Aside from the draft, the NHL free agency is the best way to build a team. After missing the playoffs, the Phoenix Coyotes are in desperate need of a good offseason, and could use a couple wins in free agency. Never one for huge risks, general manager Don Maloney will likely stay away from the Paul Stastny’s and Thomas Vanek’s of free agency. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t treasure to be had. For the Coyotes, several options stand out as ones worth pursuing.
I raved in past articles about the Coyotes pursuing the brother of defenseman Zbynek to the desert. Personally, I feel that the opportunity for some great chemistry is worth looking into. But beyond that, Milan is a great player who fits into the Coyotes system. Defensively responsible with above-average scoring touch and good size (6-2, 215lbs), Milan could slot in anywhere in the top three lines for the Coyotes. Also worth noting, he appears to have put injuries behind him – he played in all 82 games last season. Much like Vrbata, he could be had somewhere within the $4 million range.
Continuing with the Czech theme, the Phoenix Coyotes were rumored to have pursued the Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky at the deadline. Now an unrestricted free agent after a short stint with the Senators, Hemsky would provide a little extra scoring punch on a team that lacked it for much of last season. In 672 career games played, Hemsky has notched 494 points, including 13-30-43 last season and two 70 point seasons in his career. Because he provides much the same thing as Mike Ribeiro, it may be tough to figure where exactly he slots in, but make no mistake – his skills would be a good fit in Glendale. If not Hemsky, a guy like Ray Whitney would be a good stopgap until prospect Max Domi can step in.
A perfect Dave Tippett mold player, Legwand is a gritty, two-way center with some good scoring touch – he scored 51 points in 2013-14 across 82 games with Nashville and Detroit. His tenure with Nashville is one I’m particularly fond of because of two key factors. One, he’s very familiar with a defense-first system having played most of his years under Barry Trotz, who runs a scheme much like Tippett. Second, he already has some chemistry with Martin Erat, whom he played with for almost a decade in Predators yellow. Age is a concern with Legwand, but he brings enough versatility for the Coyotes to seriously consider him.
I include this one, but note that this also applies to guys of the same mold, such as Marcel Goc and Joe Vitale. All three are dirty, defensive-minded fourth-liners who also happen to be pretty good penalty killers. Each have their own nuances, but all accomplish the task fairly similarly. I look at Jay McClement in particular. Per NHL.com, McClement led all NHL forwards in shorthanded time on ice, which is something that would help the Coyotes greatly – their penalty kill was 26th in the league. In addition, McClement is great in faceoffs, with 53.6% all of last season. He might be a little more expensive than Vitale and Goc, but I think McClement has the best chance to find consistent ice time with the Coyotes.
I’ve beaten the bush about how much the Coyotes could use a backup goaltender in articles past. Really, I stand by my guns that Thomas Greiss is the best man to fill that position. A great goalie and an even better teammate, the Coyotes need a guy like him to relieve Mike Smith from time to time – a guy who knows his spot as a backup, and is ready to come in at the drop of a hat. If not Greiss, guys like Al Montoya, Chris Johnson, Devan Dubnyk or Jean-Sebastien Gigueure could all accomplish that task at an affordable price.
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