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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.

Red Wings updates: Meeting with Athanasiou, Kronwall on the mend

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If nothing else, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland will fly, er, go the extra mile to try to settle things with RFA Andreas Athanasiou.

Holland flew to Toronto for a face-to-face meeting with Athanasiou on Saturday, according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press.

St. James passes along some reasonably optimistic updates from Athanasiou’s camp and also reports that the two sides have discussed deals that would last either one or two years. (The two-year version would carry a $1.9 million cap hit, according to St. James. This would make some sense in that it would parallel what the Calgary Flames gave Sam Bennett.)

There’s clearly still some work to do, especially with the KHL leering as at least a minor threat, yet this seems to be fairly positive.

The overall picture for the Red Wings is gloomy heading into 2017-18, however, because of updates like these.

It’s good that Jeff Blashill isn’t too concerned about Niklas Kronwall, although you must wonder if there’s a hint of resignation in such an update.

Sad or at least halfway-negative updates may simply be a way of life for the Red Wings when it comes to the health of Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson.

Actually, one cannot help but wonder if the Kronwall and Athanasiou scenarios could even blend together.

What if, say, the Red Wings put Kronwall on LTIR, thus opening up some extra space to squeeze Athanasiou under the cap? Kronwall’s $4.75M cap hit runs for two more seasons, and the impression is that he’s legitimately not so healthy.

The counterpoints are pretty natural, especially if the Red Wings really aren’t accepting the likely reality that they’re not really a viable playoff team any longer. If they continue to fight that probability, then they’d want Kronwall to nurse a shaky defensive unit to a slightly higher level, even if it means dealing with him being in and out of the lineup for health reasons.

If nothing else, it would be refreshing to see the Red Wings apply some creative thinking to their many issues, as the status quo seems pretty glum at times.

At least there’s that shiny new arena …

Kings hope to find emergency goalie candidates with open tryouts

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This isn’t your typical Hollywood audition.

The L.A. Kings have officially announced that they are holding open goaltending tryouts on Sept. 27. The purpose is to find candidates who could be used for potential emergency goalie duties for all Kings home games this upcoming season.

The requirements?

— You must be 18 years old.

— You must have played a “high level” of amateur hockey.

— Must not have signed a contract with another professional league.

“The NHL requires each home team to have an emergency goalie in the stands for every game and we thought this would be a good opportunity to see who in our area is best qualified for the job,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said in a statement.

“It will be interesting, that is for sure.”

Yeah, no kidding.

But this isn’t a new idea.

In fact, the Minnesota Wild held a contest about five years ago to find emergency goalies. There have been numerous instances in which NHL teams have been forced to sign a goalie not on their roster in cases of sudden illness or injury to their primary two netminders and not enough time to recall someone from the AHL.

The Carolina Hurricanes signed their own equipment manager Jorge Alves to a professional tryout last December when Eddie Lack was ill and didn’t dress for a game. With Carolina trailing in the final seconds of the third period, Alves was put in to the game, making his (brief) NHL debut.

Last December, the Chicago Blackhawks also had to sign an emergency goalie when Corey Crawford couldn’t dress due to illness. The early start time (1 p.m. ET) for the game prevented the Blackhawks from calling a goalie up from the AHL.

Related:

NHL GMs need to address emergency goalie rule after Florida incident

Flames sign former first-rounder Dylan Olsen to PTO

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Dylan Olsen didn’t play in the NHL last season, but the his hometown team, the Calgary Flames, will give him an opportunity to crack their roster for the upcoming season, per Darren Dreger.

Olsen has signed a professional tryout with the Flames. He last played in the NHL during the 2015-16 season, when he was a member of the Florida Panthers (he only suited up in eight games with the Panthers that season).

Last year, the 26-year-old played in six games with the Ranchland Hockey League’s Nanton Palominos (seriously).

Olsen was a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He’s accumulated five goals and 22 points in 124 games during his NHL career.

Here’s a fun fact for you: Dylan’s father, Darryl, played one game for the Flames during the 1991-92 season.

The addition of Olsen means that Calgary now has eight players signed to PTOs. Olsen will be joined by Tanner Glass, Joseph Cramarossa, Oleg Yevenko, Daniel Maggio, Rod Pelley, Joel Lowry and Colby Robak.

VandeVelde, Cramarossa earn PTOs with Senators, Flames

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A pair of NHLers have earned professional tryouts with Canadian clubs.

Forwards Joseph Cramarossa and Chris VandeVelde will attend training camp with the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators respectively.

Cramarossa, 24, split last season between the Anaheim Ducks and the Vancouver Canucks. He had four goals and six assists in 49 games with Anaheim before claimed off waivers by the Canucks in March. Cramarossa had no points in 10 games with Vancouver.

The Flames have 12 forwards on one-way contracts as of right now. That doesn’t include players like Spencer Foo, Mark Jankowski and Hunter Shinkaruk, who are all on entry-level deals. So Cramarossa has his work cut out for him to make the roster.

VandeVelde spent the previous four years in the Philadelphia Flyers organization. The 30-year-old had six goals and 15 points in 81 games in 2016-17.

“We just felt we wanted as competitive a camp as possible and we’re bringing in (another) NHL body to see what he can do,” said Senators GM Pierre Dorion, per the Ottawa Citizen. “We still have some (training camp) room and he’ll compete with some of our younger kids to (try and) make our team.”