Let the record show that in a playoff career that spanned 12 seasons and 60 games in major junior and minor pro hockey, Bill Armstrong scored exactly one post-season goal. It was a harmless-looking a wrist shot from the blueline that somehow found its way into the back of the net in double-overtime for the Oshawa Generals in their 4-3 win over the Kitchener Rangers in the 1990 Memorial Cup final.
In fact, Bill Armstrong had one more goal than teammate Eric Lindros had in that Memorial Cup tournament. Unlike Lindros and teammate Fred Brathwaite, and unlike Rangers Gilbert Dionne, Steven Rice and Jason York, Armstrong never played so much as a shift in the NHL. But he literally fought his way through the minors and parlayed that career into a long and successful climb up the ladder in NHL management, one that started with an assistant coaching job in the American League and resulted in his name being engraved on the Stanley Cup in 2019 as the St. Louis Blues director of amateur scouting and assistant GM.
So it’s pretty clear that Bill Armstrong is not afraid to work long and hard and patiently trust that the process will result in very good things. And as he takes over as GM of the Arizona Coyotes, he’ll need to trust that process more than ever. On the façade, the Coyotes look like an organization on the rise, but how many years have we been saying that? Upon closer inspections, the Coyotes could have the makings of a tire fire. They’re a mediocre team that is up against the salary cap and, as it currently stands, has one no picks in the first three rounds of this year’s draft and one conditional pick in the first three rounds of the 2021 draft.
Armstrong faces a challenge that is both large and daunting. The sudden departure of John Chayka left the Coyotes in a terrible spot, one that was compounded by the organization losing its second-round pick in 2020 and its first-rounder in 2021 over recruiting violations. Here are just some of the challenges Armstrong faces on his to-do list:
1. Rebuild the scouting department: Word around the NHL is that Armstrong’s first order of business will be to dismiss Lindsay Hofford, the team’s director of scouting and assistant GM, who was at the helm during the Coyotes’ recruiting violations. The Coyotes had gone to a scouting model that relied heavily on video and analytics, and look for Armstrong to come in and put his stamp on the department. Luckily for the Coyotes, this is right in Armstrong’s wheelhouse. He knows the scouting world, has innumerable contacts and has talent identification in his blood. He’ll likely want to put his own people in there.
2. Decide what to do with Taylor Hall: This will undoubtedly be influenced by ownership, but the Coyotes have only just over $1 million in cap space for next season. The term and money Hall is looking for would pose a real challenge to the Coyotes. They gave up a lot to get him before the trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean Armstrong has to compound the situation by committing large dollars and a long term to Hall.
3. Start recouping some draft picks: If the Coyotes were to re-sign Hall, that would mean they’d have no picks in the first three rounds of the 2020 and ’21 drafts. That has the potential to be crippling for an organization that operates on a budget and needs to have a steady stream of young prospects ready to contribute at the NHL level. Armstrong could get that by dealing goalie Darcy Kuemper, whose trade value might never be higher than it is now. The Coyotes have Antti Raanta for one more season and just signed Adin Hill to a one-year, one-way deal worth $800,000. And they have Ivan Prosvetov, who showed well in the minors and could end up being a fourth-round steal, waiting in the wings.
4. Rebuild the defense corps: It’s hard to imaging that all three of Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers will be part of the team’s blueline when their contracts expire after this season. They might get some futures as rentals at the trade deadline, but the Coyotes are in tough in the long-term. They have Oliver Ekman-Larson and Jakob Chychrun signed long-term and 2019 first-rounder Victor Soderstrom coming along, but they gave up Kevin Bahl in the Taylor Hall deal and Pierre-Olivier Joseph to get Phil Kessel. That’s going to sting for a long time. Which brings us to…
5. Use those new scouts to find some gems: Without high-end draft picks, the Coyotes are going to have to find players in the later rounds and in the free agent market. This year’s draft is almost a write-off for the Coyotes given the fact they’re not picking until the fourth round and a provision of Armstrong’s release from the Blues was that he not contribute to the Coyotes’ draft efforts in 2020.
6. Decide what to do with Rick Tocchet: The Coyotes coach has one year remaining on his deal. Chances are Armstrong starts the season, and might even finish it, with Tocchet behind the bench. But he is going to have to decide at some point whether or not Tocchet is the right person to guide this group in the long-term.