Need a free agent or trade bargain? Target Coyotes

Need a free agent or trade bargain? Target Coyotes
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With more than $30 million in cap space, no first-rounder, and a new head coach, the Arizona Coyotes could conceivably surprise us. Instead of rebuilding, they could swerve and gobble up free agents — retaining their own, and signing prominent players from other teams.

Overall, it doesn’t feel like the Coyotes will primarily be in buy mode, though. Back in February, The Athletic released a scathing report (sub required) of not just a “toxic workplace,” but also money challenges.

So, looking at the Coyotes’ Cap Friendly page, you can see some mysteries. Rival NHL GMs should instead look at Coyotes trade targets and pending free agents as opportunities.

One Coyotes trade rumor magnet not to target: Oliver Ekman-Larsson

As you may remember, OEL’s representatives reportedly gave the Coyotes two trade options last summer: the Bruins or the Canucks. Clearly, it didn’t work out, yet reporters indicate that Ekman-Larsson might be more relaxed with his no-movement clause this offseason.

Yet, for a smart front office, OEL’s contract is his real “no-movement clause.”

At age 29, Ekman-Larsson’s $8.25 million AAV (through 2026-27) would be risky, but maybe boil down to the price of doing business for a star. The problem is that, instead of being a star, OEL’s experienced one of the most startling plummets in recent memory.

Evolving Hockey’s player cards capture the bewildering fall from grace quite well. From 2015-16 through 2017-18, Ekman-Larsson was what we thought he was: a defenseman the Coyotes couldn’t afford to lose.

Need a free agent or trade bargain? Target Coyotes OEL before
via Evolving Hockey

Yet, during the past three seasons, he’s devolved into a defenseman the Coyotes might not be able to give away.

Need a free agent or trade bargain? Target Coyotes yikes OEL
via Evolving Hockey

Now, could Oliver Ekman-Larsson rebound? Maybe he’ll thrive with Rick Tocchet out of town? Stranger things have happened. Smart NHL teams don’t just make huge, expensive trades based on hope, though.

Instead, the wiser path is to identify value, and the Coyotes boast interesting opportunities in potential trades/free agent signings.

Potential Coyotes bargains for other NHL teams: trade targets, pending free agents

Now, it’s crucial to realize that the Coyotes could easily strike a deal with pending free agents, especially with RFAs who lack some leverage. They may want to bring back some UFAs, too. It’s possible they’d prefer to wait for the smoke to clear with the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, among other variables.

Still, here are some potential Coyotes trade/free agent targets who should be on other teams’ radars.

Conor Garland, emerging star

Bafflingly, the Coyotes reportedly pondered trading Conor Garland during the trade deadline. On June 23, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli reported that there wasn’t much communication between the Coyotes and Garland’s representatives after his agent submitted potential contract proposals.

As an RFA, Garland is subject to some of the Coyotes’ whims. It’s perfectly plausible that they’ll simply hash out a new contract. Frankly, it would be in the Coyotes’ best interest, as they’re not exactly brimming with potential prime-age stars.

Now, the disconnect might be that the Coyotes don’t want to pay Garland as if he’s a true core player. It’s great that, as Five for Howling’s Sarah Bird notes, Garland was the best cost-per-point player in the NHL last season, generating 39 points in 49 games on a microscopic $775K cap hit. The Coyotes might just not want to pay more money for those points.

If the price is wrong for the Coyotes, someone else could get a real bargain for Garland. He won’t be as dirt-cheap as his last contract was, but he still could provide excellent value. It’s just unclear where he might be providing strong bang-for-the-buck.

A potentially lucrative reclamation project in net

When the Coyotes brought in Antti Raanta, they were hoping a consistently great backup could progress to become a standout No.1 goalie.

With a strong .921 save percentage over four seasons with the Coyotes, he’s technically stopped pucks at that level. The problem is that he’s rarely been healthy enough to even flirt with the workhorse status one associates with a top goalie.

After playing 47 games in 2017-18, Raanta was limited to 12 games both last season and in 2018-19, while he played in 33 games in 2019-20. Even with COVID possibly throwing off chances to rack up reps, that’s alarming.

But those factors could also make Antti Raanta a worthwhile “buy low” candidate. Some of that boils down to due diligence. If your people think that Raanta can at least play often enough to be a “1B” goalie, you could arm yourself with enviable goaltending depth at a nice value. If those injury issues persist, or limit his effectiveness, then you might be just as frustrated as the Coyotes likely have been.

At minimum, Raanta’s a gamble worth considering.

Veteran defensemen who might flourish in the right situations

The Coyotes may wave goodbye to quite a few pending UFA defensemen, with three standing out in particular: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alex Goligoski, and Jason Demers.

Like with Raanta, there are buyer beware elements to even the most marketable of those three. Most obviously, they’re all old enough to be past their primes (Demers is 33, Hjalmarsson is 34, and Goligoski is 35).

So it would be foolish to look at them as the solution to big problems, and maybe even unwise to view their ceiling as anything beyond a fourth or fifth defenseman. Ideally, these options would be of the supplemental variety.

[Which teams should trade for Vladimir Tarasenko?]

In the cases of Hjalmarsson and Goligoski, they could fit quite well into very specific roles. Hjalmarsson is almost comically one-sided as a defensive stalwart and offensive liability, while Goligoski could be most useful in opposite areas. Consider how they line up by this even strength RAPM comparison from Evolving Hockey:

Need a free agent or trade bargain? Target Coyotes Hjalmarsson Goligoski
via Evolving Hockey

No, you wouldn’t break the bank for either Goligoski or Hjalmarsson if the Coyotes allow them to reach free agency. You certainly won’t want to put Hjalmarsson in many scoring situations. But if the market is relatively tepid on them, they could be specialists who can boost your defense. That’s more than you can say for most of the UFA defensemen options, at least once you get beyond someone who could cost an arm and a leg like Dougie Hamilton.

Some other tidbits

For the purposes of this post, Dvorak sits in the murky middle. At 25, he’s affordable with a $4.45M AAV that’s cost-controlled through 2024-25. He’s more solid than especially intriguing, though, so it would boil down to how much the trade would cost in assets, and how much a given team likes Dvorak as a player.

  • Here’s one interesting change of direction: what about Phil Kessel? After all, Rick Tocchet was a selling point to Kessel accepting a trade to the Coyotes, and now Tocchet is gone.

Now, here’s an important if unpleasant note. After scoring enough to (mostly) overcome his defensive shortcomings in Pittsburgh, Kessel’s really struggled with the Coyotes. The defense remained porous, while his offense festered. (Whether the empty-calorie points happened or did not, his ability to drive offense basically evaporated.)

So, if I were a rival GM, I wouldn’t be giving up something to get Kessel; instead, I’d want a bribe to take him. In other words, I’d float the type of deal where the Hurricanes received a first-rounder for taking on Patrick Marleau‘s contract from the Maple Leafs.

[NHL teams haven’t followed this path often, but maybe they should.]

Kessel, 33, carries a $6.8M AAV (after salary retention), and his contract expires after next season. Via Cap Friendly, Kessel’s deal boasts a $5M signing bonus and $1M base salary for 2021-22.

If you’re the Coyotes, you’d probably love to get out of that last year, especially before the signing bonus kicks in. A rebuilding team (or, with the Kraken, a building team) should pounce on that opportunity — assuming Kessel would comply.

For the Kraken or a rebuilding team, there’d be worse options than just sort of enjoying Kessel’s presence, right?

To reiterate: the Coyotes may bring several of these free agent/trade targets back. Letting Garland go to save a few bucks would be especially egregious. And even an, um, cost-conscious team like the Coyotes needs to get to the cap floor.

But if the Coyotes would listen to offers, I’d call them up. Their loss could be another team’s considerable gain.

(Just don’t call about OEL.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

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    PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

    The break ended shortly thereafter.

    Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

    The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

    All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

    “I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

    Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

    While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

    Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

    Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

    Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

    “I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

    Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

    Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

    Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

    Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

    In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

    He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

    Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

    Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

    Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

    “Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”

    Seattle Kraken sign GM Ron Francis to 3-year extension through 2026-27 season

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    SEATTLE — Ron Francis was initially approached about extending his stay as the general manager of the Seattle Kraken back in the winter, but putting finality to the decision took longer than expected.

    The Kraken kept winning and pushed what was mostly a formality to a secondary need until after Seattle’s unexpected playoff run finally ended.

    “At that point it was kind of verbally done, just kind of a few little small details. And then we get into the playoffs and busy and it kind of got put on the back burner and I didn’t want it to be a distraction with the team and where they were at,” Francis said.

    That finality came when the Kraken announced Francis had signed a three-year extension through the 2026-27 season. Francis originally signed a five-year deal when he became the first GM in franchise history back in 2019 and the new contract will kick in starting with the 2024-25 season.

    “I’ll never forget the day that he said, ‘Yes, I’m ready to do this,’” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said. “But today is another great day for our fans because not only did he come and build, he is going to stay here and continue to build this franchise.”

    Seattle reached the second round of the NHL playoffs in its second year of existence, following a challenging first year where it underachieved and was among the worst teams in the league.

    But Francis navigated through that difficult first season and helped land the pieces that turned Seattle into a playoff team in the second year without mortgaging future opportunities or putting the Kraken into challenging salary cap situations.

    “He has been the leader that’s gotten us to where we are today. And he is the leader to take us to the next level,” Seattle co-owner Samantha Holloway said.

    Seattle is the second stop for Francis as an executive after spending seven seasons in the front office of the Carolina Hurricanes. Francis started as director of hockey operations before becoming the general manager in 2014. Francis was let go by the Hurricanes after the 2018 season.

    Seattle jumped at the chance to bring the Hall of Fame player in to lead the front office. Seattle’s expansion season was a major underachievement with the Kraken going 27-49-6 and finishing last in the Pacific Division with 60 points. But Francis was able to move veteran players to stockpile draft picks and left enough salary cap room to make some key moves entering the second season.

    Seattle signed free agent forward Andre Burakovksy, traded for winger Oliver Bjorkstrand and inserted rookie Matty Beniers into the lineup on Seattle’s top line from the first day of the season. The results on the ice couldn’t be argued. Seattle went 46-28-8 and reached 100 points, knocked off defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Dallas in seven games in the conference semifinals.

    “It’s been a real team effort. I’m sitting up here today and they’re saying good things about me, but it’s a much bigger picture than just me,” Francis said. “I’m excited to be here for a few more years and hopefully everybody’s opinion doesn’t change, but we’re going to stick to the plan and continue building it the right way so we can be a great franchise for multiple years.”

    Francis also stuck with coach Dave Hakstol after that difficult first season. He may be the next in line for a contract extension from the team after a season where he was recognized as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for top coach in the league.

    Maple Leafs hire Brad Treliving as team’s new general manager

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    TORONTO — Brad Treliving has a new job.

    And the Maple Leafs have a new plan.

    Treliving was hired as Toronto’s general manager less than two weeks after firing Kyle Dubas.

    The 53-year-old Treliving left the Calgary Flames in April following nine seasons that included five playoff appearances and two 100-point seasons.

    “Brad brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of experience as a general manager and hockey executive in Calgary, Arizona and beyond,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “He has earned tremendous respect amongst his peers throughout his years in the NHL and has built excellent relationships at all levels within the game.”

    Treliving joins the Leafs at a crucial juncture in the wake of Shanahan’s stunning dismissal of Dubas on May 19.

    The Original Six franchise, whose Stanley Cup drought stands at 56 years, won a playoff series for the first time in nearly two decades with a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring, but then lost to the Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in five games.

    Dubas, who had been Toronto’s GM since 2018 and didn’t have a contract beyond June 30, suggested at an end of season news conference May 15 he wasn’t sure he wanted to remain in the role – at least in part because of the stress on his young family.

    A roller coaster five days followed, with Shanahan ultimately firing the 37-year-old Dubas despite previously wanting to keep his GM, and the now-unemployed executive eventually indicating to his boss he wished to stay.

    Treliving is the third GM – joining Dubas and Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello – hired in Toronto by Shanahan, whose so-called “Shanaplan” aimed at getting the storied franchise back on its feet when he came on board in 2014 has seen unparalleled regular-season success, but just that one series victory in eight attempts.

    “I’m thrilled to join an Original Six team and recognize how much the Maple Leafs mean to this community,” Treliving said. “This is a very exciting day for my family and I.”

    Treliving has a lot to deal with as he settles into his new office at Scotiabank Arena.

    Treliving, who served in the Phoenix Coyotes’ front office for seven seasons before arriving in Calgary, will have to decide the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe, while stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander can sign contract extensions as of July 1.

    Matthews and Mitch Marner have full no-movement clauses ready to kick in the same day. Nylander will have a 10-team list.

    The NHL draft is also set for the end of June in Nashville, Tennessee, while the Leafs have 12 roster players primed to hit free agency at noon EDT on July 1.

    The Flames, who missed the playoffs this season, won the Pacific Division in 2021-22 under Treliving before falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round.

    Johnny Gaudreau then stunned the organization by leaving Calgary for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency last summer. Fellow star forward Matthew Tkachuk added another wrinkle by informing the team he didn’t plan to re-sign.

    Treliving subsequently dealt the winger to Florida as part of a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar heading to southern Alberta.

    Huberdeau then signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Flames that kicks in next season.

    Tkachuk, a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate as playoff MVP, and the Panthers open the Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Despite the departures of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames looked like contenders ahead of the 2022-23 season.

    The acquisition of Huberdeau and the signing of center Nazem Kadri was expected to fill the void left by Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but the mix wasn’t right for a group led by hard-nosed coach Darryl Sutter.

    Huberdeau and Kadri finished well off their career-high points totals of the previous season – the former went from 115 with Florida to 55 in Calgary – while subpar goaltending was an issue much of the season.

    Treliving now turns his attention to Toronto.

    Just like last summer, he has lots of work to do.

    Nashville Predators hire Andrew Brunette after firing John Hynes

    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    NASHVILLE, Tenn.– The coaching shuffle in Nashville is complete, with Andrew Brunette officially hired as the Predators coach a little over 12 hours after the team announced that John Hynes was fired.

    The moves are the first being made by incoming general manager Barry Trotz and come about six weeks after the Predators missed the playoffs.

    The 49-year-old Brunette spent the past season as a New Jersey Devils associate coach under Lindy Ruff and has previous head-coaching experience.

    He was promoted to interim coach of the Florida Panthers during the 2021-22 season and oversaw a team that set franchise records for wins (58) and points (122) in claiming the Presidents’ Trophy before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. Brunette finished second in the Jack Adams Award voting for the NHL’s coach of the year.

    He becomes just the fourth coach in the history of a Predators franchise and returns to Nashville, where Brunette played for the Trotz-coached team during its inaugural season in 1998-99. Their relationship goes back to 1993-94, when Brunette played under Trotz, who was head coach of the Washington Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine.

    “I feel like this is coming full circle for my career – from pulling on the jersey for the first time 25 years ago to returning now to take care of some unfinished business,” Brunette said in a statement. “It has been awesome to see how this city and its fanbase have grown since I played here and I look forward to continuing the legacy and the culture behind the bench that Barry cultivated that inaugural season.”

    Trotz, meantime, has an eye on building on the Predators’ youth and offensively skilled players as he takes over as GM for David Poile, who is retiring at the end of June after 26 years overseeing the franchise.

    “We want to become more of an offensive team and Andrew specializes on that side of the ice – he lived it as a player, and he coaches it as a coach, Trotz said. “He is as good of an offensive teacher and power-play coach as there is in the game today. He will be great with our young players, and I know, because of his background as a player, he will connect well with our top, skilled players.”

    In Florida, Brunette coached a Panthers team that led the NHL with 337 goals and had the league’s fourth-best power-play unit.

    The Predators missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and the first under Hynes, who took over as coach during the 2019-20 season after Peter Laviolette was fired.

    Brunette, who is from Sudbury, Ontario, spent 16 seasons playing in the NHL, ending with a one-year stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011-12. He finished with 268 goals and 733 points in 1,110 career games split among six teams, including two separate stints in Minnesota. Brunette is one of 25 players selected in the seventh round or later to appear in more than 1,000 NHL games.

    Upon his retirement, Brunette spent seven seasons with the Wild in various off-ice roles, including assistant coach and assistant GM, before being hired by the Panthers as an assistant coach in 2019-2020.