(Photo credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
The New Jersey Devils know what it’s like to finally see a lengthy rebuild produce results.
Now the Arizona Coyotes would like to begin experiencing the same thing.
The Coyotes will open their season Friday night when they oppose Devils in Newark, N.J., the beginning of a four-game Arizona road trip.
The Devils, fresh off their deepest trip into the Stanley Cup playoffs in more than a decade, will be completing a back-to-back set at home after edging the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in their season opener on Thursday.
The Devils snapped a four-season playoff drought last year. They collected a franchise-record 112 points in the regular season before outlasting the New York Rangers in a seven-game first-round series — New Jersey’s first postseason series victory since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in the spring of 2012.
New Jersey fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but the taste of playoff success was enough for management to double down on its young core and coaching staff.
General manager Tom Fitzgerald signed Timo Meier, who turned 27 this week, and 25-year-old Jesper Bratt to eight-year contracts while also re-signing 32-year-old left winger Erik Haula, who was one of just four Devils skaters aged 30 or older last season. In addition, head coach Lindy Ruff received a multiyear extension on Wednesday.
Jack Hughes, who collected a franchise-record 99 points while playing as a 21-year-old last season, scored twice in a span of 5:04 late in the second period Thursday to help the Devils overcome an early deficit.
“It’s definitely not our ‘A’ game, but a win is a win and come January, it’ll just be two points,” Hughes said. “We want to get off on the right foot, especially with all the noise, and it was good for our fans.”
The Coyotes and their fans remained in a state of limbo last season, when the team went 28-40-14 (70 points) while trying to build support for an arena in Tempe and playing its games at Mullett Arena, a 4,600-seat venue on the campus of Arizona State University.
A public vote on the proposed arena in Tempe was rejected in May. The Coyotes are now looking at potential arena sites in Mesa as well as throughout the East Valley.
A timely emergence as a contender could only help the short- and long-term prospects for the Coyotes, who have made the playoffs just once since reaching the Western Conference finals in 2012. Arizona has just three players who are 30 or older on its opening-night roster, and its top six scorers from last season — Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Matias Maccelli, Lawson Crouse, Barrett Hayton and Juuso Valimaki — all return and are 27 or younger.
“I think people are excited about being here and what we are building,” general manager Bill Armstrong told GoPHNX.com. “I’d probably say it’s the first year I’ve been here that our entire roster wants to be here. That’s exciting for coaches, too.”
–Field Level Media