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Neutral Zone: The curious case of the Coyotes' Carter Hutton

Craig Morgan Avatar
February 9, 2022

This isn’t the way that Carter Hutton wanted his improbable NHL story to end. 

The veteran goaltender knew that the odds of resurrecting his career in Arizona were long. The Coyotes were openly embarking on a full rebuild, Hutton was 35 when he signed his one-year contract for the league minimum of $750,000, and he was coming off a significant ankle injury sustained on March 22 at Madison Square Garden that ended his previous season and required surgery. 

Despite those challenges, he felt great after the preseason, and he was embracing the unexpected announcement of being named the starting goaltender.

That role lasted less than three games. He had rough outings against Columbus and St. Louis, allowing 14 goals on 47 shots. When he finally looked to be putting together a strong performance at Florida on Oct. 25, he left the game after the first period with a knee injury.

He hasn’t played a game since, and it doesn’t look like he will any time soon. While the knee injury has healed, the surgically repaired ankle that felt good in the preseason appears to have regressed while he was out all that time healing.

“It’s a pretty bad injury,” coach André Tourigny said. “I cannot say it’s improving right now. The ankle is bothering him and we don’t see a lot of improvement lately.

“You know Hutts. He’s fun to be around. It’s great to have him around the team, but as far as getting healthy, there’s a lot of things he cannot do yet. He cannot drop in his butterfly or at least cannot be comfy doing it. It doesn’t look like it’s a matter of days or weeks even. I think it will be longer than that.”  

I have wondered multiple times in print and on the PHNX Coyotes show if Hutton has played his last game as a Coyote, or even as an NHL player. He is 36, his recent résumé probably will not entice other teams to sign him this summer, and given the persistent ankle issues that he thought that surgery had corrected, it’s hard to see Hutton prolonging his career. 

At some point soon, if the ankle does not show significant improvement, Hutton may decide to call it a day. On the other hand, it would be a rewarding end to his career if he could work his way back into the lineup for at least a few games later this season, and then go out on his own terms.

There was a lot said about the character of the veterans that GM Bill Armstrong brought in to shepherd the younger players through this rebuild. Four months into the season, those veterans have been as good as advertised in that regard, and Hutton is right there with them. He deserves a happy ending.

Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher and Danny Brière (right) attend the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. (Getty Images)

Briere’s promotion

The Philadelphia Flyers officially announced on Tuesday that they had named former Coyote Daniel Brière to the position of special assistant to GM Chuck Fletcher. For Brière, it is a continuation of his recent duties. 

He spent five years as the president and governor of the ECHL’s Maine Mariners, he has worked with the Flyers’ prospects in the team’s player development department for the past two seasons, and he also spent two seasons in the Flyers business operations before joining the Mariners.

“I know the Flyers organization pretty well because I was here for a bunch of my career, I had a lot of success here, I stayed in this area after I retired and I have been involved on the business side,” he said. “The last two years, I’ve been involved in different roles in the organization. It was never really an official title until last summer when I became a part of the player development staff, but I got to do more and more and touched on different things. I was involved with some amateur scouting, some player development, working with some guys on the ice. This is more of an official title, but I was already pretty involved for a good amount of time already.”

When I caught up with Briere for a Q&A in August, he figured he was on the road to a greater role and title, but he was in no rush. He is maintaining that same approach with possibly greater things ahead.

“It’s never been like I was waiting for the next opportunity and the reason for that is when I played as a player, every day when you come to work I never knew if I was going to be on the team the next day or if I was going to be in the lineup the next day,” he said. “There’s that constant stress of wondering what’s going to happen tomorrow, what’s going to happen next week, what’s going to happen with my contract. 

“When I ended my career and I got into this management side, I vowed that I wanted to live in the moment rather than always trying to look ahead to see what’s going to happen in a month, in a year, five years from now. I try to enjoy the moment as much as possible and that’s why I had so much fun managing the Mariners ECHL team and slowly getting involved with the Flyers. There’s no rush for me to move forward.”

He wouldn’t discuss it, but it’s no secret that Briere interviewed for similar positions with other teams including the Coyotes and the Canadiens. Philadelphia is just a perfect fit at this time in his life, and for his family.

“My wife is finishing her residency in internal medicine in a few months, and she already has a fellowship in sports medicine starting in July so that makes it a lot easier staying here,” he said. “Plus, it’s the organization that I know through and through. I have seen the players come up, I know everybody in this system so it definitely makes it a lot easier.”

Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse fights with Canucks defenseman Kyle Burroughs at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Tuesday. (USA TODAY Sports)

Second-half expectations

The Coyotes played 45 games before the All-Star break so the post-break slate doesn’t divide perfectly into a second half. Even so, the Coyotes used the break as a time to refresh, reassess and refocus on the final 12 weeks of the regular season.

“There’s stuff that I am really proud of in the first half: our competitiveness night in, night out, day in, day out,” Tourigny said. “We cannot take that for granted. Culture is something that you have to cultivate. If you cultivate something and you don’t put time in it, it dies.

“Where we want to get better? Our special teams need to get better. We need to be realistic on numbers but we need to be better. We have enough good players to improve our power play and our penalty killing, to be honest, we had an atrocious start. Since then, we got better, but we still have room.”

There will be myriad distractions in the months ahead, most notably news on the arena front, the March 21 trade deadline and the expiration of numerous contracts.

“It just comes down to controlling the things you can control and don’t worry about the rest,” forward Lawson Crouse said. “That’s all outside noise. Our jobs are to go out there and perform to the best of our abilities. That’s the approach that I believe everyone is going to have going into this second half.”

Loose pucks

  • Clayton Keller’s 17 goals represent his highest goal total through his first 46 games of a season. In the past 15 years, only Radim Vrbata (18, 2007-08; 22, 2011-12) and Shane Doan (18, 2008-09) have registered more through the Coyotes’ first 46 games of a season.
  • Crouse has 12 goals and 22 points through 45 games. Both marks are three short of tying career highs.
  • A reminder: The Coyotes’ capital improvements proposal for ASU’s multi-purpose arena is on the Arizona Board of Regents agenda for Thursday.

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