Ahead of Friday's first on-ice training camp sessions, Coyotes players and staff reported to Gila River Arena for medicals and fitness testing, queuing another major step taken toward the start to the 2019-20 season.
There is a rejuvenated feel, one laced with expectations as the team embarks on its new journey with a bolstered roster after an injury-ridden season that saw them miss the playoffs by a slim four-point margin.
"We feel good, this has been a build-up for a number of years now to get to this point, where we feel like we've got a strong team, a team that has high expectations," said President of Hockey Operations and GM John Chayka, addressing the media. "Obviously last year was a disappointment coming up short like we did, but it also provided a lot of motivation, and that's what I feel with our group."
Though there was displeasure in last year's outcome, that adversity has provided a solemn boost to how the team is approaching camp, and the season that awaits.
"I feel like we've got a group that has something to prove, some guys with chips on their shoulders, and they're looking to take that next step," Chayka added. "For as much as it hurt to miss, we've got to learn from that too, and I think this group has."
For as taxing an 82-game season can be on the mind, body, and alike, the offseason can seem interminable; especially when it begins in early April.
"These guys are hockey players, so after two-three months they start to get antsy, they want to get back into it, I can feel that," said Head Coach Rick Tocchet. "There's a lot of excitement, these guys have been off for a while, they just want to get going."
Tocchet, entering his third season behind the Coyotes' bench, has been a part of the organization's rebuild process since the beginning. Of course, there is no moral victory when missing the playoffs, but there has been resolute growth when his system implemented is followed.
"You're always looking to go forward as an organization, and it's all about the attitude," Tocchet added. "Making the playoffs is the first thing; it's hard to win, we saw that last year. We're building a day-to-day approach, I say 'commit to the process', that's what we're doing. Every team talks about playoffs, winning the Stanley Cup, I don't want to talk about that, I want to talk about committing to the process, it starts with tomorrow on the ice, not wasting a day."
A key piece to the Coyotes' path forward was the addition of Phil Kessel in June. The proven scorer is also familiar with Tocchet's coaching style, having played under the Coyotes' coach for two seasons when they were both with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I'm excited, I'm pumped to be here," Kessel said, one day out from taking the ice for his first official skate with the team. "I think we've got a good group in that locker room with a solid mix of young guys, and I'm here to try and help this team get to the next step and continue to grow."
Coupled with the experience the 13-year veteran Kessel brings to the roster is the growth the Coyotes attained from last year's playoff run. Though the pain of defeat was felt, there was knowledge gained from playing under pressure in 'must-win' situations.
"It was invaluable," Tocchet said.
And the motivation it's sparked?
"I hope [these guys] have a chip on their shoulder," he added. "Nobody really talks about us. Maybe they're starting to talk about us a little bit this year, I don't really care about the noise, but I'd have a chip on my shoulder if I were a player. We didn't make the playoffs."
There are the fans, too, that share that desire to win.
"They're looking for a long stretch of prosperity now," Chayka said, speaking on their behalf. "And that, they deserve."