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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.