Marc-Edouard Vlasic

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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.

***

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.

Yes, you can probably take the Arizona Coyotes seriously now

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Even if you assume that intriguing young defenseman Jakob Chychrun won’t really be healthy until late in 2017-18, the Arizona Coyotes suddenly boast a remarkably promising defense after acquiring Jason Demers.

(Read more about that significant trade here.)

Demers joins a group including stud blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson, underrated puck-mover Alex Goligoski, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, one of the best pure “defensive defenseman” in the game.

Jamie McGinn has quietly put together a solid career, yet his kind are easier to come by in the NHL, a league where competent top-four defensemen are at a serious premium. Just ask Coyotes GM John Chayka.

That top four has something for everyone, and generally boasts the sort of mobile, talented defensemen that are coveted in the NHL.

Ask yourself for a moment: how many teams, particularly in the Western Conference, can confidently say that they have a better defense corps than the Coyotes do right now? The Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames are immediate answers, while the St. Louis Blues likely boast a stronger group, too.

Things get a little fuzzier once you reach down the conference’s ranks.

The San Jose Sharks boast bigger strengths on the high-end with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns, but the Coyotes might have them beat from a depth perspective. The Winnipeg Jets boast some interesting talent, yet you wonder if Paul Maurice is really harnessing that potential. And so on.

We can quibble over Arizona’s exact place among those groups, yet it’s difficult to dispute that, suddenly, the Coyotes seem respectable in that area.

They have the makings of a team that can make a surge in other areas, too.

If Antti Raanta can covert strong backup work to full-time difference-making (see: Cam Talbot, Martin Jones), suddenly the Coyotes are that much tougher to score against.

Stepan gives that forward group some credibility, while things could get interesting if Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Dylan Strome take steps forward. And, really, a signing like this might inspire the Coyotes to push to add a little more offense.

(Maybe older guys [who can be more than mere mentors] like Jaromir Jagr or Denis Zaripov deserve at least an exploratory phone call right now?)

There are a ton of “Ifs,” right down to how well Rick Tocchet can mold what, to many, looks like a roster that’s about as polished as a ball of clay.

Don’t be surprised if the Coyotes become a chic dark horse candidate as previews start trickling in, though, either.

Under Pressure: Brent Burns

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This post is part of Sharks Day on PHT…

Brent Burns‘ path to stardom is almost as wild as his beard and almost as odd as his sense of style.

Odd path for an odd guy

Let’s not forget that there were very reasonable arguments made in favor of forward being his ideal position, even as recently as his early days with the San Jose Sharks.

Burns was traded to the Sharks almost exactly six years ago (June 24, 2011) in a deal that sent Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle to Minnesota. As nice a player as Coyle is, Wild fans could be excused for closing a browser in disgust at the mere mention of that move.

Then again, at that time, Burns’ value was at a low point. He had been limited by injuries, only playing 59 games in 2008-09 and 47 games in 2009-10. His final campaign with Minnesota was healthier (46 points in 80 games), but the results were relatively modest … and really, he didn’t make a huge jump until 2013-14, even if there were signs of the star he’d become.

Tough pace to maintain

That breakthrough was shockingly brilliant, and rare as Burns is.

His totals alone have been spell-binding:

2013-14: 22 goals, 48 points in 69 games
2014-15: 17 goals, 60 points in 82 games
2015-16: 27 goals, 75 points in 82 games
2016-17: 29 goals, 76 points in 82 games, culminating with him winning his first Norris Trophy.

That’s a heck of a story, and chances are, Burns will not be bothered by the idea of being “under pressure.”

Still, there’s reason to be just a touch concerned that a dip – but hopefully not a dive – is coming.

Age, injury risks, other potential obstacles

For one thing, Burns is playing on a level that’s incredibly difficult to sustain in this era. Full-fledged forwards with big minutes struggle to generate 22+ goals in three of four seasons, let alone defensemen.

As you can see, he’s also played all 82 regular-season games for three straight seasons. For a big dude, you wonder if the injury bug might bite.

Especially since Burns is older than some might realize.

Despite managing the rare feat of jumping straight to the NHL at 18, Burns’ development suffered because of those injuries, so it might be surprising for some that he’s already 32.

Burns earned his big contract with this four-year run of outstanding play, but the bottom line is that he’ll face increasing scrutiny as an $8 million man than he did making $5.76M.

Blame game?

If age and injuries don’t ratchet up the intensity, the Sharks lost Marleau and there’s the possibility that Joe Thornton may finally slow down considering the huge mileage he’s accrued as a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player.

This is a generally aging team, and a fairly top-heavy one at that, so things could get hairy if San Jose needs Burns to be a defenseman who flirts with 30 goals and a point-per-game pace.

And, as tough as it is to score at a great clip as a player gets older, there’s at least some concern that people might be more critical of his defensive game.

This isn’t to say that Burns is a bad blueliner. Really, he ranges between good to superb by just about every metric.

Instead, there’s evidence that Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a truly elite guy in his own zone, boosts other Sharks defensemen, as Tyler Dellow argues for The Athletic (subscription required).

Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – teams put guys with bigger paychecks in tougher situations because of said paychecks. It’s understandable, yet it can also make for tougher sledding.

If such a scenario occurs in San Jose and Burns gets (ahem) burned quite often, the knives might be sharper considering his bigger checks. That’s especially true if the Sharks regress, which is a real risk considering their aging roster.

***

Look, the naked truth is that it’s tough to bet against Burns.

There are elements of his game – his size, his shot, a hockey IQ that might sneak up on you thanks to the caveman aesthetic – that are likely to age well.

Even so, expectations can be cruel to a player, particularly one coming off a Norris Trophy win and entering a higher tax bracket.

PHT’s 2017 free agent frenzy tracker

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Welcome to Thunderdome!

Come embrace the madness with us. Throughout the weekend, we’ll be keeping tabs on all the UFA signings across the NHL, so check back regularly for all the biggest signings, trades and other acquisitions.

July 2

Patrick Marleau signs in Toronto: three years, $18.75 million (link)

— Steve Oleksy signs in Anaheim: two years (link)

Evgeny Kuznetsov re-signs in Washington: eight years, $62.4 million (link)

July 1

Justin Schultz re-signs with Pittsburgh: three years, $16.5 million (link)

— Tom Sestito, Frank Corrado, Casey DeSmith, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi, Zach Trotman, and Greg McKegg also signed with Pittsburgh.

Joe Thornton re-signs in San Jose: one year (link)

Chris Kunitz signs in Tampa Bay: one year, $2 million (link)

Darcy Kuemper signs with Los Angeles: one year, $650K (link)

Radim Vrbata signs in Florida: one year, $2.5 million (link)

Kevin Shattenkirk signs with New York Rangers: four years, $26.6 million (link)

— Brian Strait signed a one-year, two-way deal with New Jersey. Brian Gibbons and Bracken Kearns also signed two-way contracts.

— Zac Rinaldo signs a one-year, two-way deal with Arizona. Also signing with Coyotes: Andrew Campbell, Joel Hanley, and Michael Sislo.

— Ryan Stanton signs in Edmonton: two years, $1.4 million

— Mike McKenna signs in Dallas: one year, $650,000

— Paul Carey signs with New York Rangers: one year, $650,000

— Buddy Robinson signs in Winnipeg: one year, $650,000

Dominic Moore signs in Toronto: one year, $1 million

Patrik Nemeth re-signs in Dallas: one year, $945,000

Kyle Quincey signs in Minnesota: one year, $1.25 million

Nick Cousins re-signs in Arizona: two years, $2 million

— Cal Petersen signs in Los Angeles: two year, $1.85 million (link)

— Kyle Rau signs in Minnesota: one year, $700,000

— Tyler Randell signs in Ottawa: one year, $700,000

— Niklas Svedberg signs in Minnesota: one year, $700,000

— Kenny Agostino signs in Boston: one year, $875,000

— Anthony Peluso signs in Washington: one year, $650,000

— Ty Rattie signs in Edmonton: one year, $700,000

— Anders Lindback signs in Nashville: one year, $650,000

— Matt O’Connor signs in Nashville: one year, $650,000

— Dennis Robertson re-signs in Carolina: one year, $650,000

Luke Witkowski signs in Detroit: one year, $750,000

Jean-Francois Berube signs in Chicago: two years, $1.5 million

— Jordan Osterle signs in Chicago: two years, $1.3 million

— Derek Grant signs in Anaheim: one year, $650,000

— Michael Sgarbossa signs in Winnipeg: one year, $650,000

Anton Rodin re-signs in Vancouver: one year, $700,000

Cam Fowler re-signs in Anaheim: eight years, $52 million (link)

Jeremy Smith signs in Carolina: one year, $750,000

Scott Hartnell signs in Nashville: one year, $1 million (link)

— Seth Griffith signs in Buffalo: one year, $650,000

— Evgeny Dadonov signs in Florida: three years, $12 million (link)

— Dan Girardi signs in Tampa Bay: two years, $6 million (link)

— Cal O’Reilly signs in Minnesota: two years, $1.4 million

— Landon Ferraro signs in Minnesota: two years, $1.4 million

Ron Hainsey signs in Toronto: two years, $6 million (link)

Ryan Miller signs in Anaheim: two years, $4 million (link)

Christian Folin signs in Los Angeles: one year, $850,000

— Patrick Wiercioch signs in Vancouver: one year, $650,000

Mike Cammalleri signs in Los Angeles: one year, $1 million (link)

Adam Clendening signs in Arizona: one year, $775,000

Ryan Murphy signs in Minnesota: one year, $700,000

Chris Thorburn signs in St. Louis: two years, $1.8 million

Oskar Sundqvist re-signs in St. Louis: one year, $675,000

— Beau Bennett signs in St. Louis: one year, $650,000

— Antti Niemi signs in Pittsburgh: one year, $700,000

Paul Postma signs in Boston: one year, $725,000

Josh Jooris signs in Carolina: one year, $775,000

Martin Jones re-signs in San Jose: six years, $34.5 million (link)

Marc-Edouard Vlasic re-signs in San Jose: eight years, $56 million (link)

Justin Williams signs in Carolina: two years, $9 million (link)

Martin Hanzal signs in Dallas: three years, $14.25 million (link)

Tyler Pitlick signs in Dallas: three years, $3 million

Jonathan Bernier signs in Colorado: one year, $2.75 million (link)

Chad Johnson signs in Buffalo: one year, $1.25 million (link)

— Brian Elliott signs in Philly: two years, $5.5 million (link)

Steve Mason signs in Winnipeg: two years, $8.2 million (link)

— Alexander Burmistrov signs in Vancouver: one year, $900,000 (link)

Anders Nilsson signs in Vancouver: two years, $5 million (link)

Michael Del Zotto signs in Vancouver: two years, $6 million (link)

Sam Gagner signs in Vancouver: three years, $9.45 million (link)

Dmitry Kulikov signs in Winnipeg: three years, $13 million (link)

Trevor Daley signs in Detroit: three years, $9.5 million (link)

Patrick Sharp signs in Chicago: one year, $1 million (link)

Matt Hunwick signs in Pittsburgh: three years, $6.75 million (link)

Nick Bonino signs in Nashville: four years, $16.1 million (link)

Benoit Pouliot signs in Buffalo: one year, $1.15 million

Brian Boyle signs in New Jersey: two years, $5.1 million (link)

Alex Petrovic re-signs in Florida: one year, $1.8 million (link)

Nate Thompson signs in Ottawa: two year, $3.3 million (link)

Ondrej Pavelec signs with New York Rangers: one year, $1.3 million (link)

— Garrett Wilson re-signs in Pittsburgh: two years, $1.3 million

— Garret Sparks re-signs in Toronto: two years, $1.35 million (link)

Curtis McElhinney re-signs in Toronto: two years, $1.7 million (link)

Karl Alzner signs in Montreal: five years, $23.125 million (link)

Previous deals of note

Michael Stone re-signs in Calgary: three years, $10.5 million (link)

Dmitry Orlov re-signs in Washington: six years, $30.6 million (link)

Jordan Weal re-signs in Philly: two years, $3.5 million (link)

Kris Versteeg re-signs in Calgary: one year, $1.75 million (link)

Keith Kinkaid re-signs in New Jersey: two years, $2.5 million (link)

Magnus Paajarvi re-signs in St. Louis: one year, $800,000 (link)

Chandler Stephenson re-signs in Washington: two years, $1.3 million (link)

— Dylan McIlrath re-signs in Detroit: two years, $1.3 million (link)

— Brian Lashoff re-signs in Detroit: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Brock McGinn re-signs in Carolina: two years, $1.775 million (link)

Sven Andrighetto re-signs in Colorado: two years, $2.8 million (link)

— Cory Conacher re-signs in Tampa Bay: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Brendan Smith re-signs with New York Rangers: four years, $17.4 million (link)

Mike Condon re-signs in Ottawa: three years, $7.2 million (link)

— Jacob De La Rose re-signs in Montreal: one year, $725,000 (link)

— Pheonix Copley re-signs in Washington: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Noel Acciari re-signs in Boston: two year, $1.45 million (link)

Jordan Schroeder re-signs in Columbus: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Eric Gryba re-signs in Edmonton: two years, $1.8 million (link)

— Max McCormick re-signs in Ottawa: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Brett Connolly re-signs in Washington: two years, $3 million (link)

Tomas Jurco re-signs in Chicago: one year, $850,000 (link)

Anton Forsberg re-signs in Chicago: two years, $1.5 million (link)

Tom Pyatt re-signs in Ottawa: two years, $2.2 million (link)

Zack Kassian re-signs in Edmonton: three years, $5.85 million (link)

Esa Lindell re-signs in Dallas: two years, $4.4 million (link)

Yanni Gourde re-signs in Tampa Bay: two years, $2 million (link)

Andrej Sustr re-signs in Tampa Bay: one year, $1.95 million (link)

Derek Ryan re-signs in Carolina: one year, $1.425 million (link)

Korbinian Holzer re-signs in Anaheim: two years, $1.8 million (link)

Andy Andreoff re-signs in L.A.: two years, $1.355 million (link)

Big money: Sharks drop $90.5 million to extend Jones, Vlasic

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Back in April, Sharks GM Doug Armstrong said it was “extremely important” to get Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones locked into long-term deals.

Now we know just how important it truly was.

San Jose made a huge splash on the opening day of free agency, signing Vlasic to an eight-year, $56 million extension and Jones to a six-year, $34.5 million deal. Per TSN, Vlasic will now carry a $7 million cap hit, while Jones’ comes in at $5.75M.

Both contracts will kick in for the 2018-19 campaign.

Jones, 27, has been rock solid for the Sharks since being acquired via trade two years ago. He backstopped them to the ’16 Cup Final and has been one of the league’s busiest workhorses, starting 65 games in each of the last two years.

“We’re very happy we could get this extension done with Martin and feel that he is just beginning to hit his peak in terms of growth and prime playing seasons,” said Wilson. “He has proven that he is more than capable of excelling in high-pressure situations and big games, and we feel he has become one of the top goaltenders in the League. He is a calming influence in net for our team and we’re excited to have him in net for us for the foreseeable future.”

Vlasic, 30, has spent his entire 10-year career in San Jose. He’s developed a reputation as one of the league’s better defensive defensemen, strengthened by his role on Canada’s gold medal-winning side at the 2014 Olympics, and 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“We’re thrilled we could get this extension done early and ensure one of the League’s top defensemen will remain in San Jose for the long term,” said Wilson. “Both Marc-Edouard and Hasso Plattner stepped forward and committed to get this deal done now, and this helps solidify our blueline for years to come. Marc-Edouard has been an integral part of this team, both on and off the ice, and we are excited to have him in San Jose for at least the next eight years.”