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Q&A with BA: Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong looks back at first 20 games, looks ahead

Craig Morgan Avatar
November 28, 2023
Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong at the NHL Global Series in Melbourne, Australia.

On Sunday, PHNX Sports examined the Coyotes at the quarter mark of the NHL season with insights from players and coach André Tourigny.  This week, we caught up with GM Bill Armstrong for the 10,000-foot view of the team’s progress, but we also took a look ahead to the next segment of the season.

Armstrong touched on a variety of topics, from areas of team progress, to Logan Cooley, injuries, the free-agent signings, Connor Ingram and what’s next.

Here are his thoughts.

At the beginning of the season you talked about moving into phase two of the rebuild. Twenty games in, what are your general impressions of what you’ve seen?

Armstrong: “It’s not for the faint of heart because you get into the season and you want to win every game. Then you look back at each game and think, ‘In this group of games we played well, in these games we didn’t play so well and in these games we had a chance to win so how can we fix those ones that we had a chance to win? What can we do to get better as a team?

“But when you step back overall, I like where we’re at. I still think there’s improvement we can make. I still think there’s room for growth for our team. And I think there’s little things where we can take advantage of smarter play at times to gain more points, but we’re right in the thick of things. We’re right in the battle.

“I like that we’ve been a better road team (last season, the Coyotes had the league’s worst road record at 7-25-9; they’re 5-5-2 this season), our power play has made some strides (25.4 percent; seventh in NHL), our penalty kill has made some strides (80.8 percent; 13th in NHL).

“I don’t think the injuries have done us any favors. We’ve had some mismatches [in the lineup], but that happens to other teams, too. We’ve just had the injury bug so far, early on. With the injuries at the center position (Barrett Hayton and Jack McBain are both injured), it affects you whether you’re on the power play, taking a draw or you’re in front of the net. Jack McBain has a good presence on the ice and he wears teams down so you miss a little bit of the size and the bang.”

As long as we’re on the topic of injuries, we know that defensemen Travis Dermott, Matt Dumba and Juuso Välimäki are back on the ice and close to returning. We know Hayton’s timeline was four to six weeks. We know that Vladislav Kolyachonok is week to week. We haven’t heard much about McBain since he left the ice Nov. 9 against St. Louis. Can you provide an update?

Armstrong “We dearly miss him as a big man down the middle of the ice. It hurts not to have him in your lineup. At first, we thought it would heal, but it hasn’t. So it looks like it’s gonna take a longer period of time to heal. We don’t have a timeline but I think it’s still going to be a little longer than we thought.”

Logan Cooley has had an uneven start to his first season with the Coyotes.
Coyotes center Logan Cooley is tied for first among NHL rookies with 11 assists, and he is second in points with 13. (Getty Images)

What is your evaluation of Logan Cooley?

Armstrong: “Exactly what I thought when we signed him. You’re gonna see some electric moments; some dynamic moments. And then you’re going to see some moments where you know you’re a rookie and you’re learning. There’s some pretty good hockey players in the National Hockey League and it’s a tough game to play consistently as a rookie, but you can see signs in how well he’s played on the first-unit power play and you can see his effort at trying to improve and play both sides of the puck at both ends.

“He’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. He put a hard summer in. He has his moments where he’s elite. He has his moments where he’s learning, but what I love about him is he comes back to the rink every day with a smile on his face, eager to get better. Now with Barrett out, he’s getting an opportunity to play with the big boys (Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz). There’s some good and bad to that. You get to play with the best, but they also demand the best so that’s a great challenge for him.”

Is there any chance that you would loan him to USA Hockey to play in the World Junior Championship?

Armstrong: “No. He’s going to play for the Coyotes this year.”

What have you made of the contributions of free-agent signings Jason Zucker, Alex Kerfoot and Matt Dumba?

Armstrong: “They certainly have added a veteran presence to our team and a little bit of swagger. You’re not going into a game like Vegas being starry eyed with guys like these. They know what to expect. They know it’s going to be a grind. Their leadership has been great.

“They are excited about being in the desert and wanting to play for this team, but there have been some learning moments for everybody coming in, getting settled and finding their role and their rhythm on this team. It’s been a little bit of a battle for them to get a feel for that opportunity in front of them and get comfortable. You can see it out of them in bits and spurts so far, but I still think there’s a comfort factor that will take a little bit of time, and then to get some chemistry with the guys around them. I think they’re still working through that. I do believe their best hockey has not yet been played.”

Matt Dumba has been a lightning rod for fan criticism. What do you make of his play so far?

Armstrong: “Matt’s a veteran that can have a great impact when he’s at the top of his game. We feel like he’s still got some more room to grow there. I still think that he’s gonna bring his A-game. When he does, he can have a massive impact on this team and what we can accomplish in the future. I believe he’s got a lot more to offer and I think if you asked Matt, he’d probably say the same.

“He has a lot of pride in his game and he wants to play his best hockey. I think the greatest thing about Matt is that he can elevate his game. You saw that last year in the playoffs, especially when they played Dallas. I still think there’s more there. Sometimes that’s a comfort factor. He’s got to learn to play a new system with new teammates and he’s got some adjustments to make in his game, but I think if you asked him, there’s there’s still more to come and I think he’ll tell you that he hasn’t played his best hockey yet in a Coyotes jersey.”

Connor Ingram will make his second consecutive start on Tuesday night against Tampa Bay, breaking the Coyotes’ string of rotating goalies on a game-by-game basis at 20 games. (Getty Images)

When you claimed him off waivers last season you had identified Connor Ingram as a goalie who was ready to take the next step. Is it fair to say he has seized the opportunity?

Armstrong: “So far this year, he has been an elite goaltender. His record I think indicates how well he has been able to play. We saw bits and pieces of it last year, but he’s really brought it this year. He had a great summer of training. I think he was excited about knowing that he was on a contract that was a one-way and we planned to use him as one of our goalies. He has responded, and he’s got great hockey sense. We’ve really liked his consistency. He plays an easy game when he’s on.”

You entered play on Tuesday one point off a playoff spot. What is your philosophy on adding pieces this season to get into the postseason vs. adding pieces that will help you in the long run?

Armstrong: “It’s the never ending question of can you make your team better today without hurting it down the road? Let’s be honest, we’ve set out here to play meaningful games this year, but we’re always looking to get better. It’s my job to sit behind a desk every day and try and make us better. Without selling the farm, if there’s an opportunity to move us forward to be better down the road and be better now, we’ll obviously take a look at it. We’ve got all the assets in the world so it never hurts to look and see if you can improve the club. We’ll see how that goes, but we’re always looking and always have fun.”

Would you entertain the idea of a rental?

Armstrong: “You never know. It’s got to make sense for us. We’ve got guys coming back off injury so right now, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense. But the team will dictate the path that we’ll take by how many wins they have and if we’re in the race. Our whole goal, like I said earlier, was to play meaningful games. Right now, we’re playing meaningful games. Every night is a battle for us and we know every point counts.

“We’ve kind of stuck to the same thought process from the moment we started building the team to where we are now and that’s just to keep continually getting better and do it the right way. I like where our group’s headed. We’re gonna have some ups and downs. It’s a competitive league; anybody can beat anybody. When you’ve got injuries, sometimes you have to be creative in your thinking and guys have to step up, but I like what we’ve done so far.

“We’re just trying to stick to the game plan and worry about the process every day of coming in, trying to get better and to play meaningful games. That’s important for us to be in the hunt and feel that competitiveness in the big games; knowing how important the points are, and continuing to improve.”

Top photo of Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong via Getty Images

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