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Long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes.

Pending free agents

The Core

A pressing question — one of the most important in franchise history, frankly — is if the Coyotes should re-sign Taylor Hall, and if Hall would actually want to become part of the core.

Because, whether you feel convinced that this is the sort of group you can win a Stanley Cup with or not, there’s definitely a core to this team.

Extending Oliver Ekman-Larsson was crucial to the Coyotes, but he didn’t really look like an $8.25M defenseman during his first season being paid that way. Time will tell if Clayton Keller is really worth $7.15M per year, himself. (It’s fair to mention that big prices for prominent forwards almost always look better as time goes on.)

The Coyotes have handed big term to some interesting players, including Nick Schmaltz, who they received in moving out former third overall pick (2015) Dylan Strome. Christian Dvorak‘s contract was a little surprising at the time, but will probably be fine.

There are some other interesting questions to answer. Can Jakob Chychrun stay healthy enough to realize his potential? As great as Darcy Kuemper has been, will he be the goalie beyond his extension (running through 2021-22)? Will they retain Antti Raanta beyond 2020-21 to maintain a potentially outstanding platoon?

Clearly, the Coyotes also hope that Barrett Hayton will not just be part of the core, but a star for them. File another one under “We’ll see.”

Long-term needs for Coyotes

The Coyotes still lack that “game-breaking talent,” so to speak.

For all that the Coyotes do well (they’re quite viable), it’s not a great sign when your top two scorers are at 45 points (Schmaltz) and 44 (Keller) this late in the season. At least now that we’ve exited the dreadful “Dead Puck Era.”

Circling back to an earlier point, Taylor Hall lingers as a tough question.

While still a strong player, Hall might not quite be the guy anymore. Hall nonetheless is the closest answer Arizona currently possesses. (Opinion: Keller and Hayton seem more likely to settle in as “stars” rather than “superstars.”)

Also, for a team that’s missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons and stands at risk of an eighth, their prospect cupboard doesn’t bowl you over. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked their farm system 20th in late January (sub required), for example. While some might chalk that up to “early graduations,” Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed Arizona’s 23-and-under core at a middling 16th place.

The defense is also getting a little older in spots, particularly Alex Goligoski (34). Even OEL turns 29 on July 17.

Long-term strengths of Coyotes

Goalies are an unpredictable lot, but the Coyotes have done as well as anyone in acing these tests.

They’ve successfully targeted two backups in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. While receiving top-notch goaltending, the Coyotes also haven’t signed scary contracts like other teams. They merely signed Raanta for three years ($4.25M) and Kuemper’s extension ($4.5M for 2020-21 and 2021-22) looks like a super-steal right now. Even if Kuemper slides, few teams have made safer bets.

There are Plans C and on, too. Adin Hill has shown some potential, and Arizona boasts an interesting prospect in the pipeline in Ivan Prosvetov.

If Chychrun can get through this rough patch of injuries and Victor Soderstrom develops, the Coyotes’ defense looks pretty solid, too.

Yes, lots of “solid” can feel like a curse when “great” is usually the difference between clearing a hurdle and crashing. (Well, great matched with lucky, at least in this often-random sport.)

Still, the Coyotes keep putting themselves in a spot where they can get that extra boost. With plenty of Pacific Division teams looking to be in waning periods, there might just be an opening for the Coyotes.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Arizona Coyotes
Coyotes’ biggest surprises, disappointments so far

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.

Shero: Hall trade ‘the right time and the right move for us’

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NEWARK, N.J. — Trading Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes roughly 18 months after the forward won the NHL MVP award for leading the Devils back to the playoffs was a simple hockey decision based on the team’s poor start and the strong likelihood the player was going to test the free-agent market next summer.

Devils general manager Ray Shero said Tuesday the trade of Hall to the Coyotes 24 hours earlier for two draft picks and three prospects was a hard day for him because of his feelings for the player. It was not a hard decision, he added.

Shero said numerous teams had called to inquire about acquiring the 28-year-old left wing, and the lines of communication remained opened with several of them until the deal with Arizona was finalized Monday.

Shero said trading Hall had nothing to do with the Devils realizing they would not be able to sign the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft before July 1. He also insisted Hall neither asked to be traded or nor said he wanted out of New Jersey, where he played the past three-plus seasons.

”From our standpoint, it was the right time and the right move for us and certainly for Taylor,” said Shero, noting Hall is going to a playoff contender.

Much was expected of the Devils this season. They drafted Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick in June and he joined a lineup that included Hall and Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. New Jersey also acquired Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban from Nashville and signed Wayne Simmonds as a free agent.

Things went south quickly. The Devils lost their first six games (0-4-2) and won two of their first 11 (2-5-4). Coach John Hynes was fired earlier this month and Hall was traded Monday. New Jersey has a 10-17-5 record, second worst in the league.

”This was a decision we made that what’s best for us as to where we are,” Shero said. ”It may have been a harder decision if we were five or three points out of a playoff spot or at the (trading) deadline; then what do you do? I don’t think that was that hard a decision based on where we want to go and making sure we have assets coming to us that we like.”

In return for Hall and forward Blake Speers, the Devils got Arizona’s first-round pick in the 2020 draft (top-three protected), Arizona’s third-round selection (conditional) in 2021, defenseman Kevin Bahl and forwards Nick Merkley and Nate Schnarr.

The deal has been anticipated for days. Hall was held out of the Devils’ games at Colorado and Arizona on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Shero said he spoke to Hall about a possible deal early last week.

Hall was leading the Devils in scoring with six goals and 19 assists for 25 points. He was limited to 33 games by a knee injury last season, finishing with 11 goals and 26 assists. His career year was in 2017-18 when he had 39 goals and 54 assists in getting New Jersey back to the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012.

”Taylor Hall never asked for a trade. Never,” Shero said. ”He has never turned anything down. I didn’t turn anything down. I want to be clear about that. His legacy here in New Jersey is important and important to me. He was all-in with this team.”

Teammates knew a trade was imminent when Hall was scratched those two games last week.

Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood was shopping for Christmas gifts Monday and he didn’t find out about the deal until four hours after it was announced.

”He knew it was coming. We knew it was coming,” Blackwood said. ”It was just a matter of time before it came together.”’

Veteran defenseman Andy Greene said Hall was popular and is going to be missed, but this is the business side of the game when a team struggles.

”Those things happen because of us in this locker room and how we played dictated that,” Greene said. ”’We still have what, 50 games left. We can’t sit there and say let’s play the rest of the year out. There’s way too much time.”

Kyle Palmieri, who was the right wing on the line with Hall, said the trade was a shock even though he knew it was coming.

”He was guy who was looked to as a leader and that was how he played and carried himself,” Palmieri said. ”It’s tough to see any teammate go but a guy who has been here for a while, and obviously one who had such a big impact on and off the ice.”

Coyotes acquiring Hall shifts balance of power in West

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John Chayka looked at the Arizona Coyotes roster and their spot atop the Pacific Division and wondered.

The Coyotes haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, and 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall was available. The cost was two draft picks and three prospects but no players from the current roster, so he went for it.

After acquiring Hall from New Jersey, Arizona is a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

”We want to take a run at things here,” Chayka said. ”We ask our questions here internally like, ‘Why not us?’ We’ve got a good group. We’ve got a chance to contend. You can always look to future years and say, ‘What if?’ But when we’ve got a chance right now, we wanted to take our shot.”

The Coyotes haven’t had this good a shot at contending in almost a decade. They prevented West rivals like the Colorado Avalanche and defending champion St. Louis from getting Hall, and bolstered a blue-collar roster by adding a 28-year-old wing in his prime.

Hall is a free agent after this season. That doesn’t matter. Arizona is in it to win it now.

”Our team’s played hard,” said Chayka, who’s in his fourth season as Coyotes general manager. ”I think we’ve got a great group of veteran guys here that I would’ve regretted not giving them the opportunity to hopefully realize a chance to contend for a Stanley Cup.”

The closest the Coyotes have come to the Cup is a five-game Western Conference final loss to Los Angeles in 2012. Adding Hall to a core including young leading scorers Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, wing Phil Kessel, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and goaltenders Darcy Keumper and Antti Raanta should ratchet up the expectations in the desert.

”I’m joining a team with some young studs, a lot of really good defensemen and obviously two goalies that have played amazing this year, you mention those things and that’s really what you need in a contender and that’s what it looks like the Coyotes are,” Hall said. ”I’m not here to guarantee any playoff predictions or anything like that. But you look at the standings, they’re in first place in the division and really I’m coming in to help with that.”

Hall has only made the playoffs once in nine NHL seasons with Edmonton and New Jersey, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t want to jump to conclusions. He wants to take some time to adjust to expectations before setting them too high but is excited about the prospect of returning to the postseason.

”Not every day as a player can you jump that many spots in the standings and come to a team that’s in first place in their division,” Hall said. ”I’m really just looking forward to winning games.”

The Coyotes traded for Hall to win games now and in the spring. The opportunity to add him before the holiday roster freeze maximizes the benefit and gives them a better opportunity to shift the balance of power in the West for real.

”We felt like if there was an opportunity to improve the group, it was something we were going to look into, and when this opportunity came along, it was something where we wanted to really bolster the group, hopefully give them a shot in the arm,” Chayka said. ”We feel like adding guys like Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, they’re players that we haven’t seen the likes of these guys in Arizona in terms of their offensive mindset in a long, long time, and we couldn’t pass up any opportunity.”

Hall focused on helping Coyotes make playoffs following trade

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It took a few days and plenty of speculation, but Taylor Hall trade watch is over and the forward is feeling good about his change in fortune.

Following Monday’s trade to the Coyotes, Hall left a Devils team sitting 30th in the NHL to join one atop the Pacific Division with an eye on making the postseason for the first time since 2012.

“I think the opportunity I have with the Arizona Coyotes is awesome,” Hall said on a Monday evening conference call. “To jump that many points in the standings overnight and to join a team that is in first place. Hockey guys will tell you that as the season goes on and the playoff push is really starting to become more important, hockey becomes so fun. I’ve only played five playoff games but those five playoff games, I can remember those in great detail because they were so fun and really was the highlight of my NHL career. So much opportunity for me in the next few months and really just looking forward to that, meeting with the group.”

Hall, who will wear No. 91 in Arizona, is likely to make his Coyotes debut Tuesday against the Sharks.

“It’s a rare opportunity, potentially once in a lifetime, where you get a chance to acquire a player of this caliber, with his background, that again we think fits directly a need that we have if we want to be a contending team,” said Coyotes general manager John Chayka. “He’s got great character, he’s a good person, and he’s an elite player in the League. So to check all those boxes was something we felt we couldn’t miss out on if the price is right, and we felt like it was.”

[RELATED: Devils send Taylor Hall to Coyotes for picks, prospects]

How Hall’s time in New Jersey ended was a possibility, but given GM Ray Shero’s aggressiveness in free agency Hall, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, being traded in mid-December was low on the list of expected outcomes.

The Devils’ poor start could not be saved and head coach John Hynes was fired on Dec. 3. That started the countdown clock to a Hall trade. Since it was very unlikely he was going to sign an in-season extension, there was no choice for Shero but to recoup assets. 

When trade talks heated up Friday the Devils made the decision to keep Hall out of the lineup against the Avalanche. Nothing materialized that night, so he was scratched Saturday in Arizona. It was only a matter of time before a deal was made, and no one was more happy to see it all come to a conclusion than Hall.

“The first day was fine, missing the first game was fine, but after that, you start to think a little bit,” Hall said. “Really, I was just anxious to get moved and see where I end up, and obviously it’s a great spot for me. So that’s what kind of transpired. It’s been a whirlwind few days, but at the end of the day, it looks like I’ll be playing hockey [Tuesday] night, so I’m happy.”

It’s still early days, but the potential of Hall lining up alongside Clayton Keller and Phil Kessel makes for a dangerous top line. Chayka will certainly wait before gauging Hall’s interest in an extension, so for now his focus is on winning hockey games.

“I’ve been open to anything and I haven’t closed the book on signing with any team prior to July 1,” Hall said. “Talking to John Chayka, that’s something we can discuss as time goes on, but I think both sides are really comfortable with just playing and letting the contract stuff sort itself out. Really, that’s not what I’m focused on. I just want to come and help win games, get to the playoffs, and do some damage there.”

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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.

Devils send Taylor Hall to Coyotes for picks, prospects

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Taylor Hall is on his way to the Arizona Coyotes as part of a blockbuster trade with the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils announced on Monday they have traded Hall — the 2018 league MVP —  in exchange for Arizona’s 2020 first-round draft pick (conditional), their 2021 third-round draft pick (also conditional), and prospects  Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr and Kevin Bahl.

The Coyotes are also acquiring Blake Speers as part of the trade.

The Devils are retaining 50 percent of Hall’s salary. He is in the final year of a contract that pays him $6 million this season. He is eligible for unrestricted free agent after this season.

The conditions on the two draft picks are as follows, via the Devils:

If Arizona’s 2020 first-round selection is in the top three, New Jersey will receive Arizona’s first-round pick in 2021.

The conditions on the 2021 pick are as follows: the third-round pick in 2021 becomes a second-round selection if Arizona wins a Stanley Cup Playoff round OR Taylor Hall re-signs in Arizona. The third-round pick in 2021 becomes a first-round selection if Arizona wins a Stanley Cup Playoff round AND Taylor Hall re-signs in Arizona. If neither condition happens, New Jersey still receives the 2021 third-round pick.

While the Colorado Avalanche were the odds on favorites to land Hall, the Coyotes started to become a contender for him over the weekend as the Devils continued to hold him out of the lineup.

“Taylor Hall is one of the elite talents in the game today; a Hart Trophy winner, a high-end playmaker and one of the NHL’s most talented forwards,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said in a team statement announcing the trade. “We are beyond thrilled to add Taylor to our team as we continue in our mission of bringing a Stanley Cup home to Arizona.”

He is expected to join the Coyotes in San Jose for their game against the Sharks on Tuesday.

The Coyotes perspective

This is a huge win for the Coyotes because it gives them the exact type of player they need at minimal cost. They have the defense and goaltending to compete right now, while the addition of Hall gives them the front-line scorer they desperately need.

It also continues to show the Coyotes are all-in on trying to win right now. They made a huge splash over the summer by acquiring Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins, and now picked up a former league MVP just a few months later. And they did so without having to give up a significant part of their future. None of the prospects involved are among the Coyotes’ top young players, while the condition on the first-round pick protects them in the event the miss the playoffs and land a top-three pick in the lottery.

Even if Hall doesn’t re-sign after the season it’s a worthy gamble for a team that needs to win and show its fan-base that it’s going to do what it takes to put a winner on the ice. When you have a chance to add a player like Hall for that cost you have to do it.

They are in first place in the Pacific Division at the time of the trade, while their acquisition of Hall keeps him away from their primary competition within the division. That includes the suddenly fading Oilers who could have absolutely used Hall.

The Devils perspective

This has to be disappointing for Devils fans.

Just a few years after getting Hall in one of the most lopsided one-for-one NHL trades in recent memory, they have to say goodbye after getting just one playoff appearance and one postseason victory out of his time with the team.

Is it a great return, or even a good return? No, it is not. It is a quantity over quality deal as none of the prospects involved project as top-line players, while they also forfeit the small chance the 2020 pick could be a top-three pick. But there’s also probably not much they could do about that. It was becoming increasingly clear Hall was not going to re-sign in New Jersey, and with only a few months remaining on his deal they didn’t have a ton of leverage to hold out for a massive return.

It is also the latest crushing blow to the 2019-20 season that started with such high hopes but has turned into bitter disappointment.

The Devils won the 2019 draft lottery, acquired P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds over the summer, and were going to get a full season of a healthy Hall after he missed most of the 2018-19 season due to injury. But the lack of quality goaltending, a bunch of blown leads, and a roster that simply wasn’t as good as they hoped has the team at the bottom of the NHL standings and in sell mode ahead of the NHL trade deadline. With Hall gone and head coach John Hynes fired, replaced by Alain Nasreddine, the significant changes have already started. These probably will not be the only changes.

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.