Arizona Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong believes he built a team that can show signs of significant growth this upcoming season.
The Coyotes have taken on unwanted contracts in exchange for draft picks over the last couple of years to springboard their rebuild. But that time appears to be over, as they didn’t take on any such deals this summer and instead spent money and assets to bring in players who can help in 2023-24 and beyond.
“It’s been a tough two years in the desert in terms of watching our team with the rebuild in place and taking bad contracts. Now it’s getting to the good stuff,” Armstrong told NHL.com’s Jon Lane.
“Listen, we’re going to have some challenges. We’re going to have some moments we’re not very good, but we’ve got an ability now to go into the ring from the first day of training camp. Now, we can take that next step. The next step for us is trying to play meaningful games the whole year and push to see how good we can become.”
Despite the obvious rebuild, the Coyotes performed better than many expected last season by finishing 27th out of 32 teams with a 28-40-14 record. Arizona projects to be much improved this coming campaign after signing Jason Zucker, Alexander Kerfoot, Nick Bjugstad, Troy Stecher, and Travis Dermott in free agency.
The cap flexibility at the Coyotes’ disposal helped land the free agents, but Armstrong was convincing enough to squash players’ concerns about organizational instability.
“Guys that we acquired through free agency, I said, ‘Listen, I don’t build rinks. I build organizations, and I build teams, and we’re trying to build a championship team here in the desert, and here’s what we can do for you to bring you in and make you a Coyote. This is the opportunity that’s in front of you.’ Players bought in,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong also helped convince Logan Cooley to turn pro instead of returning to college as the 2022 No. 3 pick originally planned. Additionally, the team made a notable trade splash, sending a second-round selection to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Sean Durzi, who Armstrong said will quarterback the team’s top power-play unit.
Arizona’s 2023-24 campaign will start unconventionally with a pair of preseason games in Melbourne, Australia, on Sept. 22 and 23 before returning to North America. While jet lag is a fair concern, Armstrong said he believes the trip will help the team come together early.
“I think that’s going to be a huge bonding thing for us as an organization,” Armstrong said. “We’re going to be bonded before our first (regular-season) game takes place. I think coaches yearn to have their natural team together, and that gives an opportunity for our coach right away to work with our team right out of the get-go, so I think that’s a big positive if we can fight off the jet lag and get our legs underneath us.”
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