As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look toward the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The fourth and final segment of Offseason Primers sticks to the Western Conference, featuring the Pacific Division. Today, the Arizona Coyotes will go under the microscope.
Arizona Coyotes Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
As the organization deals with front office tumult following the sudden departure of general manager John Chayka, they also have a multitude of roster players on expiring deals. None of those contract negotiations is more important than that of Taylor Hall‘s, who figures to be the most highly-sought-after free agent on the market. The Coyotes other unrestricted free agents include Carl Soderberg, Brad Richardson, Markus Hannikainen, Beau Bennett, and Robbie Russo.
The Coyotes also have a long list of youngsters and prospects who are restricted free agents this offseason. Vinnie Hinostroza, Ilya Lyubushkin, Christian Fischer, Jordan Gross, Merrick Madsen, Dane Birks, Kyle Capobianco, Blake Speers, Adin Hill, Vili Saarijarvi, Lane Pederson, and Jalen Smereck comprise that list.
Salary Cap Outlook
The Coyotes will be in tight to manage their salary cap situation this offseason. Their new interim general manager, Steve Sullivan will have to get his hands dirty, and it will be a tough ship to steer over the next few months. According to the team’s CapFriendly page, the Coyotes only have $1.51 million in salary-cap space for next season. However, that number increases to $6.79 million when the LTIR relief from Marian Hossa‘s contract is factored in.
Major Likely Departures
The team and its fan base would do well to realize that “The Big One” won’t be returning to the desert for the 2020-21 season. While Hall didn’t exactly play poorly after a midseason trade to the Coyotes, his totals were a far cry from his 2017-18 and 2018-19 season. Still, he cemented himself as one of the top players in the league.
The pedigree he earned from those two seasons will also likely drive up his price tag this offseason, pricing the Coyotes out of retaining him. However, it’s also unlikely that Hall would return to Arizona even if money wasn’t an issue. Hall is now almost 28-years-old and a veteran of 10 NHL seasons. Only twice in his tenured career has Hall made the playoffs. Hall is hungry to win and knows he’s running out of time to make a real impact on his team while he’s in his prime. The Coyotes may be a few years away from true contender status. Hall will likely look to head to an established contending team.
Despite not making his NHL debut until age 27, Soderberg has now played over 500 NHL games. He is one of the more reliable two-way players in the league. After an atrocious season in 2016-17 with the Colorado Avalanche (14 points in 80 games), Soderberg has posted three consecutive 35-point seasons.
Arizona would certainly like to retain him, as he was a valuable depth piece for the team’s offensive structure. However, Soderberg’s consistency recently has priced himself out of being re-signed by the Coyotes. While no team will invest in Soderberg long-term at age 34, he should earn a nice payday on the open market for a few more seasons.
Richardson has been a capable fourth-line centre for the Coyotes since arriving in 2015. However, the 35-year-old is starting to exhibit signs of serious decline. Richardson saw his point totals drop off from 27 last year to only 11 points this season. He saw his usage drop by more than two minutes a game as well.
While Richardson is ageing, he still has something to bring at the NHL level. Another team will likely bring him in on a one-year deal. But with the emergence of players such as Barrett Hayton on the Coyotes’ end, there isn’t a clear fit for the elderly Richardson anymore on the team’s roster.
Major Likely Re-Signings
Acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2018-19 season, Hinostroza has mostly played well in his two-year tenure in the desert. He took a step back this season after a 16 goal, 39-point campaign in 2018-19. He still factors in as a long-term building block in the Coyotes’ bottom-six. The 26-year-old forward might have more offensive ability in him. The Coyotes will want to retain the pending restricted free agent.
Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) pegs Hinostroza at a $2.43 million cap hit for the next three seasons, bringing Arizona’s remaining salary overhead down to $4.36 million for next season.
To say the 23-year-old winger had a down year for the squad would be an understatement. After a 33-point campaign in 2017-18, Fischer’s point totals have concerningly slipped. The former second-round pick in 2015 still oozes potential and will get another shot with this Coyotes squad. Time is running out on Fischer, however. He’ll need to produce over the duration of his next contract in order to stay in the league.
Evolving-Hockey projects a two-year extension for Fischer worth $1.58 million a season. It could be Fischer’s last attempt at making an impact in the NHL. Arizona would still have $2.78 million in cap space for 2020-21.
Despite some poor offensive totals, Lyubushkin has actually been one of the Coyotes’ more skilled defensive defencemen over his first two NHL seasons. While he hasn’t scored a goal in his 92 NHL games, the 26-year-old Russian has become excellent at limiting quality chances against. His positive Corsi numbers suggest he’s become more skilled in terms of possession and generating offensive chances for the Coyotes as well, despite not being credited with many assists.
While he’ll never turn any heads at the NHL level, Lyubushkin provides dependable, cost-effective depth that any team craves. Evolving-Hockey projects a two-year extension for Lyubushkin worth $1.12 million a year. It leaves the Coyotes with $1.66 million in cap space.
Potential Free Agent Additions
The Coyotes will be a cap-strapped team this offseason. They could still find a way to bring in one or two depth forwards in order to offset the loss of players like Richardson and Soderberg. While obviously no-one internally can replace Taylor Hall’s offence, the Coyotes could still continue to bolster their four-line attack. Names in their price range include pending UFA Melker Karlsson, who could play a fourth-line role and help out their penalty kill, already one of the better ones in the league. Other names include Derek Grant, Gabriel Bourque, and Tom Kuhnhackl.
Don’t forget to check out the other Pacific Division Offseason Primer completed so far: the Anaheim Ducks.
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