GLENDALE - Coyotes players met with management, gathered their belongings and then scattered for the off-season on Monday, two days after ending the 2016-17 season.
Arizona finished its 20th anniversary campaign in the desert with a 30-42-10 record and 70 points, which ranked 28th in the NHL. A nine-game losing streak midway through the season, and injuries to goalie Mike Smith and forwards Max Domi and Brad Richardson, derailed the team's bid for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"The season was kind of pull the Band-Aid off and see where we are as an organization," first-year General Manager John Chayka said. "It's not an easy season to go through, but at some point as an organization you've got to look at what you've got and this year we got a long, hard look at our young players."
Eleven rookies played for the Coyotes this season, including nine who made their NHL debuts. The freshmen finished the season with 110 points. Only Toronto's rookies produced more.
Despite the rocky first half of the season, Arizona was competitive for most of the second half. The Coyotes posted a 17-16-4 record over their final 37 games.
"We were hoping that we could keep playing basically because we felt like we were just hitting our stride," Chayka said.
Head Coach Dave Tippett agreed.
"The second half of the season, I thought there was some real growth with our group," Tippett said. "Not just growth, but I think sustainable growth that the organization can look forward to ... To say there's a core here, we're not there yet. Our core still has some growing to do ... We need players to support that ... To compete at the level that we want to, we need better good players, and no disrespect to anybody that's been here."
Rookies Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, Lawson Crouse and Jakob Chychrun evolved nicely as the season progressed thanks to regular playing time.
Veteran Radim Vrbata led the Coyotes in goals (20), assists (35) and points (55). Vrbata is set to become an unrestricted free agent soon, but both he and the team have expressed interest in him returning next season.
Despite an early-season knee injury, Smith won 19 games and set a franchise record for games played (312) when he started the season finale.
Smith is disappointed the season ended without a postseason berth.
"Five years in a row of not making the playoffs kind of leaves a sour taste in your mouth," Smith said. "It's never fun to come in and have this day so early in the season, but it is what it is and we'll get through it."
Captain Shane Doan, who is contemplating retirement after 21 NHL seasons, held a light-hearted, 30-minute press conference on Monday, but did not announce his future plans.
"I'm probably going to be going back and forth, thinking both ways, kind of trying them both on and see how it feels," Doan said. " ... Some people tell you, 'Play as long as you can, because once you ring that bell you can't unring it,' and, 'Make them take that jersey off you.' Then there is certainly an amount of 'If they think you can still play, don't go out there and prove them wrong. Step out with a little bit of class.'"
Like Doan, Chayka also told reporters to stay tuned regarding Doan's future.
"He is the Arizona Coyotes, and for good reason," Chayka said. "He's been an All-Star, he's probably a Hall of Famer. He's a great player that makes other players better. You can't say enough about him on the ice, and you can probably say even more off the ice in the community ... As far as the future, we're going to meet with him. It's all about fit. Fit for him, fit for the organization, fit for his family. We'll see where it goes."