Getty

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

Leave a comment

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.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Horton and Lupul fail Maple Leafs physicals

Getty
3 Comments

When it comes to NHL players failing physicals, expected news can still be sad news.

It’s unfortunate – though maybe for the best – that Clarke MacArthur failed his physical with the Ottawa Senators. A long run, with some great moments with the same Chicago Blackhawks, might be over for Michal Rozsival after failing his.

Even ones that feel like formalities are a drag because we’re reminded of what once was, and perhaps what could have been had these players stayed even reasonably healthy.

So, it’s not surprising that Joffrey Lupul and Nathan Horton failed their Toronto Maple Leafs physicals, as Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported. Both cases are unfortunate nonetheless.

Lupul, 33, stated that he wanted to continue his career when it was clear he’d enter the 2016-17 season on injured reserve. His $5.25 million cap hit expires after this coming season.

If this is it for Lupul, he can look back at multiple 20+ goal seasons and two strong playoff runs during his career.

Horton, 32, will see his $5.3M cap hit expire in three seasons. He won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins and enjoyed some strong years as a power forward, yet he barely suited up for the Columbus Blue Jackets team that signed him to his mammoth contract and was traded to Toronto in a bizarre swap of cap hits (David Clarkson, his spiritual salary cap sibling, went to Columbus).

In a strange twist, both forwards look like they’ll finish their careers with nearly identical point totals; Lupul is at 420 while Horton scored 421.

Michal Rozsival sidelined at start of camp after failing physical

Getty
3 Comments

Michal Rozsival is attempting to return for his 17th season in the NHL, but it is not off to a promising start.

Rozsival, starting his sixth season with the Chicago Blackhawks, did not pass his physical at the start of training camp on Friday and is not able to participate at this time, according to general manager Stan Bowman.

Last week Rozsival’s agent told The Athletic that the veteran defenseman is still dealing with post-concussion symptoms after he was sucker-punched by Anaheim Ducks forward Nick Ritchie back in April.

Ritchie was suspended two games for the punch. Rozsival needed surgery to repair injuries to his face.

Rozsival, who just turned 39 earlier this month, appeared in 22 games for the Blackhawks a year ago, scoring one goal and adding two assists.

He has appeared in 963 games in his career and been a part of two Stanley Cup winning teams with the Blackhawks.

Kings hope to find emergency goalie candidates with open tryouts

Getty
3 Comments

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

Blackhawks add Mark Stuart, John Mitchell and Drew Miller on tryout contracts

Getty

After adding defenseman Cody Franson on a tryout contract last week the Chicago Blackhawks are bringing in three more veterans on tryout deals for the start of training camp.

Forwards John Mitchell and Drew Miller, as well as defenseman Mark Stuart, were all part of their training camp roster that was announced on Monday morning. All three players will be in camp on tryout deals.

Mitchell, 32, appeared in 65 games for the Colorado Avalanche last season, recording five points, while Miller recorded seven points in 55 games for the Detroit Red Wings.

Stuart was a member of the Winnipeg Jets for the past six years.

Given the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation, as well as the fact that Marian Hossa will not be available, the team is going to have to find quality depth players anywhere it can, whether it be young prospects coming through the pipeline (Alex DeBrincat, for example) or trying to catch lightning in a bottle with a veteran on a “prove it” type of contract.

Given their recent resumes in the NHL Franson seems to be the player that would have the best chance of making the roster because he is clearly the best of the bunch. The Blackhawks lost Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson from their defense this summer.