract with the ‘Yotes after coming from the Wild.

The 10-year veteran averaged either at or over 20 minutes of ice time since 2016-17 and is destined for the same role with the Coyotes.

Adding to the bottom-six forward depth, former Toronto Maple Leaf Alex Kerfoot will be a critical player to the “Desert Dogs” penalty kill.

He played all 82 games last season and was reliable defensively when the Canadian club needed him to be.

Familiar Faces, Familiar Places

Two players have returned to the valley as well to add depth: center Nick Bjugstad and d-man Troy Stecher.

Bjugstad had 23 points in 59 games during his first tenure with the Coyotes.

As for Stetcher, he was on the bottom defensive pairing with Josh Brown and had 7 assists in 60 games.

As the trade deadline hit last year, Bjugstad was dealt to the Oilers and Stetcher went to Calgary.

Teams in Coyotes Way

The Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche run the Central Division, the Coyotes aren’t there yet to compete with those two juggernauts.

The Wild are a stable team and should be comfortable again this season in third.

Things get interesting from here on:

With the Winnipeg Jets, they are slowly, but surely, going towards the rebuild direction as they traded center Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Kings and former captain Blake Wheeler opted to sign with the New York Rangers.

If the Jets do decide to trade their remaining stars, goalie Connor Hellebuyck and/or Mark Scheifele, the possibility of the Coyotes passing the Jets is very real.

The Chicago Blackhawks tanked last season and ended up with #1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, Connor Bedard.

Even with the top rookie in all of hockey, Chicago don’t have the depth or star power to compete for even a wild-card spot.

The St. Louis Blues have the players to make the playoffs in Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas and Justin Faulk.

Instead, the Blues main issue is goaltending.

Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2019, goalie Jordan Binnington has been the problem and not the solution.

With a .894 save percentage last year and constant antics with other players, the Blues need more from their goaltender.

Nashville is a question mark.

Predators goaltender Juuse Saros is arguably the best goaltender in the league and he can steal games on his own.

Unlike the Coyotes, however, Nashville have more questions to answer with their offense.

When forward Filip Forsberg is healthy, he is one of the most offensively-gifted players in the league with a wicked shot and smooth puck-handling skills.

However, Forsberg is very injury-prone and they don’t really have a number two go-to-guy to score besides him.

With the new additions the Coyotes made and the uncertainty of the teams besides the top three, there is a decent chance the Coyotes can clinch a playoff spot in April.

A Cool-ey Calder Winner?

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Alec Cipollini is a journalist covering the Arizona Coyotes and Phoenix Rising for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on his new X account @CipolliniBCS

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