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Locking up Ekman-Larsson is a must for Coyotes

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The Arizona Coyotes haven’t been good in quite some time. The last time they came close to making the playoffs was in 2013-14 when they finished two points short. On the bright side, they have some quality young players coming through the organization, but it won’t mean much if they can’t lock up the most important piece of the puzzle to a long-term extension.

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is about to enter the final year of his current deal. He’ll make $5.5 million this season, which means he’s in line for a huge raise. According to TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie, the ‘Yotes are offering their franchise blue-liner an eight-year, $66 million to stay in the desert. With Arizona being a budget team, you’d have to wonder if they could go much higher than that (probably not).

It’s up to the 26-year-old to decide if he wants to be part of this rebuild or if he wants to go elsewhere so he can win right away.

Ekman-Larsson has been consistent when it comes to putting up offensive numbers. Since 2013-14, he’s scored at least 12 goals in each season and he’s put up over 40 points in all but one season (he had 39 in 2016-17). Those are strong numbers for a defenseman.

But his biggest value comes in the form of making his teammates better.

Of the 10 Arizona skaters that played at least 285 minutes with Ekman-Larsson, nine of them had better CF% with him than without him. That’s not an insignificant number. Jason Demers, who spent more time on the ice with him than any other player (949:39), had a CF% of 52.42 with Ekman-Larsson and 48.57 without him, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Clayton Keller, who was on the ice at the same time as Ekman-Larsson for 418:52, had the biggest dip in CF% without the Swedish defender. With him, Keller had a CF% of 54.59, but without him it sunk to 44.73.

Derek Stepan, Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, Brad Richardson, Jordan Martinook and Christian Fischer are all in the same boat. They posted better numbers with Ekman-Larsson by their side. When you look at individual FF% for Coyotes players, the results are very similar. Most are better with him than without him. It’s totally normal, he’s clearly their best player.

It’s now up to Ekman-Larsson to decide whether or not he’s going to commit to this organization long term. It’s fully in his right to leave if he’d like to. He’s stuck around and played on some very mediocre teams.

Here’s what McKenzie had to say about the timing of this entire situation:

Last I heard he was in France on a vacation and I’m not sure if there’s a specific timeline here, but I would have to think in the next week or two the Coyotes want to know from Ekman-Larsson and his representatives if he’s prepared to commit to that long-term deal with Arizona. Because if he’s not, then there’s no doubt in my mind that Arizona will try to trade him and I believe that Arizona has kept its options open in that regard and I don’t think that they’re being real proactive out there picking up the phone and calling teams and saying, hey do you want to trade for Ekman-Larsson? But I think they’re well aware of which teams are interested in [him] and that there’s ongoing dialogue that if a trade should become necessary, how they might go about it.

If he’s not committed to staying in Arizona, GM John Cheyka will have no problem finding a trade partner for his services. The only issue is, they’re probably going to get a package of young players and draft picks for him. How much longer will Coyotes fans have to wait before the team becomes competitive?

Clearly, the Coyotes realize that bringing him back is the way to go. Now all they have to do is convince his camp to sign on the dotted line.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Montgomery’s determination; Marchand’s top heel moments

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau has a close eye on the ECHL playoffs because his son, Ben, is an assistant coach with the Fort Wayne Komets. (Journal Gazette)

• Former Notre Dame captain and Canadiens prospect Jake Evans underwent sports hernia surgery. He’s expected to miss 12 weeks. (Montreal Gazette)

• Now that the Stars GM Jim Nill has hired a head coach, there’s a few things he needs to sort out. He’ll need to help Jim Montgomery find new assistant coaches, he has to look for a backup goalie, he’ll have to decide what he wants to do with Jason Spezza and more. (Dallas News)

• Why is the series between the Sharks and Golden Knights tied up at two after four games? (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Some unwanted intruders attempted to break into Milan Lucic‘s house, but thankfully they failed. (Oilers Nation)

• One reason why the Lightning are up in their series against the Bruins is because they’ve been so effective on the forecheck. (NHL.com)

• Despite the fact that a Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993, they still manage to bring in more revenue than most American teams. (Financial Post)

• As you’re probably aware, Brad Marchand isn’t very popular with opposing players and fans, and there’s a number of reasons for that. ESPN looks at Marchand’s top 20 heel moments. Slew-footing, clotheslining, elbowing, it’s all there! (ESPN)

• Leaving Arizona won’t be easy for Jordan Martinook, but he’s looking forward to life in Carolina. (Raleigh News & Observer)

• Some of Jim Montgomery’s friends in Montreal share their stories about how his determination got him to where he is now. (Montreal Gazette)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Coyotes acquire Kruger in deal with Hurricanes for Martinook

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes have acquired left wing Jordan Martinook from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for center Marcus Kruger.

Under terms of the deal announced Thursday, the teams also swapped later-round draft picks and the Hurricanes will retain 10 percent of Kruger’s salary, or about $300,000 of the roughly $3 million Kruger is set to make in 2018-19.

The 25-year-old Martinook had six goals and nine assists in 81 games during his fourth NHL season.

Kruger had one goal and five assists in his only season with the Hurricanes, who acquired him last summer from Vegas in exchange for a draft pick.

The Buzzer: Caps stay perfect outdoors; five points for Stamkos

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Player of the Night: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning captain had himself quite a game during an amazing tilt Saturday afternoon. Stamkos scored twice, assisted on three others and put home the game-clinching shootout goal during a wild 7-6 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The five points are a career high for Stamkos. Victor Hedman had two goals and four points while Nikita Kucherov kept his march toward a Hart Trophy with three helpers. Tampa has won six of their last seven games.

Highlight of the Night: Jamie Benn scored 3:04 into overtime to give the Dallas Stars a 3-2 win over the struggling St. Louis Blues. To celebrate, the Stars captain decided to snap his stick over his knee:

MISC:

Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov each scored a goal and added two assists to help the Washington Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 Stadium Series game at Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. Alex Ovechkin hit the 40-goal mark for the ninth time of his career while scoring his 598th NHL goal.

• The Los Angeles Kings melted down in the final 10 minutes of the third period as they watched a 3-1 lead evaporate in a span of 7:14 as they dropped a 5-3 decision to the Chicago Blackhawks. LA scored three times in the second period, but then Artem Anisimov, Vinnie Hinostroza and Jonathan Toews turned the game quickly, thanks to a pair of power play goals.

• The Blues have now dropped eight of their last nine games. They sit one point out of a Western Conference wild card.

Jake DeBrusk tied the game with 2:45 left in regulation and Brad Marchand netted the winner 2:06 into overtime as the Boston Bruins topped the Montreal Canadiens 2-1. The win gave Boston the season-sweep over Montreal for the first time since 1994-95.

Charlie McAvoy left the game in early with a lower-body injury and did not return.

Sidney Crosby scored his 22nd goal of the season in overtime to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders. Derick Brassard scored his first goal with the Penguins.

Brandon Davidson opened the scoring for the Islanders thanks to this blooper reel from Tristan Jarry:

Jordan Martinook‘s second period goal was the difference as the Arizona Coyotes edged the Ottawa Senators 2-1. Antti Raanta made 23 saves for his third straight win and fifth win in six starts.

• Behind Alexandar Georgiev‘s 35 saves, Chris Kreider‘s first goal since returning from a blood clot and two points from Mika Zibanejad, the New York Rangers got by the Edmonton Oilers 3-2. New York has now won three straight games while being outshot 143-88. Connor McDavid potted his 30th of the season, making him the first Oiler with consecutive 30-goal seasons since Ryan Smyth in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Factoid of the Night:

Scores:
Lightning 7, Flyers 6 (SO)
Stars, 3, Blues 2 (OT)
Blackhawks 5, Kings 3
Penguins 3, Islanders 2 (OT)
Bruins 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Coyotes 2, Senators 1
Capitals 5, Maple Leafs 2
Rangers 3, Oilers 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Arizona Coyotes should not be this bad

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On Tuesday night the Arizona Coyotes will play their 20th game of the season when they take on the Winnipeg Jets, winners of five of their past seven games.

The Coyotes will enter the game with just two wins on the season.

None of those wins have come in regulation, only defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime back on October 30 and the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout on November 4.

In total, they have collected just seven out of a possible 38 points.

This is not only the worst start in the NHL this season (they are five points behind the second worst team at the moment, a Florida Panthers team that has played in three fewer games than the Coyotes) it is the worst start any team has had in the NHL over the past 10 years.

Only one other team during that stretch has failed to reach at least the 10-point mark through its first 19 games, the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres, also with seven. That was one of the Sabres teams that was going through the scorched earth rebuild that saw the team get torn down to its most basic foundation in the front office’s efforts to tank for draft position.

Even that Sabres team won three of its first 19 games and one in regulation.

The Coyotes are still a team going through a rebuild and with an extremely young roster. They have seven players that have appeared in at least seven games (including six that have appeared in at least 14 games) that are age 22 or younger. A roster that young is almost certain to experience a lot of growing pains and the playoffs were probably not a realistic goal at the start of this season anyway.

It still should not be this bad because there is some real talent on this roster.

Right now they have the leading front-runner for the NHL’s rookie of the year in Clayton Keller, currently one of the top-five goal-scorers in the NHL. They added a number of established veterans (good ones!) this summer including Derek Stepan (a true top-six center), Niklas Hjalmarsson (a strong defensive defenseman), Antti Raanta and Jason Demers. They have a top-tier defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. There was already a respectable core of young players in Max Domi, Christian Dvorak and Tobias Rieder in place.

It is not a totally hopeless situation on paper.

So what is happening here, and why are they off to such a terrible start?

For one, goaltending has been a pretty significant issue due to an injury to Raanta and a revolving door of backups behind him.

Louis Domingue (traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday), Adin Hill, and Scott Wedgewood are a combined 1-10-1 this season and as a trio have managed just an .876 save percentage.

No team has a chance to win with that level of goaltending.

The Coyotes scored at least three goals (including two games with four goals) in five of those 10 regulation losses that the Domingue, Hill, Wedgewood trio has started.

Three or four goals in regulation is usually enough a hockey game, or at least get a point. Teams that score either three or four goals in a game this season have a points percentage of .646. A team with a .646 points percentage over an 82-game season would be a 106 point team in the standings.

When the Coyotes score three or four goals in a game this season (including the eight games started by Raanta)?

They are only at .142 in those games.

With even slightly better goaltending in those games there might have been a couple of extra wins right there. Even just plain bad goaltending would have probably made a difference as a .900 save percentage from those goalies would have sliced nine to 10 goals off of their goals against total for the season.

There is also an element of some bad shooting luck from some of their top forwards, including Stepan.

Prior to this season Stepan has been a remarkably consistent point producer that has always been a lock for at least 55 points and around 20 goals.

Four of the Coyotes’ top-six forwards in terms of shots on goal (Stepan, Domi, Dvorak, Brad Richardson, and Jordan Martinook) currently own a shooting percentage under 5 percent. As a group that quintet  has scored on just six of their 187 shots on goal.

That is a shooting percentage of just 3.2 percent from a group of, mostly, their top forwards.

Prior to this season that group had a career shooting percentage of 9.9 percent.

If they were shooting at their normal career averages on the same number of shots that would be an additional 12 goals from that group alone.

Put all of that together with a young, inexperienced team that still has some holes to fill and you have the worst start in the NHL in more than a decade.

So what are the Coyotes at this point?

They are a rebuilding team that has been hurt by two big injuries to key veterans (Raanta, Hjalmarsson), crushed by bad goaltending, and has had a few of  itstop players start the year on a cold streak shooting.

They should not be an historically bad team like their early season record would seem to indicate. They also are not because there is a chance a lot of these early trends from a percentage perspective reverse.

When that happens the results should start to improve too.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.