Although general manager Ron Francis and the Seattle Kraken were the stars of the show over the course of the expansion draft period, which began with the submission of protected lists on Saturday morning and concluded with the draft itself on Wednesday evening, the Arizona Coyotes and their GM Bill Armstrong were busy as well during the event.
The ‘Yotes made two pre-expansion draft trades, losing a key player while acquiring multiple draft picks, a goaltending prospect, and a two-time Stanley Cup champion forward. Let’s dive right into it:
In their first transaction, the Coyotes traded a player that most had expected to end up with the Kraken:
Arizona Coyotes receive:
San Jose Sharks receive:
In dealing Hill, the ‘Yotes moved arguably their most attractive expansion draft target. The prevailing opinion among hockey publications prior to the trade was that Hill would be Seattle’s selection, so, rather than losing him for free, the club smartly flipped the 25-year-old goalie for a badly-needed draft pick and a young prospect in Korenar.
The 23-year-old from the Czech Republic didn’t look out of place in 2020-21 as a rookie with the Sharks, posting an .899 save percentage and a 3.17 goals-against average on a club that was two goals shy of being the league’s worst defensive team. Korenar’s best game of the season came on May 5, when he stopped 30 of 32 shots against the Colorado Avalanche, in what was the Avs’ only loss from April 30 through June 2. He’ll likely be Arizona’s No. 3 goaltender to start the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get between 10 and 20 starts in the NHL in 2021-22. The organization, as of this writing, has no other NHL-caliber goalies under contract, and starter Darcy Kuemper has only one year left on his deal. He could be traded at the deadline if the Coyotes can’t get him re-signed, so the opportunity is there for Korenar to have a big role in Arizona this season.
Losing Hill is a tough pill to swallow, especially as he was arguably the club’s best goaltender in 2020-21, but, considering Arizona was days away from potentially losing him for free to Seattle, getting a second-rounder plus another netminder back for him is a win in my book.
In their other trade on July 17, the Coyotes made a unique deal in which they didn’t give anything up:
Arizona Coyotes receive:
New York Islanders receive:
This trade is an interesting one. Ladd, a two-time Stanley Cup champion who has two years left on a deal with an average annual value of $5.5 million, didn’t play in the NHL last year, and has only been on the ice for 30 NHL games in the past three combined seasons. This is a salary dump by the Islanders more than anything, as is evidenced by the fact that the Coyotes gave nothing up in this trade, but both Armstrong and Ladd have indicated that this trade isn’t for a contract – it’s for a player. Ladd feels like he can still contribute, while Armstrong believes the veteran can help build the culture in Arizona under new head coach Andre Tourigny.
No matter if Ladd contributes or not, this one is already a victory for Arizona – picking up two draft picks, and possibly a third, is a massive coup for a Coyotes organization that badly needs to restock the prospect pipeline in this weekend’s entry draft. When it comes to the conditional picks, one is guaranteed to be transferred to Arizona, while the other is up in the air. The Coyotes will receive the better of New York’s second-rounders in 2022 – the Islanders own two picks in this round at the moment, so this conditional pick will be settled when next year’s draft order is announced. For the 2023 third-round pick, it comes down to Ladd’s availability. If he plays a game for the ‘Yotes in 2022-23, this pick will be transferred.
Conditions for the 2023 3rd rounder going to Arizona #Yotes in the Ladd trade: the 3rd round pick is transferred if Ladd plays in at least 1 game in 2022-23— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 17, 2021
Ideally, Ladd enjoys two healthy seasons in Arizona as he winds down his career and the Coyotes receive all three draft picks from this trade. In the worst-case scenario, the 35-year-old never plays a game, ends up on long-term injured reserve, as Marian Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk, Chris Pronger, and Dave Bolland did before him, and the Coyotes get two draft picks out of it.
Not a bad deal in either scenario.
For the expansion draft, there was seemingly endless speculation on who would be protected by their respective NHL clubs, and what side deals (if any) would be made. After months or even years of messing around with the CapFriendly Seattle Expansion Draft Simulator, we finally got the real-life protected lists on Saturday evening.
After going the eight skaters/one goaltender route for the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft in 2017, the Coyotes, as expected, went with the seven forwards/three defenseman/one goaltender protection strategy for this edition of league expansion:
Overall, there weren’t really any surprises here. I had 8 of these 10 players on my protected list for the THW’s Ultimate Mock Expansion Draft, with the lone exceptions being Capobianco and Larsson. I opted to protect Pitlick over Larsson on my list, although it was a toss-up for the final spot between those two and Christian Fischer.
In the other case, I made a trade for Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm and protected him over Capobianco. The Coyotes didn’t make any such moves in reality, although Craig Morgan of AZ Coyotes Insider reported that the team could have some interest in adding a different veteran defenseman, specifically the Florida Panthers’ Anton Stralman.
One of many things to watch today/tomorrow that I reported last week. https://t.co/NbgPEo5EAp— Craig Morgan (@CraigSMorgan) July 22, 2021
Any acquisitions, if they happen, will obviously now take place after the expansion draft, which allowed the club to hold onto Capobianco instead of losing him, as I did in the THW Ultimate Mock Expansion Draft.
As was the case in 2017 when the Golden Knights filled out their roster, the Coyotes’ list of unprotected skaters was short on key players, but they still lost an NHLer this time around:
The Kraken will be Pitlick’s fifth NHL organization, and, in the 29-year-old, Seattle will get a player who kills penalties and can contribute a little bit of offense here and there. Pitlick had just 11 points in 38 games in 2020-21, but was still a valuable member of the Coyotes, as he led all of the team’s forwards when it came to shorthanded time on ice per game, at 2:06. Pitlick’s role last season was comparable to past depth players like Brad Richardson, Lauri Korpikoski, Dave Moss, Jordan Martinook, and others – his offensive contributions will be replaceable, but his expertise on the penalty kill unit will be missed in Arizona.
Overall, though, the Coyotes got off easy once again during an expansion draft. They lost Teemu Pulkkinen to Vegas last time around, but he never played another NHL game after being selected by the Golden Knights on June 21, 2017. Pitlick is a better player than Pulkkinen, but he should be easily replaced, either by an in-house player or via a free agent on a one or two-year deal.
In comparison to other teams like the Florida Panthers, who lost two top-six forwards (Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith) in 2017 and a starting goaltender (Chris Driedger) in 2021, the Coyotes should consider themselves lucky.
After the league handed down punishment for the John Chayka-led prospect fitness testing scandal on August 26, 2020, which resulted in the team losing last year’s second-rounder and this year’s first-round choice, the Coyotes were left with just five selections for the 2021 Entry Draft, and only one in the first three rounds.
The outlook was bleak at the time, but Arizona managed to pick up another 2021 second-round pick in the trade that sent veteran Derek Stepan to the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 26, 2020. The Ladd trade on Saturday gave the team another second-round choice, which put them back at the standard seven picks in this weekend’s draft:
Considering where the Coyotes were at less than a year ago, the fact that they once again have seven selections, including three top-60 picks, is outstanding. The sting of losing the No. 11 overall pick due to Chayka’s indiscretions is still there, but don’t let the lack of a first-rounder fool you – Arizona will have the opportunity to draft several key players this weekend. In past drafts, they’ve selected players such as Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer, Jordan Martinook in Round 2, and have ended up with guys like Adin Hill, Conor Garland, Jan Jenik and Matias Maccelli in later rounds as well.
The Coyotes are in good shape for the 2021 draft, which starts on Friday, but continue to keep an eye on social media for the latest updates – they might not be done making moves yet.