As teams are eliminated from the playoffs, it means that the offseason has arrived for several more squads. Having covered the teams that weren’t a part of the NHL’s return and the ones ousted in the Qualifying Round, we shift our focus to the ones that were eliminated in the official first round. Next up is a look at Arizona.
On the ice, 2019-20 was a decent one for the Coyotes. They got past Nashville in the qualifying round before being ousted by Colorado, but it was still their first playoff appearance since 2011-12. They have a solid defense corps, two good goalies and several foundational pieces under contract. But things aren’t exactly looking up. Their general manager resigned, they were stripped of two high draft picks, and as a small-market team, the pandemic could hit them harder than most; Katie Strang of The Athletic reported last week that they were late on some signing bonus payments; although, that has since been resolved. As a result, there’s a lot to do on their to-do list over the coming months and plenty of questions along the way.
First things first. Before making important decisions on what to do with their roster, the Coyotes need to decide who is making the decisions. Following the strange and public resignation of John Chayka, assistant GM Steve Sullivan has taken on the interim role for the time being and will certainly garner consideration to take on the role on a full-time basis.
A handful of names have been linked to the Coyotes in their search so far, including Pittsburgh assistant GM Jason Karmanos, Canadiens scout Sean Burke, and broadcaster Pierre McGuire though the latter has since been ruled out of contention. The one thing that stands out right away is a lack of GM experience, which suggests they’re looking for a first-time option who likely will come a little cheaper than some of the more prominent veteran options. At a time when revenues are minimal at best, that’s not a small thing either.
One thing they’ll have to decide on is what type of GM they want. Chayka was a strong proponent of significant use of analytics, and that has yielded some mixed results along the way. Do they continue in that direction or look for someone with a different mindset?
With the draft and free agency both less than a month away now, this isn’t a decision that can realistically be put off for much longer. While it’s possible that Sullivan could guide them through those two events while still retaining the interim tag, which would save some money in the short term, that would take away an opportunity if someone other than Sullivan gets the job to remake the team. Accordingly, this is something that should be addressed in the near future.
I’m not sure how realistic this is, but it simply can’t go without mentioning that re-signing the top free-agent forward who is set to hit the open market next month would be a huge boost for Arizona’s offseason. The Coyotes surprised many by adding the 2018 Hart Trophy winner in a midseason trade from New Jersey, and while his numbers don’t jump off the chart, he was an important player for them in the second half of the season and in the playoffs, and retaining him would give their forward group a big lift.
However, how much is that going to cost? Two years ago, it seemed like Hall was well on his way to an eight-figure AAV. While unprecedented (at the time) for a winger, he looked to have turned the corner with New Jersey. Things haven’t gone as well since then. In fact, thanks to injuries last season and the pandemic this year, his combined point total over that span is actually lower than his Hart-winning campaign. Between that and revenues bottoming out, it’s safe to take the $10M-plus price tag off the table.
But it’s also safe to say that he’s going to get a raise on the $6M he made on his most recent deal and certainly more than the $3M that Arizona was responsible for with the Devils retaining half of his salary and cap hit as part of the trade. That’s going to be difficult for the Coyotes to accomplish (more on that shortly).
On top of the financial challenge, Hall has also stated that going to a winning team will be a priority for him. For all of the talent he has, he has been in the playoffs twice in his 10-year career, and had it not been for the expanded format due to the pandemic, he wouldn’t have made it this year. Convincing Hall that the Coyotes will be a contender for years to come with him will be a challenge, especially without the ability to spend top dollar and, for now at least, no GM in place. Getting Hall locked up would be a huge boon to their offseason if they could pull it off but they have their work cut out for them.
Let’s talk about that cap situation in more detail. Hall coming off the books only frees up $3M which isn’t much to work with. Carl Soderberg’s $4.75M AAV is also off the books as is Brad Richardson’s $1.25M, but adding those three up might be what it takes to re-sign Hall let alone having to fill Soderberg and Richardson’s roster spots.
On top of that, the Coyotes also have new contracts for two key players starting next season. Starting goalie Darcy Kuemper gets a raise from $1.85M to $4.5M, while Clayton Keller bypassing a bridge contract means he goes from his entry-level salary of less than $900K to $7.15M. On top of that, he hit some performance bonuses, which has left them with an overage of nearly $400K to roll over to 2020-21, per CapFriendly. (That can be amortized over two years but it wouldn’t make much of a difference considering the relatively low amount.)
All told, Arizona has a little over $80M in commitments for next season already, excluding the bonus penalty. Granted, that includes Marian Hossa and his $5.275M AAV, which will once again be LTIR-bound, but that still doesn’t give them much room to work with. Forget about re-signing Hall for a moment, they probably need to free up room simply to fill out the rest of their roster.
Speculatively speaking, this could be an opportunity to deal one of their defensemen. Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s ($8.25M) name has come up in speculation already, but moving their captain would open up a big hole on their back end. Alternatively, they could look to move one of Alex Goligoski ($5.475M) or Niklas Hjalmarsson ($5M); while both are pricey, they have one year left on their contracts and it’s a weak free agent market. Up front, Michael Grabner is a big threat shorthanded, but he was a healthy scratch at times and his $3.35M price tag is a bit expensive for that. Backup goalie Antti Raanta ($4.25M) also looks expendable.
If they can find a team that is willing to take on some salary, Arizona should be looking for draft picks in return. They dealt their 2020 first-rounder for Hall and lost their 2021 first-rounder and 2020 second-round pick for fitness-testing violations. Between those and other moves, they have one pick total out of the first three rounds over the next two years. On top of that, they dealt their 2017 first-round pick in blue-line prospect Pierre-Oliver Joseph to Pittsburgh as part of the Phil Kessel trade. The cupboards are getting bare, and finding a way to restock those while freeing up some cap space will be important.