James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Martin Hanzal could face a fascinating contract year

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This is part of Arizona Coyotes day at PHT …

The window is open for the Arizona Coyotes to sign Martin Hanzal to a contract extension, but they might just let him play out his current deal instead.

New GM John Chayka explained the thought process to Arizona Sports’ Craig Morgan (if their skimpy salary structure doesn’t stand as enough of an explanation in itself).

“If there was something that made sense, we would probably take a closer look at that because Marty’s been a good player for us,” Chayka said. “But maybe it’s not a bad thing to get into the season and see how things play out.”

Hanzal, 29, is carrying an affordable $3.1 million cap hit in 2016-17. If he goes through next season with an extension, his contract year situation would be awfully intriguing.

A contract year to watch

On one hand, Hanzal is the sort of guy a lot of teams would clamor for, especially ones that gravitate toward big, rugged centers.

He’s developed into a better point-generator in recent years, too, averaging at least .62 points per contest since 2013-14.

Unfortunately, it’s crucial to discuss such rates because he can’t seem to put a healthy season together.

Buyer beware

He played 64 games in 2015-16, 37 in 2014-15 and 65 in 2013-14. He managed 81 GP in 2009-10, but aside from that, he’s missed at least eight games every season. The Coyotes probably grimace and pencil him in for about 15-20 missed games per year at this point.

The thing is, Hanzal could luck out and play at or near 82 games, enjoying a career-high scoring season and rake in the money on the free agent market.

That’s the risk the Coyotes might be willing to take. Every other NHL GM would be wise to consider the red flags if he does indeed manage a big year at the perfect time.

Even for a budget team, Coyotes’ salary structure is remarkable


This is part of Arizona Coyotes day at PHT …

The big picture is a lot sunnier in Arizona than it’s been for a long, long time.

That said, just about any reasonable prognostication tabs 2016-17 as a year of “growing pains” for the promising group.

If you seek an easy way to crystallize that this is a work in progress, you could do worse than eyeballing this resounding screen shot from General Fanager: just look at the payouts for this group of forwards.


With Pavel Datsyuk’s dead money in mind, no Coyotes forward is slated to generate a $4 million cap hit next season.

Speaking of dead money, the Coyotes have been really creative when it comes to maneuvering up to the cap floor.

Even with Tobias Rieder‘s tricky situation, it’s unlikely that they’ll see those numbers climb too significantly.

With Datsyuk, Chris Pronger‘s LTIR spot ($4.94 million expiring after this season) and buyouts for Mike Ribeiro and Antoine Vermette, it’s a truly bizarre setup in Arizona.

Their highest-paid active player is Mike Smith and his troubling $5.67 million cap hit, which won’t expire for three more seasons. Even with plenty of hidden savings, it’s quite the strange mess.

With young players set to make the jump and gradually approaching a need to sign second deals, the Coyotes’ structure is likely to look more typical in due time.

For fans of the weird, take note of the 2016-17 Coyotes, then.

With the possible – but not certain – exception of the Las Vegas expansion team, we may not see anything like this again for quite some time.

Update: Vegas expansion team could still go with ‘hawks’


Over the years, hockey fans have grown accustomed to twists and turns when it comes to ownership sagas. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that there’s some drama involved in an owner picking a team name.

On Thursday, reports were swirling that the Las Vegas expansion team was leaning toward using “hawks” in its name.

Update: As you can see from the bottom of this post, there are now conflicting reports.

Chris Creamer of Sports Logos reports that “hawks” has been canceled out by Bill Foley & Co., possibly after a lukewarm reception.


The most fun part might be how wide ownership cast the net as far as registering domain names:

Hey, you don’t want to get domain-scooped like Google or Mike Rowe Soft’d, right?

Anyway, the biggest takeaway is that we might not get to spoil the team-naming before it’s unveiled to the public. Bummer.

Update: Maybe we’re back to square one with it possibly going either way.

Yeah, we really might not know for sure one way or another until something official surfaces …

It’s Arizona Coyotes day at PHT


This has been a difficult journey, yet optimism is in the air in the desert.

If nothing else, it’s easier to see a bright side after 2015-16 than it was after a humbling 2014-15 campaign. Yes, the Arizona Coyotes still have a long way to go, but it’s been a while since they’ve seen so much light at the end of the tunnel.

Most obviously, the Coyotes enjoyed some great early impressions from forwards Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. When you factor in star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, there’s some quality talent in the present to go with all of those futures.

It’s enough to soften the blow of less-convenient facts like four consecutive seasons with a playoff berth.


Even with those flashes of brilliance in 2015-16, it’s this summer that emboldens positive outlooks.

Change is in the air for a franchise that, if nothing else, is at least seeing its arena and ownership issues fade from the foreground to the background.

Ridiculously young GM John Chayka didn’t just raise some eyebrows in taking over; he’s already made some bold moves to accelerate Arizona’s rebuilding process.

Alex Goligoski was wooed into town, giving the Coyotes another fleet defenseman to complement “OEL.” Chakya also made some moves to acquire Jakob Chychrun, an interesting prospect who once seemed to boast top-five draft potential.

The Coyotes already boasted a farm system bursting with talent, and players like Domi are showing that all that potential can come to fruition. The likes of Dylan Strome and Chychrun may not be very far behind.

The smart money is on the 2016-17 season featuring continued growing pains. Even so, other franchises are likely feeling these young Coyotes’ footsteps.

So, odds seem high that Las Vegas NHL team will have ‘hawks’ in name


Uh oh gang, we may no longer be able to refer to the Chicago Blackhawks as the ‘Hawks.

(Everyone does that, right?)

Sports Logos.net and the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Steve Carp report that Bill Foley, owner of Las Vegas’ NHL expansion team, has the option of using three hawks-oriented names: Nighthawks, Desert Hawks and Red Hawks.

Carp also reports that two other names “are being processed” but haven’t been disclosed. He believes that Nighthawks might be the winner.

(Yes, in case you’re wondering, Nighthawk was the name of a not-particularly-beloved superhero. Marvel pumped out a series, according to a cursory Google search.)

Carp also notes that the NHL prohibits the use of gambling terms in the team name, so don’t expect Foley to have an, erm, ace up his sleeve.