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Galchenyuk trade just one reason Coyotes are excited

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Here’s a confession: last summer, I got a little too excited about the Arizona Coyotes’ progress.

It turns out that 2017-18 was a little too early to take the Coyotes seriously, but there are still reasons for optimism. The Alex GalchenyukMax Domi trade stands as the exclamation point at the end of a Coyotes fan’s sentence.

Sometimes teams improve by leaps and bounds. Other times, it’s more about baby steps.

After seeing Arizona stumble a bit this past season, it’s difficult to tell how far they’ve come. Either way, there are reasons to be increasingly positive about what GM John Chayka is doing, so let’s lay them out.

  • The Galchenyuk trade looks like a win.

Time will tell if it’s a big win (or even a win at all?). At the moment, it seems significant. Sure, one can discuss some of the ways that things might work out better than expected for Montreal, but much of that optimism hinges on better luck for Domi.

If you had to make a safe bet, you’d wager on Arizona’s side. Most GMs would take that.

  • Last summer’s trades quietly worked nicely.

There’s a solid chance that tuned-in hockey fans noted that Antti Raanta pulled off a solid first season as a starting goalie, at least after shaking off injury issues early on. He was rewarded with a three-year extension that carries a $4.25 million cap hit, a deal that finds a pretty nifty compromise between mitigating risks for the Coyotes with rewarding Raanta’s patience and hard work.

(Considering his fantastic .930 save percentage in 2017-18 and strong .922 career average, it could end up being a steal.)

The quieter development is that Derek Stepan played quite well, too.

Despite poor shooting luck (14 goals on 209 SOG for just a 6.7 shooting percentage), Stepan still scored his typical 56 points. That’s not a world-beating output, but it’s the type of production that the Coyotes more or less expected from the 27-year-old center.

Stepan can be part of the solution in Arizona.

  • A team that once looked weak down the middle seems formidable.

Landing Galchenyuk and Stepan eases the pressure on certain players. If the Coyotes believe that Dylan Strome would be a more comfortable fit on the wing, that isn’t quite as disappointing now.

  • They can add more talent this summer.

On one hand, it’s tough to gauge how much the Coyotes can really be a factor in free agency, considering their money challenges. Especially since they’re likely to pay up to extend Oliver Ekman-Larsson once they’re permitted by the CBA.

Still, there’s a chance they can add a small piece or two, and they also face interesting opportunities with the fifth pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.

They could add to their very modern-styled group of defensemen (OEL, Alex Goligoski, and Jason Demers all appeal to “fancy stats” types) by landing a prospect like Quinn Hughes. On the other hand, perhaps they’d add a forward who could make a near-future impact such as Brady Tkachuk?

Sure, it would have been great if they happened upon the top pick and were gifted Rasmus Dahlin, but they can still add a blue chip next weekend.

  • Their young players could improve.

It’s easy to forget that Dylan Strome is still just 21. Coyotes fans may always cringe at Mitch Marner‘s superior development (picked fourth after Strome went third overall in 2015), but that doesn’t mean that the ship has sailed on Strome as an NHL-caliber player.

The 2016 NHL Draft presents interesting questions as well.

“Beast” defenseman Jakob Chychrun‘s value is still unclear after his sophomore season was hindered by injury issues. Clayton Keller, meanwhile, looks like a fantastic find; the tantalizing question is: “How high is his ceiling?”

  • Enviable flexibility

In recent years, the Coyotes served as an Island of Misfit Contracts, absorbing dead cap space in Pavel Datsyuk’s and Chris Pronger’s deals in exchange for futures. They’ll see Dave Bolland‘s contract expire after 2018-19.

The nice thing for Chayka and the Coyotes is that they can continue in that potentially fruitful direction, but only if they choose to.

Simply put, this team isn’t anchored to too many problem contracts of their own doing. As of this writing, their longest contracts run for three seasons. OEL will change that, and few would really complain. The point is, the Coyotes enjoy the luxury of room to maneuver.

No doubt, the in-house budget stands as a concern, yet the Coyotes don’t need to fret about dollars going to waste.

***

No doubt about it, the Coyotes have plenty of work to do. The good news is that, so far, this group is getting the job done.

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.

Tavares and beyond: five years of possible free agents

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While NHL fans get to brag about the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, NBA fans score a decided advantage when it comes to off-the-court/ice sizzle.

More often than not, hockey fans can only imagine seismic shifts like LeBron James’ latest “decision.”

(One bold exception is the profoundly dysfunctional Ottawa Senators, who provided us with hockey’s answer to the strange Bryan Colangelo burner account scandal by way of that drama between the significant others of Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman.)

So, like the Toronto Raptors watching Lebron mercilessly crush their playoff dreams, hockey fans grow accustomed to seeing fun spending sprees fizzle away. Could it happen again with John Tavares?

TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Tavares and his representatives are “focused” on negotiating with the New York Islanders right now. Pierre LeBrun was also involved in that segment, and rained on our speculative parades even more:

Allow a simple response to the Tavares sweepstakes possibly ending before it truly begins: boo. Boo to that.

Now, sure, there’s the chance that business picks up in July. Maybe sooner. Still, reports like those above remain discouraging for those of us who want to grab the popcorn.

[Which teams would benefit the most from potential buyouts?]

It actually inspires a fun activity: let’s go over the next few years and ponder some of the big names who could auction off their services.

Naturally, because hockey, this list factors in the sad, cruel likelihood that the biggest names will bow out, so there are consolation prizes. Also, this list focuses mainly on would-be UFAs, as RFAs hold very little leverage (thanks, CBA).

This summer (2018)

Biggest fish who might not make it: Tavares

Would begging help?

/kneels

The fascinating Ilya Kovalchuk talk is a helpful reminder of how rare it is for an impact NHL player to explore free agency. At 27, Tavares figures to be exactly that. Despite all the turbulence surrounding the Islanders, Tavares generated 84 points in 82 games during 2017-18, the second-best output of his career.

He’s also put to rest any real worries about some of the freak injuries he suffered. Tavares played 82 games twice in the last four seasons, only missing nine games since 2014-15.

Tavares hitting the market wouldn’t just change the fate of a team. If he landed in the right direction, it could create a new contender. You simply don’t see a franchise center become available often; this would be as close as the NHL gets to a Lebron-type seismic shift.

Which means he’ll probably kill all the drama with an extension soon. *Grumble*

Big name with a better chance to actually hit the market: John Carlson

Before more grumbling commences, there’s this:

There’s evidence that Carlson struggles at time in his own end, particularly stretching back to before this past season. After a dazzling 68 points and a Stanley Cup victory, someone’s paying up, and it should be fun to witness that situation develop. You just do not see defensemen of his ilk hit it big very often, either.

Now that you mention it, hopefully a risky Carlson deal doesn’t scare off teams from next year’s incredible crop.

Some other notables: Joe Thornton, James Neal, James van Riemsdyk, David Perron, and Paul Stastny.

[Six players who should stay put this summer, six who should move]

Next summer (2019)

Biggest possible names: Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty

For some, Karlsson is the top draw (myself included). Old-school types might claim that Karlsson “can’t play defense,” even after he managed to drag a mediocre Senators team to within a goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final (yes, that was only a year ago). For those types – who also probably believe that Alex Ovechkin “just figured things out this year” – then Doughty is the jewel.

The truth is that both are really, really good.

They also both carry some mileage into their next deals after being remarkable bargains, as they’re both 28 and log big minutes. There’s a strong chance that Doughty might just re-sign with Los Angeles, possibly as soon as this summer, and the same could be true regarding Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Coyotes. (Preemptive boo.)

Now, Ryan Ellis and the Predators? That could be fascinating.

These guys won’t become UFAs … right?: Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Tyler Seguin.

Buckle up, Blue Jackets fans.

Other interesting possibilities

  • Marc-Andre Fleury: He could finish his career with Vegas, but this past season could really drive up his asking price, and his age (already 33) could scare the Golden Knights off.
  • Pekka Rinne: By this time, you’d think Juuse Saros would be ready to carry the torch in Nashville.
  • Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski: Two Sharks centers with intriguing futures. Pavelski, in particular, could age out (turns 34 on July 11).
  • Matt Duchene: With the mess Ottawa’s in, who knows? Duchene leaving would really make a bumpy trade look even worse. Yikes.
  • Blake Wheeler: Winnipeg’s going to need to pay Patrik Laine, Connor Hellebuyck, and Kyle Connor. Could an under-the-radar star get squeezed out in the process?

Summer of 2020

Biggest fish to land: Avoiding a lockout or limiting the damage.

*sigh*

Interesting possibilities

  • Roman Josi: David Poile is responsible for some salary cap wizardry, yet at some point, the Predators are going to need to make some choices.
  • Nicklas Backstrom: Already at 30, and with Braden Holtby also slated for possible free agency during the summer of 2020 (let’s assume Holtby re-signs), it remains to be seen if Washington can/will retain the Swedish center. He deserves an upgrade from that $6.7 million cap hit, one way or another.
  • Corey Crawford: Currently at 33 and the Blackhawks remain in a perpetual cap crunch. Hmm.
  • Holtby: Just in case the Capitals try to save money in net.
  • Tyson Barrie and Torey Krug: Two explosive scoring defensemen who are a bit underrated. Krug, in particular, might be tough for the Bruins to retain. Justin Faulk deserves a mention, too, although his situation could be very different in mere weeks for all we know.
  • Alex Galchenyuk: Will his inevitable split from Montreal happen before free agency 2020?

Even more aimless speculation in later years …

Summer 2021

Aging stars: Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Dustin Byfuglien.

Intriguing prime-age names: Dougie Hamilton, Jaden Schwartz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Devan Dubnyk.

Summer 2022

Last chances at big deals? Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban, Claude Giroux, Kris Letang, Patrice Bergeron.

Intriguing prime-age names: Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones.

***

Interesting stuff, right?

Of course, many of those players are likely to sign extensions, in most cases with their current teams. The same could be said for players who get traded to new teams. Some of the older guys might just retire. Restricted free agents may also add some spice to summers.

There’s even a chance that a new CBA could open the door for more movement in the future.

Looking at the lists above, it’s easy to envision fun scenarios, even if recent hockey history suggests blander solutions. Then again, re-signing players like these could force other important players to get traded, so team-building nerds should have something to chew on even if free agency isn’t as fun in reality as it can be in our heads.

Cap Friendly was an excellent resource for this post. Their tools can help you go on your own dorky hockey adventures, possibly unearthing more interesting names. (You’d need to wait until the summer of 2023 to get excited about Nathan MacKinnon, though.)

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.

Six players who should stay put this summer

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Over the next couple of months there will be a lot of trades that get made throughout the NHL.

Some of them will be good for everybody involved. Some of them will be bad for somebody. Some of them should not happen. After taking a look at six players that probably should be traded, let us now take a look at six players that should not be traded.

Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins. Based on his career it seems that the Phi Kessel experience has a shelf life with whatever organization he is playing for.

Based on the reports coming out of Pittsburgh regarding his relationship with coach Mike Sullivan in the wake of their second-round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals he could be on the verge of reaching the end of that shelf life in Pittsburgh

That, of course, has led to trade speculation.

General manager Jim Rutherford has downplayed the whole thing and summed up the entire ordeal becoming a story this offseason as perfectly as anyone could have when he said this to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a week ago.

“They always had good communication directly and indirectly through the assistant coaches,” Rutherford said. “I don’t see where that has changed. The only thing that’s changed is that we won the first two years, so nobody wants to talk about it. We didn’t win the Stanley Cup this year, so it’s become a bigger public issue. To me, that’s the only reason.”

Basically, when you win nobody cares that you don’t get along. When you lose, suddenly it is the most important thing in the world.

There are probably a lot of truths when it comes to the Kessel-Penguins situation.

Kessel is probably the type of player that drives coaches crazy.

He and Sullivan may not always see eye-to-eye.

But he is also one of the best offensive players in the world and is more than just a one-trick pony that can only score goals (not that being a goal-scorer is a bad thing).

If I am Jim Rutherford my message to Kessel and Sullivan is simple: Hey Mike, Phil is too good, too productive, and too much of a bargain for me to trade because I will never get fair value back in return and it is only going to make our team worse if I do trade him. Hey Phil, Mike is the coach … try to be a little less of a pain in the ass sometimes.

The Penguins could probably use a tweak or two or to their roster. They could stand to dump a contract or two (Conor Sheary, perhaps). But it should not be the guy that was just one of the top-10 scorers in the NHL and has been a central cog in a team that has won the Stanley Cup in two of the past three years.

Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers. There is a disturbing cycle in Edmonton.

It usually starts with the team underperforming or just flat out being terrible on the ice.

Then you start to hear rumblings about how one of the core players is falling out of favor even though they aren’t really the biggest part of the problem. Then that player gets traded for an underwhelming return and goes to their new team and excels while the Oilers are left holding a bag of magic beans and looking like they do not really know what they are doing.

Justin Schultz. Taylor Hall. Jordan Eberle.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you are paying close attention it seems to be happening again, and this time the player at the center of that discussion is defenseman Oscar Klefbom.

Knowing the history of the Oilers and the history of general manager Peter Chiarelli making these kinds of deals it should send a shiver up the back of every Oilers fans because there is no way this would end well.

Klefbom was tremendous as a top-pairing defenseman for the Oilers in 2016-17 but regressed this past season as he played through a shoulder injury.

He is still only 24 years old, he is signed long-term, when healthy he has shown that he can be an outstanding player. He is not the reason their defense stinks and if they try to trade him now they are doing so at what is probably his lowest value — coming off of an injury plagued, injury shortened season where he did not play at his best. Only bad things can come from a trade in that situation.

Give him a chance to rebound. Keep your best defenseman. Just do not do anything dumb.

Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. Everything we just said about Klefbom? Say it again, only this time about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Not that he is someone that seems to be on the trading block, but he carries a big contract, the Oilers have to clear some salary cap space somewhere, and with Schultz, Hall and Eberle all gone he is one of the few long-time members of the “core” that lost so much that still remains in Edmonton.

He is good. He is not your problem. Keep him.

Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes. There has been some speculation for more than a year now that Domi has been shopped, and there was even a rumor that the Pittsburgh Penguins could be interested in him (Domi’s father, long-time NHL tough-guy Tie Domi, and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux are very close).

Given how much smoke there has been around Domi when it comes to trade speculation there is always the possibility that it could happen but I really can’t think of a compelling reason why it should happen.

Yes, he had a tough season in 2017-18. Yes, he is a restricted free agent and in line for a new contract. But he is still only 22 years old. The Coyotes have reportedly struck a deal with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson indicating that they are trying to build something around their current young core. Domi could still be a part of that. Plus, he just does not seem like the type of player that would bring enough of a return to warrant trading him at this point.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens. You could try to give me a lot of good reasons why the Canadiens could — or maybe even should — trade him. The only one that even begins to make sense is the contract situation as he enters the final year of his deal.

Still, let’s be serious here: The Canadiens are not really in a position to rebuild after committing a ton of money into a veteran core. Whether or not they should rebuild is another question entirely, but given the makeup of the team that just does not seem to be in the cards.

That brings us to Pacioretty.

He is their best player not named Carey Price and has been one of the best goal scorers in the NHL throughout his career. He is also coming off of a career-worst performance offensively. Trading him now is trading him at his absolute lowest value given that he did not play great in 2017-18 and only has one year left on his contract. There is no upside to moving him at this point. Even though he is entering his age 30 season he is the type of player that should be able to maintain a lot of his value as an offensive contributor for several more years and there is plenty to indicate that he is due for a bounce back season, from the fact he was a 53 percent possession player this past season, to the fact he still averaged more than 3.30 shots on goal per game, to the fact he had one of the worst shooting percentages of his career.

There is a very real chance that he comes back in 2018-19 and is once again a 30-35 goal scorer. Make sure he has that season for your team and not somebody else.

Regarding the contract situation? You are the Montreal Canadiens. You can afford to re-sign an elite goal-scorer. Make it work.

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. The only reason the Maple Leafs might even consider something like this is because they want to maybe deal from a position of strength (young, talented forwards) to fill a position of weakness (defense).

Here is another idea: Don’t do it. Find another way to fix your defense. You don’t want to do something crazy like pulling a Hall-for-Larsson here.

Nylander is a great young player and is going to be one of the key building blocks of a team that could, maybe, one day, finally end your Stanley Cup drought.

He just turned 22 years old and already has a pair of 60-point seasons under his belt, something that only 33 players have accomplished since the start of the 2000 season.

Players like that do not typically get traded. Out of that aforementioned group of 33, only 11 of them have been traded at any point in their careers. One of them, Filip Forsberg, was traded before his NHL debut. Several others (like Ilya Kovalchuk, Eric Staal, Paul Stastny, Marian Gabroik) were traded later in their careers just before they were set to become unrestricted free agents or due to some other contractual issue. The only players out of that group that were traded before their 25th birthdays were Tyler Seguin and Ryan Johansen.

One of those trades (Johansen) worked out well for everybody. The other (Seguin) was a disaster for the team that gave up the player.

Do you want to take that chance?

Players that produce like Nylander at this age usually go on to be All-Star level players. They are also incredibly difficult to find. When you get one, you want to hang on to them for as long as you possibly can.

MORE: Six players who should be traded this summer

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.

Report: Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes reach verbal agreement on new deal

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It sounds like the Arizona Coyotes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are on the verge of finalizing a long-term partnership. According to TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger, both sides have a verbal agreement in place that would keep the 26-year-old in the desert for the next eight years.

Last week, Dreger’s colleague, Bob McKenzie, reported that the ‘Yotes had offered their franchise defenseman an eight-year deal worth $66 million ($8.25 million per year).

Because he has a year remaining on his current contract, Ekman-Larsson can only officially sign his new contract on July 1st.

The deal makes sense for both parities. Ekman-Larsson will continue to be the key piece of a rebuilding Arizona team and the Coyotes get to keep their best player in the fold for the better part of a decade.

The Swedish blue-liner scored 14 goals and 42 points in 82 games during the 2017-18 season. He’s found the back of the net between 12 and 23 times since the 2013-14 season. He’s also accumulated at least 39 points in each campaign during that time.

Sticking in Arizona is an interesting decision for Ekman-Larsson. He could have gotten paid anywhere, but he obviously believes that the Coyotes will be able to be competitive in the next few years.

MORE:
Long-term extension would make sense for Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson

Locking up Ekman-Larsson is a must for Coyotes

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.

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.