Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Arizona Coyotes and their outlook for the summer.
The Coyotes added some major pieces in Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta last June in a trade with the New York Rangers and were expected to be more competitive than they actually turned out to be in 2017-18. Things did not go as planned as the the team finished in 8th place in the Pacific Division and dead-last in the Western Conference with a 29-41-12 record (70 points).
Arizona went almost a dozen games without winning for the first month and a half of the season, continued to struggle, then turned on the jets (no relation to their franchise history having moved from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996) in February as a team with a lot of potential.
Clayton Keller emerged as a bright spot all season long, staking a legitimate claim at this season’s Calder Memorial Trophy honors as rookie of the year, while Dylan Strome was finally given a fair shake at the NHL level.
In short, the Coyotes have a lot of promise heading into 2018-19– perhaps as a playoff bubble team. It’s too early to tell if they’ll maintain their near 120-point projection (over the course of a season) performance as a team from February to the end of the regular season in April, but one thing’s for sure– they won’t be in the basement come April 2019.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
General Manager John Chayka has an analytics mindset in a smaller market (monetarily speaking). Chayka has to do a lot with a little in terms of salary cap spending allowance.
Drafting the right players is always essential to overall franchise success, long-term, but as the league continues to shift to a younger, fast and more skilled game, the Coyotes have a chance to stockpile on talent.
Brady Tkachuk or Oliver Wahlstrom could deliver on offsense for Arizona. Then again, the team could be thinking of adding a young defender in Noah Dobson, Quintin Hughes or Evan Bouchard. In any case the Coyotes have some big decisions to make among their pending free agents and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Pending free agents
Arizona has a mix of important roster members and depth guys to figure out just who exactly should earn another contract and who should be free to find a different city to play in.
Though Ekman-Larsson has one-year remaining on his current contract, there are signs of a looming extension being signed unless there is a trade offer out there that is too good to pass up.
This is where a guy like pending-restricted free agent Max Domi plays a vital role in Chayka’s overall offseason plans.
It’s unimaginable to think that Arizona would want to part with the 23-year-old son of legendary NHLer Tie Domi, but the fact of the matter is that it remains unclear how satisfied Domi is with the organization.
There’s a chance the Coyotes could be a lot better than they were this season, but the same thing was said last season and so on.
How Domi perceives the future of the organization will yield a decision in whether or not there’s a chance he gets traded. Otherwise, he’s Arizona’s biggest priority to re-sign.
Sure, they could look at what a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins would entertain and the Coyotes have about $23 million in cap space to work with– so a deal involving Phil Kessel would be attractive, but at what cost to the future of the team?
There’s a plethora of youth, prospects and promise in Arizona. How much is Chayka willing to risk to make the Coyotes go from rebuilding to playoff contender, keeping in mind that any team that makes the playoffs has a chance to win the Cup.
In addition to Domi, forwards Brad Richardson (UFA), Freddie Hamilton (RFA), Zac Rinaldo (UFA) and Laurent Dauphin (RFA) are current NHL-roster pending free agents this July. Arizona could move on from all of them if they wish to hit the reset button on their bottom six-forwards, though re-signing Dauphin wouldn’t hurt the club.
In goal, Raanta has three-years remaining on his deal and backup Darcy Kuemper has two more years left on his contract. As long as the Coyotes are content with their strategy in net, there’s no need to ship either goaltender elsewhere.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include: