One of the lovely “gifts” that former Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka left his successor was a ridiculous eight-year contract to forward Clayton Keller. Whether Chayka may have taken Keller’s words seriously that he emulated his game after super-star Patrick Kane or not… he’s no Patrick Kane! It’s admirable to have Keller want to play like his hero, Kane. But, when you compare the two players there is evidence that Chayka way overpaid to keep Keller on the roster.
In Kane’s first three seasons he collected 76 goals and 154 assists for 230 points. Looking at Keller’s first three full seasons he has a paltry 54 goals and 102 assists for 156 points. Yet, Kane went from his entry-level deal worth $875,000 to a five-year $31.5 million or $6.3 million AAV. We all know that Keller jumped from his $885,833 ELC to an astounding eight-year $57.2 million contract, or $7.15 million AAV. The difference? Kane earned his and Keller is yet to get to that point.
What Clayton Keller is Worth in a Trade
Granted, Keller has upside, but even though he’s about the same size as Kane he gets pushed around extensively and falls down a lot. According to head coach Rick Tocchet Keller is trying to bulk up to give him more strength on his skates. He’d better with the salary the Coyotes are dishing out to him for a very low production return. So, the team has not made any earth-shattering deals at all during free agency. And here we are exploring what Keller may be worth on the trade market.
One factor which may nix any deal to trade Clayton Keller would be the exorbitant contract that Chayka threw at the then 21-year-old forward. His deal took up 8.77 percent of the team’s cap when he signed it. It’s one thing to try to trade a player with potential and it is yet another to trade a player with results. The other issue is Chayka was dumbfounded about giving a young player a bridge deal instead. One good portion of Keller’s lucrative contract is he does not have a no-trade clause until the 2024-25 season. That does give the team some breathing room to see if he can earn the contract he has.
Parameters of a Potential Clayton Keller Trade
In this tight salary cap era caused by the pandemic, not many teams have very much wiggle room in their cap space budget. Yet there have been some significant free-agent signings and some trades. Not in Arizona. New general manager Bill Armstrong has stated that the roster we currently see will be what he goes with on opening night. Really? They haven’t solved their largest weakness of lack of scoring. They have plenty of players (seven) who are unrestricted free agents next season, yet they remain inactive.
So, it’s time to play armchair GM. In case you have been living in a cave lately, it’s been well documented that one Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets is unhappy playing on the second line. Well, it so happens that the Coyotes could easily put him on their first line and bolster a stagnant offence instantly. Both players are in the same salary range with Laine making $6.75 million and his contract expiring after next season. But, see the Coyotes have a wealth of cap space money after this season ($31.8 million) depending on who they decide to keep. It wouldn’t be difficult to sign him to a very well deserved long-term deal as Keller received.
While that may be a fantasy trade, it could hold some merits. The Coyotes thought they had acquired that scoring wing when Phil Kessel came to town. That has been a complete failure of gigantic proportions. Laine can put it in the net and he’s proving that he can be a good two-way player. The Jets will have nine UFA’s and three restricted free agents after next season. They also will have a huge cap space of $31 million to use. In other words, both teams could financially do a deal involving both players. The sticky part is whether both teams are interested in doing a deal.
Sweeten The Pot
To acquire a top-notch player like Laine, the Coyotes may need to give up more than Keller. The honest truth is the relationship Laine has with the Jets has deteriorated and he needs to move on somewhere else. The Coyotes can use some instant offence and still retain their youthful roster. Laine fills the bill.
Whether Keller is of any interest to the Jets is another story. It was mentioned above that this was armchair GM. Just as Kessel wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh, Laine is in the same predicament.
I’m sure if the Jets contacted Armstrong about Laine it would be what they wanted in return for such a quality player. Keller alone more than likely wouldn’t be enough.
The Bare Facts
The Arizona Coyotes lost out on the Taylor Hall deal and now don’t have a true scorer to give them a decent offence. Their chances of getting to the postseason depend on it. One thing about Chayka was he wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a trade. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it backfires. In the case of Hall, the latter was true.
We don’t know about Armstrong’s philosophy on trades yet, but he had better start gathering some assets which will bring him success in Arizona. A good start would be to get involved in the Laine sweepstakes. Don’t stand pat, that has proven to not be a plan for success. Arizona needs a top-notch star player if they want to be in the playoffs with regularity.
Patrik Laine can do that, so start the wheels turning.