Oliver Ekman-Larsson

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Coyotes betting big on questionable core

The Arizona Coyotes are the NHL’s strange beasts.

For years, they suffered through shoestring budgets as their ownership and arena woes continued into infinity. While there still seems to be some turmoil in that area – their majority owner once again changed this summer – they’re now becoming a team that raises your eyebrows for seemingly spending more than expected.

Wednesday’s announcement of Clayton Keller‘s eight-year, $57.2 million extension serves as the exclamation point on that sentence.

Consider the players who are now under long-term deals in Arizona:

Keller ($7.15M cap hit starting in 2020-21; runs through 2027-28): Many are pointing out that Keller’s contract now makes William Nylander‘s often-criticized deal look quite reasonable, while others groan that with Keller set to carry a $7.15M cap hit, it sets a higher floor for other RFAs, from Kyle Connor this summer to Nico Hischier entering his contract year.

As PHT’s writeup notes, the Coyotes are betting that the 21-year-old has a high ceiling, thus making this a signing with foresight.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($8.25M starting this season, goes through 2026-27): For quite some time, there was angst about OEL leaving the lowly Coyotes for greener pastures. Then the Coyotes sent all of that green his way, really setting the table for this run of early extensions, as they signed Ekman-Larsson at basically the first possible moment in July 2018.

So, the good news is that they kept the Swede in Arizona for the long-term future. The bad news is that it’s possible OEL might not be quite the difference-maker they’re paying for. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn listed Ekman-Larsson as an honorable mention for one of the worst contracts in the NHL (sub required).

None of this is to say that OEL is a bad player. Instead, it keeps with the theme that it seems like the Coyotes are paying premiums for players who haven’t yet produced truly premium all-around results.

Nick Schmaltz ($5.85M through 2025-26), Jakob Chychrun ($4.6M through 2024-25), Christian Dvorak ($4.45M through 2024-25): Again, these players aren’t necessarily “bad,” it’s just surprising to see so many of them get so much term without overly obvious savings right off the bat. It’s the sort of hastiness you’d expect from a team that’s been contending, not one that’s had money troubles for ages and has missed the playoffs for seven seasons in a row.

Beyond that questionable core, the Coyotes are also spending a considerable chunk of change on veteran players like Phil Kessel, Derek Stepan, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Raanta, and Jason Demers.

Even if you give the Coyotes some leeway for absorbing Marian Hossa‘s dead contract, it’s honestly jarring that they technically are out of cap space heading into 2019-20, according to Cap Friendly.

Now, sure, this is a team that nearly made the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs despite a plague of injuries, and with all of this youth and the potential boost of Kessel’s sniping, could very well make it in 2019-20 — particularly in a Pacific Division that seems weak on paper.

Still, it remains a bit baffling that the Coyotes are spending this much for a team that doesn’t necessarily wow you with its overall talent.

That said, the Coyotes seem like they’re approaching RFAs as a market inefficiency, and if any players will prove your risks right, it’s young ones. While OEL is already 28, Keller is 21, Chychrun’s run of injuries make him a mystery of sorts at 21, and so on. As we’ve seen with Leon Draisaitl at $8.5M per year, seemingly shaky contracts can end up looking like steals, at least when it comes to players entering their primes.

The Coyotes have to hope this all works out as planned, as they’re gambling big on all of this term for young players, and some pretty big bucks for veterans.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

It’s Arizona Coyotes Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Arizona Coyotes. 

2018-19
39-35-8, 86 points (4th in Pacific Division, 9th in Western Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Phil Kessel
Carl Soderberg
Beau Bennett

OUT
Alex Galchenyuk
Kevin Connauton
Nick Cousins
Richard Panik
Josh Archibald

RE-SIGNED
Lawson Crouse
Hudson Fasching
Ilya Lyubushkin

2018-19 Season Summary

The Coyotes opened last season by dropping four of their first five games but they found a way to go on a five-game winning streak in late October/early November. The rest of 2018 was very much up and down for them, which is something you’d expect from a young team.

They managed to get really hot in late February/early March, as they won six games in a row and eight of nine contests. Just as they were building momentum in their fight for a playoff spot, the wheels fell off again in March when they dropped seven of their last 11 games that month.

In the end, they ended up missing the playoffs by just four points and they only had one fewer regulation/overtime win than Colorado, who finished in the final Wild Card spot.

It’s easy to look at the Coyotes’ season as a failure, but they’ve clearly built some positive momentum heading into the summer. Head coach Rick Tocchet found a way to get the most out of his group of players. They were so close to the postseason despite not having starting goalie Antti Raanta for most of the season (they used five different goalies last year) and they didn’t have any player hit the 20-goal or 50-point mark in 2018-19 (Yeah, you read that correctly).

Tocchet isn’t the only one that deserves credit. Goalie Darcy Kuemper turned in strong performance after strong performance throughout the campaign. This was Kuemper’s first real opportunity to be a starting goaltender in the NHL and he didn’t disappoint. The 29-year-old finished the year with a 27-20-8 record, a 2.33 goals-against-average and a .925 save percentage. He kept them in the race. Now that Raanta is healthy again, it’ll be interesting to see how the two netminders split starts next season.

[MORE COYOTES: Under Pressure: Kessel | X-factor | Three questions]

Heading into the season, Arizona probably expected a little more production from Clayton Keller. The 21-year-old had 23 goals and 65 points in 82 games during his rookie season, but he followed that up by scoring 14 goals and 47 points in the same amount of games in year two. It’s totally normal for a player to take a step back in the second year of his career, but the diminished production may have been the difference between playing in the playoffs and watching them from home.

And the other thing that hurt the Coyotes was the failed Alex Galchenyuk experiment. GM John Chayka traded Max Domi to Montreal to get Galchenyuk, but he only lasted one year in the desert. Yes, trading him away allowed the team to get Phil Kessel from Pittsburgh, but it must have been hard for the ‘Yotes to watch Domi score over 70 points for the Habs while Galchenyuk managed just 41 points in 72 games. Apparently Chayka saw all he needed to see from the 25-year-old in just one season.

The Coyotes were a nice little story in 2018-19, but they have to find a way to turn the corner this season. They have a new owner, some new players and a coaching staff that has another year under their belt. They have to find a way to get themselves in one of the top eight spots in the Western Conference. Signing Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a long-term deal will help keep them competitive and adding veterans like Kessel and Carl Soderberg should give them a nudge in the right direction, too.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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: Neal’s history with Tippett; Chiarelli in Wild GM mix?

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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.

• This can only end in disaster. (Edmonton Journal)

• Where are the 30 players taken in the Vegas expansion draft now? (Sportsnet)

James Neal‘s history with Dave Tippett is fueling optimism after his move to Edmonton. (NHL.com)

• The NHL salary cap is here to stay. (Featurd)

• Senators won’t be competitive until they prioritize talent over finances. (Sportsnet)

• Why the Toronto Maple Leafs should be Stanley Cup favorites. (Editor in Leaf)

• Lafreniere laughing all the way to the NHL. (Featurd)

• Are the latest Jake Gardiner rumors about the Montreal Canadiens? (A Winning Habit)

• It’s a made-for-Hollywood story, and NHL nails it with video showcasing Cup champion Blues. (St. Louis Today)

• Can you make a competitive lineup solely out of the Leafs’ draft picks? (Pension Plan Puppets)

Chris Kunitz reflects after announcing retirement. (Penguins)

• ‘I paved the way’: The story of Fred Sasakamoose’s historic rise to the NHL. (The Daily Press)

• Arizona Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson attacked by family dog, hospitalized. (AZ Central)

• The Andrei Vasilevskiy contract is risky business. (Raw Charge)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

DeBrincat scores twice as U.S. routs Denmark 7-1 at worlds

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KOSICE, Slovakia (AP) — Alex DeBrincat had two goals and an assist to help the United States rout Denmark 7-1 on Saturday for the Americans’ fourth straight victory during preliminary play at the world championships.

Jeff Blashill became the winningest U.S. coach in world championship history in the top division with his 18th career victory in 23 games.

Patrick Kane added three assists; Jack Eichel had a goal and an assist; and Frank Vatrano, Clayton Keller, Chris Kreider and Dylan Larkin scored a goal apiece. Goalie Cory Schneider made 21 saves for his third victory this tournament.

”Schneids made a couple of big saves early, and I thought overall we got better as the game went on and picked up an important three points,” said Blashill, also the coach of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. ”We can still tighten up a little defensively, but overall I thought we made some good strides today.”

The U.S. is 3-1-0-1 in Group A and plays Germany on Sunday when Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin is to join the team.

Russia beat Latvia 3-1 in Bratislava and leads Group B with a 5-0-0-0 record. Canada beat Germany 8-1 for its fourth straight win, and Norway beat Italy 7-1. In late games, Sweden edged Switzerland 4-3, and Slovakia scored three goals in the first 11 minutes in beating Britain 7-1.

The Americans improved to 6-0-1-1 against Denmark, jumping to a 4-0 lead after the first period.

Vatrano scored the first goal off a breakaway with Derek Ryan. DeBrincat scored 29 seconds later on a power play, putting the puck under goalie Simon Nielsen’s glove. Keller made it 3-0 when James van Riemsdyk deflected a shot by Ryan Suter off Keller’s back. Kreider made it 4-0 late in the first.

Nick Olesen scored at 4:50 of the second to pull Denmark within 4-1. DeBrincat padded the lead at 11:55 with tap-in goal, and Larkin made it 6-1 at 13:17. Eichel scored his first goal of this tournament at 11:19 of the third for the final score.

Mark Stone scored three of Canada’s first four goals, Anthony Matha added two and Dylan Strome and Jonathan Marchessault each had three assists. Canada is tied with Germany for second in Group A behind Finland (13) with 12 points apiece. The U.S. is fourth with 11 points.

Norway avoided relegation with a second win in as many days with Mathias Trettenes’ goal 1:47 into the third the winner.

Italy ended a scoring drought of 447 minutes, 42 seconds at the worlds dating to 2017 when Angelo Miceli scored at 2:03 of the third off a shot by Armin Helfer. The goal was reviewed for a possible kicking motion after going of Miceli’s skate only to be upheld to pull Italy within 2-1. Norway answered with five straight goals.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored at 11:47 of the third to lift Sweden to the win just 1:20 after Switzerland had tied it at 3 on a goal by Gaetan Haas.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Grubauer extraordinary as Avalanche extend wildcard lead

AP Photo

‘Gruuuuu’ will be the soundtrack to the Arizona Coyotes’ nightmares tonight when they lay their heads down to sleep tonight.

Enter Sandman? Nah. Enter Philipp Grubauer.

An incredible 42-save effort, one that included Grubauer shaking off two third-period goals that brought the Coyotes level with the Colorado Avalanche in the final eight minutes game, gave the Avalanche a crucial 2-1 shootout win in a pivotal game that may have just settled the wildcard race in the Western Conference.

Colorado’s big offseason acquisition pulled through in the clutch. He survived a 20-shot barrage in the third, stopped three shots in overtime and then turned aside Nick Cousins, Alex Galchenyuk and then Vinnie Hinostroza with a sprawling right-pad save in the shootout to put the Avs three points ahead of the Coyotes with four games to go.

Is it over for the Coyotes? It’s probably a bit too early to say that, but the Avalanche hold the keys to their own playoff destiny now, and no one but themselves and prevent them from unlocking that final spot in the Western Conference.

Arizona certainly showed some poise facing a 2-0 deficit in the second half of the third frame.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

With exactly 8:01 remaining in the third period, the Coyotes and their season appeared to be evaporating quickly.

With exactly 8:00 left in the frame, their Oliver Ekman-Larsson threw them a lifeline.

A captain’s goals if there ever was one, OEL pulled the Coyotes to 2-1. But the Coyotes were still in need of another here. Or the same one. That’d work.

And with exactly 49 seconds left and the net empty 200 feet the other way, OEL did it again to at least secure a point.

Darcy Kuemper turned in a big performance of his own, making 25 saves, including a couple biggies on Nathan MacKinnon, who was flying.

The return of Gabriel Landeskog after a nine-game absence with an upper-body injury was a big boon to the Avs, who are also without Mikko Rantanen. Landeskog provided the assist on MacKinnon’s 1-0 goal.

Derick Brassard even scored, with the trade deadline acquisition finding a big goal.

Both of Colorado’s goals came on the power play, significant because the Coyotes came into the game with the NHL’s best penalty kill. Arizona didn’t give the Avs much five-on-five, so the extra room to breathe on the power play played a critical role.

Colorado has St. Louis, Edmonton, Winnipeg and San Jose left on their schedule. The way Friday’s game shook out was the worst-case scenario for the Minnesota Wild, who are also in the fight four points back after a big win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday. Minnesota meets Arizona on Sunday.

The race isn’t over, but some clarity was gained.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck