Derek Stepan

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Deep defense and lots of questions: Examining Arizona Coyotes’ cap situation

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A shift is happening with the Arizona Coyotes, and if this summer is any indication, this might not be a slow evolution.

Faces of the franchise such as Shane Doan, Mike Smith, and (former) head coach Dave Tippett are gone, but just as importantly, the Coyotes are beginning to use their cap space to add NHL-ready players, rather than absorbing other team’s mistakes or problem salaries in exchange for assets.

This post discusses how the acquisition of Jason Demers makes this Coyotes team one to take more seriously in 2017-18, but let’s go the extra mile and examine the team’s salary structure.

(For cap analysis on a growing number of NHL teams, click here.)

That defense

Let’s start with a unit that’s rising among the league’s best, though still a tier below, say, the Nashville Predators’ impressive group.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: 26, $5.5 million cap hit through 2018-19

You know a defenseman is a deadly scorer when a 12-goal year is a letdown. For “OEL,” 2016-17 probably qualified as much, and yet he’s still an off-the-charts guy. One of the potential bonuses of a competent Coyotes team would be Ekman-Larsson getting more attention as a true star on the blueline.

About the only problem with Ekman-Larsson is that, like fellow high-scoring Swede Erik Karlsson, that bargain deal won’t last much longer. OEL will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Coyotes snatched him up in the summer of 2018. Really, they’d do so if they’re as smart as they seem.

Alex Goligoski – 32, $5.475M through 2020-21

For all the excitement that surrounds the Dallas Stars seemingly every summer, it sure seems like they might have dropped the ball by letting “Gogo” go. He’s a transition gem and an underrated all-around player; hopefully his game will age well, but at the moment, Goligoski’s a very nice value for Arizona. With 36 points, he wasn’t far behind OEL last season.

Niklas Hjalmarsson – 30, $4.1M through 2018-19

Maybe Connor Murphy will pan out for Chicago, but the Coyotes were reasonable in trading some potential for a “sure thing.” It’s difficult to believe that Hjalmarsson is only 30, considering his remarkable achievements.

As one of the best examples of a modern “defensive defenseman” alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Coyotes can lean on Hjalmarsson for tough matchups, freeing more offensive-minded guys to focus on scoring.

The only bummer is that he, too, only has two years remaining on his resounding bargain of a contract.

Demers – 29, $3.938M through 2020-21

Personally, shaving off 12.5 percent of Demers’ cap hit makes it more palatable by an almost odd degree. He’s another Coyotes defenseman who subtly impresses, and at a reasonable price, one made even more reasonable in parting ways with an expendable piece in Jamie McGinn.

The Coyotes have room to either fill in gaps or, if they need to, replace players who get too expensive.

Jakob Chychrun suffered an injury setback, yet there’s still time to assess where he figures into the bigger picture. Adding some firepower also allows him to ease into the mix in a more organic fashion. GM John Chayka can determine if Luke Schenn, Kevin Connauton, and/or Adam Clendening figure into the equation, as all of those guys are on expiring contracts.

Few teams enjoy defense corps as promising as the Coyotes,’ which must be frustrating for other teams, considering that many of these players were available through trades or free agency (or falling a bit in the draft, in the case of Chychrun).

Flexibility but uncertainty in net

In many cases, you’ll see a team immediately sign an acquired goalie to a new deal or an extension. One fresh example is Frederik Andersen, who signed a five-year, $25M contract before he stopped a single puck for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Chayka didn’t do that, or at least hasn’t done so yet, after acquiring Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers.

That could cost the Coyotes some extra cash if Raanta converts his strong backup numbers to full-time expertise, yet it also gives Arizona room to maneuver if Raanta doesn’t pan out. This also opens the door for Louis Domingue to prove that he’s either a) more than a backup or b) a backup worthy of another contract.

Cheap, young forwards

The Coyotes’ forward group feels a bit like Derek Stepan, Dave Bolland‘s cap hit, and a bunch of potential.

Max Domi enters the final year of his rookie deal with considerable dollars to either gain or lose, especially if Arizona rides it out without an early extension. Anthony Duclair is just one of other forwards with something to prove.

Dylan Strome could be a nice little bargain if he finally works things out. The Coyotes managed to give him a look without burning a year off of his entry-level contract, so they could get three years at a bargain rate if it all starts to “click” at the NHL level.

Really, the Coyotes are counting on some ifs turning into an emphatic “Yes” or two. Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller, and Brendan Perlini all have at least two years left on their ELCs, opening the door for the Coyotes to at least fill out roster spots at a discount.

How effective can this group – which also includes some fledgling veterans – be as soon as 2017-18? If nothing else, they should get a real boost from defensemen who can move the puck.

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Overall, the Coyotes are in an intriguing spot, even if they’ll need to battle to make the playoffs.

From a long-term perspective, the real question might come down to the team’s internal budget. If this team starts to make serious gains, will ownership be able to pay up to keep OEL, Raanta, Domi, and other players?

If the answer isn’t positive, the Coyotes might find themselves in rebuild stages over and over.

At least the foundation looks sturdy this time around.

Trade: Panthers send Jason Demers to Coyotes for Jamie McGinn

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The Florida Panthers continue to hit the “reset” button on their brief analytics era now that GM Dale Tallon is fully back in charge. Sometimes that means making some dramatic moves.

The Arizona Coyotes certainly seem analytics-leaning, too, so it makes sense that they’ll reportedly be the new home for defenseman Jason Demers. The Panthers recently confirmed that they will receive Jamie McGinn in the trade.

It should be a fairly even swap from a cap-hit-standpoint, at least thanks to this wrinkle, via Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Two teams moving in opposite directions

Again, the Panthers are really doubling down on Tallon’s vision, which seems to mean jettisoning “fancy stats guys.”

The Panthers already parted ways with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith around the time of the expansion draft. There were rumors of Keith Yandle being floated, but perhaps his deal isn’t palatable for suitors.

Demers is very much along those same lines, and it makes sense that the Coyotes would have interest in him.

This continues a dramatic makeover for Arizona. As crucial as the additions of Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta might be (not to mention the exits of Shane Doan and now-former-head-coach Dave Tippett), the Coyotes’ defense corps now look remarkably modern. They’re inching up the ranks thanks to trades for Demers and Niklas Hjalmarsson, along with the signing of Alex Goligoski. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has gone from feeling very alone on that blueline to being the leader of an increasingly formidable group.

On the other hand, these defensemen aren’t exactly cheap. The Coyotes have made some bold moves under progressive-minded GM John Chayka, yet that aggressiveness will also bring higher expectations.

And, if this ends up looking bad for the Coyotes, the analytics naysayers won’t hesitate to gloat.

McGinn is the kind of player Tallon might love

McGinn, 29, has two years remaining on a contract that carries a $3.33 million cap hit.

He’s a grinder with some skill, as he’s generated two 20+ goal seasons and managed 19 in another campaign. McGinn must be getting used to checking real estate listings, too, as this is the fourth time he’s been traded.

Demers has been around, too, as you can note from this interesting anecdote.

Marc Staal is ‘fighting for a spot’ with Rangers, says Vigneault

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The New York Rangers have opened training camp, with head coach Alain Vigneault emphasizing the competition for ice time on his blue line.

Among those vying for minutes? Veteran defender Marc Staal, who has played in 689 career NHL games, turned 30 years old in January and is currently the second highest paid player on the Rangers’ defense, with an annual cap hit of $5.7 million.

He still has four years remaining on that deal, which includes a no-movement clause, per CapFriendly.

The Rangers have undergone significant changes throughout the roster this offseason. On defense, they bought out Dan Girardi while Kevin Klein moved on from his NHL career. They signed free agent defender Kevin Shattenkirk and acquired 21-year-old Anthony DeAngelo as part of the Derek Stepan trade with Arizona.

After an impressive first full year on the Rangers roster, Brady Skjei could also take on a larger role this season and former KHLer Alexei Bereglazov, who signed with New York in the spring, could challenge for minutes with the NHL club.

The Rangers will also have college free agent signing Neal Pionk at camp, and he could contend for a spot, as well. He’s certainly aiming to make the roster, and the fact he’s a right-handed shot may add further appeal.

So, there is plenty of competition on the Rangers’ blue line.

“It would be safe to say there are a few guys for the first time in a long time — Marc being one of them — that are fighting for ice-time, fighting for a spot on the team,” Vigneault told reporters, per The Sporting News.

“If we decided to bring Marc Staal back, it’s because we believe in him. I like Marc Staal, I believe in Marc Staal, but at the end of the day he’s fighting for a spot, and he knows it. Nick was a real effective player for us last season, both offensively and defensively, but it’s a new season for everybody. His play will dictate how much he plays, and that’s probably the same for everybody at this point.”

Fellow 30-year-old Rangers defenseman Nick Holden also found his name in the trade rumor mill this summer.

It’s an ‘important year for me,’ says Nash, who enters final year of deal

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Rick Nash has seen his goal and point production drop in the last two years, but there should be plenty of motivation for him to try to turn that around this season.

Nash, who turned 33 years old in June, is now in the final year of an eight-year, $62.4 million contract and is eligible to hit the open market at the end of the season.

It wasn’t that long ago, Nash, already an accomplished scorer, had wrapped up his best season ever in terms of goal production with 42. That number dropped by quite a bit — as did his shooting percentage, shots-on-goal total, and number of games played — to 15 goals the following season in 2015-16.

Read more: Rick Nash at career crossroads in contract year

Last season, which was again interrupted by injury, he scored 23 times, which is a step back in the right direction for the veteran forward.

He’s made it no secret that this contract year is significant for his future.

“Every year I want to have the best year possible. But this year, it’s an important year for me personally,” said Nash, per the New York Daily News. “It’s an important year for the Rangers, too. We still haven’t achieved that goal (winning the Stanley Cup) that we all want to achieve.”

The big question over the next few months will be about whether or not the Rangers decide to bring him back following this season. If they do, what will the price be? Nash has only twice in his 14-year career fallen short of the 20-goal mark, with that most recently occurring in 2015-16. But he will also be 34 years old when free agency opens again next July.

The Rangers have already started the transition of getting younger and faster, and, following another playoff loss, the offseason produced more changes to the roster with the buyout of Dan Girardi and the trade of Derek Stepan.

“It’s sports,” said Nash, per the New York Post. “That’s what happens with contracts — your contract is up and you play for another contract. That’s what I’m facing this year.”

Poll: Who will lead Coyotes in points this season?

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This post is a part of Coyotes day at PHT…

The Arizona Coyotes lost their leading point producer from last season, as Radim Vrbata signed a one-year deal with the Florida Panthers when free agency opened last month.

That is 20 goals and 55 points gone from the Coyotes roster.

Behind Vrbata, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson — who is capable of scoring more than 20 goals in a season — finished second on the team in points, while Max Domi wasn’t able to reach his rookie totals mostly due to his sophomore season being interrupted by injury. After scoring 20 goals in 2015-16, Anthony Duclair had a difficult follow-up campaign and eventually saw time in the minors.

General manager John Chayka was busy at the draft, adding to his youthful team by acquiring Derek Stepan from the Rangers with the hopes Stepan will emerge as the team’s No. 1 center this season. In New York for seven seasons, he consistently reached the 50-point mark, achieving it five times.

The Coyotes have a number of young players on their roster, with Christian Dvorak having completed his rookie year and the likes of Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller looking to make a full-time impact this upcoming season. But they’ve also added some veteran players in Stepan up front and Niklas Hjalmarsson on defense. Given the dynamic and the addition of a player like Stepan, it will be interesting to see if the Coyotes attack can improve — they were 27th in the league in goals-for per game — and to see who emerges as the team’s leading point producer in 2017-18.

Now, have your say. Have a candidate not listed in the poll? Feel free to write it in the comments section.