Arizona Coyotes CEO Xavier Gutierrez has a lot on his plate.
He’s said multiple times that priorities one through 10 for him are to help secure a new arena location for the franchise, which currently plays at Gila River Arena in Glendale. That lone is a tall order. What’s more is the team was in the midst of a playoff run, in the middle of a pandemic and with an interim GM When Gutierrez spoke to Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Wednesday morning.
Gutierrez spoke to the hosts about a few of the biggest topics surrounding the team on the morning before Game 5 between the Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche were up 3-1 in the series when Gutierrez did the interview.
Here are a few takeaways:
On head coach Rick Tocchet
Tocchet’s job security was a question the Doug & Wolf hosts raised because of the fact that new leadership (owner Alex Meruelo and Gutierrez have joined the organization within the past year) sometimes likes to bring in its own familiar faces.
Gutierrez gave a word of support for the head coach:
“I think he’s done an incredible job,” Gutierrez said. “We are very supportive of Toc. He’s taken a team that is young, if you look at the core, it’s very young, and sprinkled in some veterans and got us into this position. It takes a whole organization, it takes leadership, and Coach Tocchet has definitely provided that leadership, that toughness. If you look at how we play on the ice, it really reflects his toughness going back to his playing days. And he’s done an incredible job.”
On interim GM Steve Sullivan
The ugly departure of now-former general manager John Chayka made the Coyotes a national story for all the wrong reasons, and in the wake of Chayka leaving, the team made assistant GM and Tucson Roadrunners GM Steve Sullivan the interim manager.
Gutierrez didn’t give strong hint one way or the other about what the Coyotes would do with that position.
“We made it pretty clear that we wanted to focus fully on what was going on on the ice,” Gutierrez said. “We were very excited to have Steve step up and play this interim general manager. We have not done anything since the players and the staff and the coaches went up to the bubble. So we’re fully focused on that.
“I think once — hopefully not anytime soon — but once the season does end, we’ll sit down and we’ll evaluate what our next steps are as an organization and that’s our plan.”
On pending free agent Taylor Hall
Gutierrez reportedly met with Taylor Hall over dinner — a meeting that also included Meruelo but not Chayka — last month. Gutierrez implied that the discussion didn’t involve a true negotiation.
“We’ve made it very clear to Taylor and his representatives that clearly Taylor is someone that we would like to have back,” Gutierrez said. “He has been an important piece of this run that we’ve had this year. He clearly is an elite talent. And we’ve expressed our interest. Obviously those are the types of conversations that once the season ends, you sit down, you evaluate where you are at as an organization, where we’re at with our cap, where we are at with our team. And then you really, in earnest, begin those discussions.”
He didn’t want to speak for Hall in characterizing how the conversation went.
“It’s always difficult for me to put words in other people’s mouth,” Gutierrez said. “It was the first time I had ever met him. We’ll start with that. It was wonderful to sit down with him and get to know the guy just as a human being, as an individual. Obviously he expressed optimism in terms of the team, in terms of the direction under new ownership, loved Arizona — I think he’s been public about the fact he likes this place as a place to live, as a place to have the rest of his career — so it was great to have a conversation.
“It was great to meet him. It was great to have him share his thoughts. And it was great for us as a new ownership, as a new leadership to express what we want to do in terms of putting this organization as a preeminent franchise not just in hockey but in all of sports, and I think he heard that directly from Alex Meruelo and I think he was excited about that.”