Ice was re-installed at Gila River Arena on Wednesday.
Coyotes President of Hockey Operations and General Manager John Chayka took a moment to enjoy a chill in the air. After all, it was the hottest day this year in the greater Valley; temperatures rose to nearly 110.
"It's cool in here," Chayka said. "Which means it's getting ready."
Preparations are underway for the NHL's transition into Phase 2 of the Return to Sport Protocol, which has an "early June" target date. The plan allows small groups of players to meet at team facilities for conditioning.
"We're hopeful sometime next week we'll be in a position where we can safely re-open and have guys back in the gym working out, but also on the ice skating," Chayka said. "That'll last a number of weeks, and hopefully that leads us into a training camp. But for now, just to get the guys back out there, that'll be exciting."
There are still many hurdles until the puck is dropped on the 24-team plan unveiled by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday. Chayka likes the looks of what's been presented.
"A goal of ours was to play in the postseason," Chayka said. "It's just a different format, but we certainly are excited about playing. I like our group, and we're in a playoff tournament format to win a Stanley Cup, and that's a positive for us. So, I'm excited on a personal level, and I'm excited for the franchise to get back to playing meaningful games in a series format."
Derek Stepan knows playoff-style hockey. He qualified for the postseason in each of his first seven seasons in the NHL. He has nearly 100 playoff games under his belt.
"I've been saying it since I got down to Arizona: This type of [playoff] series hockey is just so much fun to be a part of," Stepan said. "I'm looking forward to some of our guys getting into a head-to-head, matching up against the same guy every single night. It's a great opportunity for us. I get excited just talking about it."
Stepan knows that, despite an approved plan, many things could happen - and still need to happen - for the Coyotes to enjoy the chance they've earned.
"We were given an opportunity here to play in a postseason and compete for the [Stanley] Cup," Stepan said. "You play the regular season to have that opportunity, whether that's through the 16 team [format], or in our case, this year, 24 teams."
Head Coach Rick Tocchet, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, twice as a coach and once as a player, said, "The 24-team format is what they're going with and that's where my energy is. We're excited to be in. Our players are excited. We're playing Nashville, a great organization, a great team, so it's going to be a great match-up."
Energy - and health - will be big factors. Not just for the Coyotes, but for all teams. The time off has benefitted Arizona's roster. Every player is a "go."
"I think that's one of the interesting storylines to all of this," Chayka said. "Some silver lining -- all teams coming back, for the most part, are at completely full strength.
"For us specifically, Darcy [Kuemper] having a chance to really rehab and get to 100%; Conor Garland was our leading scorer, and he was a guy that was probably going to be out for the season; Jakob Chychrun's gotten some time to rehab, Phil Kessel had some nagging things. So, I think we have a number of guys that have utilized this time well to get back to full strength. It's going to be a war of attrition, for sure, once it starts, but starting off from a really good base and basically having everyone healthy, I think it's pretty intriguing. And for us, I think it'll be helpful."
Tocchet is excited about competing with a full roster. And, then, there's the strategy.
"Trying to strategize, trying to help your players play and reach their maximum level," Tocchet said, "it's an organizational thing, it's a philosophy. For me, it's all about the 'compete' and the players, the daily interactions with the players. You miss that. That gets your juices flowing. You miss the people that you see everyday, so that's what I'm most looking forward to."
Added Stepan: "You miss being around the locker room and being around the guys. It's the best part. Just getting the game back going, and I know I keep talking about it, but there's nothing better than playing in a series against a team. It's so much fun. You find this deeper compete level that's just hard to explain.
"I think you play the regular season to have an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, and we have an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. We get a chance to compete and play a series, and that's a job done during the regular season. So, now we move on, nothing matters in the [previous] 70 games we played. We've got a five-game series against Nashville.
"It's you versus a guy on the other side."
Lead Photo Credit: Tyler Rittenhouse - Arizona Coyotes // Second Photo Credit: Scott Audette - NHLI via Getty Images // Third Photo Credit: Kevin Anggara - Arizona Coyotes // Footer Photo Credit: Tyler Rittenhouse - Arizona Coyotes