Those rooting for a full-on tanking of the season must be a little disappointed. Those who want the Arizona Coyotes to have the best chance at winning the NHL Draft lottery might not be so sure it will happen.
The team with the worst record in the league as the Coyotes have reached the midway point of their season is not the Coyotes. It's the Montreal Canadiens.
And yet, the Coyotes are still within striking distance of the lowest standings points total in the league, and just might end up being the team in the most advantageous position to select Shane Wright — widely regarded as the top prospect in the 2022 Draft — when the regular season comes to an end.
But they look intent on going after wins rather than piling up losses through 41 of 82 games.
General Manager Bill Armstrong said one of the keys to a rebuilding of the franchise that he and his staff discussed was that the team on the ice continues to improve.
"It's about practicing harder, it's about being more prepared, it's about recovering better, and I think our guys have really dug into that," Armstrong said. "Really have, along with our new coaching staff, changed the culture as far as our work ethic. I think it shows in the games.
"We're not as talented as the Tampa Bay Lightning (for example), but we can work," Armstrong said. "Everybody buys into that concept and they show up to play as a team and come to the rink to work, and I think that's why we're as competitive as we are."
A rebuild goes beyond all of the draft picks the Coyotes have stockpiled, head coach André Tourigny said.
"Rebuilding, it's not just assets. It's building your identity, it's building your culture, it's building how you want to do things on a daily basis," Tourigny said. "People from outside, rightfully so, see rebuilding in terms of asset management, but it's more than just asset management. It's building how we want to do our business every day. There's a lot that goes into it."
That's where things stand as the Coyotes are 10-27-4 at midseason. Some games have been blowout losses, the opposing team's talent level far superior to the Coyotes' roster of veterans trying to prove they can still play at this level. And some have been efforts that show signs of pride and a belief in Tourigny's system.
"You have players who will and some won't be here next season, but some will be here. They need to carry out what we start this season," Tourigny said.
A homegrown core that includes All-Star Clayton Keller and rising star Jakob Chychrun and veteran leaders on short-term contracts seems fine with leading the team through the rebuild, and the Coyotes are pushing forward with a group of rookie defensemen and a goaltender, Karel Vejmelka, who is learning on the job and has shown promise.
"I generally like where the team has improved to. I think the majority of the guys inside this locker room continue to push," Armstrong said. "And I think we can get better. Every couple of games we seem to kind of show some improvement."
Armstrong noted that forward Nick Schmaltz has found his game of late, and center Travis Boyd has been "somebody that's dug in and really played hard every single game and been rewarded."
Boyd has tied a career high in points with 20 this season, and his 10 goals are a career high in a season.
The Coyotes play their next two games at home, Friday against the Boston Bruins and Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. Boston is fourth in the eight-team Atlantic Division, and Buffalo is in sixth place.
ASU in mix as temporary home
A source confirmed Thursday that the Coyotes are involved in discussions with Arizona State University about using the school's new multipurpose arena as a temporary home.
Initial talks began last year after the Coyotes were informed by the city of Glendale that their lease would not be renewed at Gila River Arena. ASU has long been an option to house the Coyotes while they wait for their proposal for a new arena and entertainment district in Tempe — close to ASU — to be approved by city leaders.
"If an agreement for use of our multipurpose arena is finalized, we would be glad to help the Coyotes by providing a temporary home while their new arena is built just a couple of miles away," said Morgan R. Olsen, executive vice president, treasurer and Chief Financial Officer at ASU, in a statement from the university. "Our new multipurpose arena also would benefit from the addition of NHL-level enhancements paid for by the Coyotes that would remain with our building.
“We are beyond excited to open this wonderful new ASU arena. This agreement would just make it even more special,” Olsen added.
The Coyotes cannot comment directly until after the vote on approval of their proposal, which should take place prior to city elections in March. The hope is that the 5,000-seat ASU facility will be ready so as to allow the Coyotes to move in early in the next hockey season, if an agreement is reached.
The team did release a statement following a report from PHNX Sports Thursday that said the Coyotes are in the advanced stages of discussions with ASU and the arena management company.
"As we have said many times, we are completely committed to building our future in Arizona. As part of that process, we are excited to be exploring some great temporary arena options here before we move in to a new permanent home in the Valley," the statement read.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: As Coyotes reach midseason, talks with ASU on new temporary home move forward