With prospects waning, Coyotes’ fate could be decided while they’re still in the playoffs

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As much as we admire every NHL fan base – especially one as resilient as the group that sticks by the Phoenix Coyotes – it’s getting tougher and tougher to believe that the league can fit this square peg in a round hole. Wednesday was another ugly day in the proceedings, as Nick Kypreos reported that the Coyotes would relocate to Winnipeg once their playoff drive concludes while league exec Bill Daly denied the rumors.

Thursday’s batch of news indicates that the league’s repeated measures to delay an inevitable decision might have run their course, forcing what some are calling “The Bettman ultimatum.”

On the brightest side (even optimism has traces of harsh reality in this case), the Phoenix Business Journal reports that there still remain some options to keep the Coyotes from relocating. Even if their front office staff told Gary Lawless that the team has a 50-50 chance of moving to Winnipeg, it’s not set in stone just yet.

There are two main options to pay off the $100 million in bonds that would help seal the $175 million deal with Matt Hulsizer, the chief issue that is holding up the sale.

  • The NHL itself could buy some of the bonds to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix.
  • Conversely, the City of Glendale could reach into its $400 million Enterprise Fund to help buy up the bonds themselves.

Of course, with each option, it comes down to the sides actually agreeing to fork over a big chunk of cash.

Would the 29 NHL owners be willing to pay off some of the bonds for another team? It seems far-fetched if they are unwilling to pay Wayne Gretzky the $8 million he was supposed to receive as the Coyotes’ fired head coach. (It’s tough to stomach stories about the league stiffing the most important player in its history a day after the NHL boasted its best business year ever with $2.9 billion in projected revenue, but whatever.)

The City of Glendale might be more likely to spend that money, although the city seems to have taken a few hits already, including covering the $25 million the league lost when it kept the team in Phoenix for another season.

I hate to ask this question, but is this all really worth it for a team that isn’t exactly selling tickets like hot cakes? At what point will everyone realize that Phoenix just isn’t that into the Coyotes? It never feels good to see fans lose their team, but reality must factor into the equation too.

Lawless discusses the possibility that Gary Bettman and the NHL will be forced to make a decision in the very near future in this Winnipeg Press column. In fact, Lawless claims that the league might be forced to make the call by the end of the Coyotes’ first round series or at least the Stanley Cup finals.

Bettman may reportedly use a transfer agreement with True North (the group looking to bring a team back to Winnipeg) as leverage, forcing Hulsizer and the City of Glendale to match a deal in a short window of time. Lawless points out that the Winnipeg group wouldn’t be out in the cold if the Coyotes do stay in Glendale/Phoenix, though, as the league would be forced to cough up a few million in compensation for True North’s “role and efforts” in leveraging Hulsizer and Glendale.

It’s important to note that most (if not all) of this information is based on speculation and anonymous sources, but the truth is undeniable: the countdown is absolutely on. We’ll keep you up to date as the Coyotes soap opera keeps spinning.

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)

Zibanejad looking for $5.35 million from Rangers in arbitration

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The New York Rangers and restricted free agent forward Mika Zibanejad are scheduled for an arbitration hearing on Tuesday if they can not come to an agreement on a new contract before them.

On Sunday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the numbers both sides are looking at heading into that hearing and they don’t seem to be too far apart. According to Friedman, Zibanejad is seeking a $5.35 million salary while the Rangers have countered with an offer of $4.1 million. If the two sides were able to meet in the middle that would be in the neighborhood of around $4.7 million per season, which probably seems about right given Zibanejad’s performance and some of the contracts that have recently been signed by the likes of Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat (both will make a little more than $5 million per season, while both have been more productive).

Zibanejad, 24, is coming off of his first season with the Rangers after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators in the Derrick Brassard trade.

He was limited to just 56 games due to injury, scoring 14 goals to go with 23 assists. He scored at least 20 goals in each of the previous two seasons.

With Derek Stepan gone to Arizona Zibanejad figures to take on a bigger role this season for the Rangers.

The Rangers still have $8.4 million in salary cap space to work with, via CapFriendly.

New addition Thompson thinks Senators are ‘ready to win’

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Even after reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016-17 there is still probably some skepticism as to how good the Ottawa Senators will be this upcoming season and whether or not they can repeat that success.

They didn’t do much to add to that roster over the summer outside of the addition of gritty forward Nate Thompson on a two-year contract from the Anaheim Ducks.

Thompson is excited about the opportunity to join the Senators and believes the success of the team last season was not a fluke.

“This team now is ready to win,” he told Ken Warren of the Ottawa Sun this past week. “I don’t think this was a Cinderella team, it was the real deal. They have a pretty good window to win games and hopefully do something even more special.”

It’s going to probably be a little more difficult this season given some of the improvements that have been made by teams around them (Tampa Bay and Toronto should be better than they were a year ago; Montreal and Boston will still be fierce contenders as well) and the fact the Senators themselves might see a bit of a regression in the standings if their overall play doesn’t change much. Keep in mind, for all of the success they had in the playoffs this was still a team that gave up more goals than it scored during the regular season. That is not typically a recipe for long-term success.

Thompson, who will turn 33 at the start of the season, will be relied on primarily to fill a bottom-six role and perhaps help in the faceoff circle. He is coming off of a 2016-17 season in Anaheim that saw him be limited to just 30 games, scoring one goal and adding one assist before recording six points (two goals, four assists) in the playoffs for the Ducks on their run to the Western Conference Finals. He spent the past three seasons playing for the Ducks and also has experience playing for Senators coach Guy Boucher during their time together in Tampa Bay.

Preds GM Poile still has work to do, with Johansen in need of a deal

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David Poile got some work done Saturday.

The Nashville Predators re-signed Viktor Arvidsson on the day the two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled. The new deal? Seven years at a total of $29.75 million — an annual average value of $4.25 million for a player that just scored 31 goals while playing on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg.

The Predators made a run at the Stanley Cup last month, doing so with great goaltending from Pekka Rinne, a top-four group of defensemen that you can argue sets the standard around the league and a talented group of forwards — a number of them with age on their side.

They didn’t win it all, but Poile was recognized for his work by claiming General Manager of the Year.

This is likely among the reasons why.

Roman Josi still has three years left on his deal, while Mattias Ekholm, who was a valuable and reliable top-four d-man playing alongside P.K. Subban, has five years remaining on his deal.

With the Arvidsson contract completed, the priority is now to get Johansen — a restricted free agent — signed. At age 24, he’s Nashville’s No. 1 center coming off a 61-point season, which completed his three-year, $12 million deal.

He was also in the midst of a terrific playoff performance before he suffered a thigh injury and postseason-ending surgery. He’s in line for a significant raise from the $4 million AAV he made on his last contract.

The Predators have about $14.5 million remaining in cap space, per CapFriendly.

Vegas GM doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move extra d-men

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The Vegas Golden Knights currently have 10 defensemen under contract — and that is without Nate Schmidt signed.

Schmidt and the Golden Knights have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 3, so there is still plenty of time for them to negotiate a new deal for the restricted free agent blue liner without having a neutral third party decide the matter.

Schmidt’s agent, Matt Keator, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that talks with the Golden Knights have been positive, which lends to optimism that perhaps the club and player will avoid this whole process with a deal.

A new contract between Schmidt — left unprotected by Washington in the expansion draft — and Vegas would put the Golden Knights at 11 d-men less than two months before training camp opens.

Granted, that number is considerably less than what Vegas had following the expansion draft, when they stockpiled 15 defensemen and eventually moved players like David Schlemko, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marc Methot.

While it seems more moves are likely on the back end for Vegas, general manager George McPhee doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry right now, per the Vegas Review Journal.

“We’re at a manageable number right now,” said McPhee. “We’re pretty close to where we want to be and we’re comfortable with the roster we have.”

Their blue line also includes five players — Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland — that are pending unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. As far as Vegas’ defensive group is concerned, this could mean future trades during the season as other clubs, perhaps playoff bound, look to possibly add a rental late in the year.

One thing McPhee has made clear in the past: He planned on keeping Schmidt and fellow d-man Shea Theodore (only 21 years old). Now, they just have to get Schmidt under contract.

Related: Vegas has more ticket revenue than Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh, says Foley