The 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes free agents list shows the team will have about $30.31 million of available cap space. There are nine unrestricted free agents and seven restricted free agents on the list. We will analyze which players the team should re-sign, and which they should either trade before the deadline, or allow to walk to free agency.
2021-22 Arizona Coyotes Free Agents Decisions
The largest decision the Coyotes will face position wise is on their blueline. Five of the current seven starters are on expiring contracts after this season. Let’s go through them and decide which D-men will stay and which will not. The five defencemen who have expiring contracts are: Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jason Demers, Jordan Oesterle, and Ilya Lyubushkin. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jakob Chychrun have long-term contracts with OEL’s good through 2026-27, and Chychrun’s good through 2024-25.
The Blueline Players Who Should Stay
Jordan Oesterle came to Arizona in the July 2018 trade along with Marian Hossa‘s contract and forward Vinnie Hinostroza. Now in his third season in the desert, he has performed well enough to deserve a new contract. He doesn’t make any glaring errors and is a stable blueliner. His current contract is for $1.4 million and he should be signed to a three-year deal worth $2.75 million per year. While not a flashy player, he is a solid defender and could help the Coyotes continue their path to making the playoffs on a consistent basis.
The Russian has played well, and while never an offensive threat, he fills the role as a defender who loves to hit opposing players. He can move the puck with adept skill and covers his man like a blanket. He was missed when he had visa issues and the team had to play 10 games without his physical presence. His current salary is set at $1 million, and the team should re-sign him to at least a two-year deal worth $2 million a year.
The “Hammer” made it known that he intended to invoke his no-movement clause in his contract worth $5 million. He is literally a second goalie out there blocking shots at an incredible pace. Niklas Hjalmarsson has blocked 2.16 shots per game while with the Coyotes. While, like Lyubushkin he is no offensive threat, he can still play the game at 33 years old. He will turn 34 in June, so the question is will he be able to continue his level of play going forward? He does get injured quite a bit blocking all that rubber going towards his goalie. Still, he should remain to keep the Yotes defence as strong as it’s been recently. Offer him a reduced salary of $3.5 million and see what happens.
The Blueline Players Who Should Go
While Alex Goligoski seemed to outplay OEL last season, he is not getting any younger. He will turn 36 in July, and his $5.475 million salary doesn’t seem something the team needs to continue to payout. Thus far this season he has only had one assist in 17 games. That can’t be worth renewing his contract, since he is not really a stay-at-home defenceman. If the team can trade him before the deadline that may help, but no team is going to spend that much on a player in the down-side of his career. He may walk as a free agent, but that is not going to hurt this team that much.
He has been a healthy scratch lately, and it seems that the coaching staff may not be pleased with his play. Lyubushkin has played while Demers is in the press box watching the game. It could be that Demers may be on the trading block, and his $3.938 million contract could make it difficult to move him to another team. Like Goligoski it would be ideal if the Coyotes could get something in return for him.
Forwards With Expiring Contracts
Staying with the UFA’s, both Derick Brassard and Drake Caggiula were signed to one-year deals by new general manager Bill Armstrong. Brassard has a $1 million contract and has two goals and four assists in 17 games. He has given the team that veteran presence to help guide the younger players. He should be re-signed to a similar contract since his play is worth it. Caggiula has five assists in 12 games and has been an active forward showing some promise and should also be re-signed. His $700,000 contract is a bargain, and he should be bumped up to about the same salary as Brassard. His scrappiness is welcomed and he has some upside offensive potential.
Conor Garland Deserves a Huge Raise
Conor Garland currently leads the team in scoring with seven goals and eight assists in 17 games. His near point-per-game pace has charged the offence for the Coyotes. He has this adept ability to rag the puck and elude defenders rather easily. He’s also rushing the net and for a guy who stands just 5′-10″, 165 pounds he is a true warrior in every sense of the word. Yet, he is making just $775,000 with his current contract. He led the team in goals last season with 22 and is on pace to get 25 goals in just 56 games in this shortened season. That should tell management that they need to keep this kid and pay him what he deserves.
It wouldn’t hurt if his teammates stepped up to defend him when he is manhandled by opposing teams who seem to know they get away with that. Garland should be in the neighbourhood of what Nick Schmaltz makes at $5.85 million. A $5 million deal seems in order and without Garland this team’s offence would sputter.
John Hayden was signed to add some physical presence to the team but he doesn’t seem to have helped all that much. Standing at 6′-3″, 226 pounds it would seem that he could use that to his advantage, yet he has been pretty invisible so far this season. If things don’t change, it may do Armstrong well to look for another forward to replace him. He is scoreless in eight games, but that wasn’t why he was signed. We shall see what Armstrong does with Hayden. To this writer, he hasn’t impressed at all.
Goalie Contracts Examined
Everyone knows that backup goalie Antti Raanta has an injury bug that he can’t seem to shake. While he possesses excellent statistics with 90-60-19 career record, he just can’t seem to stay healthy. His .920 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against-average are attractive, but that’s when he actually plays. He is earning $4.25 million and with the emergence of Adin Hill, it seems futile to continue to think that Raanta will stay healthy enough to help this team. Trading him is always a good option especially if the Arizona club can get some sorely needed draft picks in return.
Speaking of Hill, he too is a UFA who needs a new contract. He is at $800,000 now and if the team trades Raanta, Hill should be signed to a two or three-year deal in the $2 million range.
The Hossa Contract
The largest amount of salary cap space will be obtained when the team uses the long-term injury reserve of injured forward Marian Hossa. That $5.275 million will sure come in handy if GM Armstrong finds some talent he wants to add to the roster. The contract expires after this year, so either way the team saves 6.5 percent of the cap on this one contract.
Players currently on the taxi squad include: forward Dryden Hunt ($750,000), defenceman Jordan Gross $750,000), forward Hudson Fasching ($725,000), defenceman Aaron Ness ($725,000), and forward Michael Chaput ($700,000). Obviously if the team shreds both Goligoski and Demers they will need replacements. For the right-shooting Demers’ replacement up and coming Victor Soderstrom or Gross can perhaps take that spot with the advantage to Soderstrom. He will play in the AHL in Tucson to get accustomed to the North American rink size and game. He looked good in the two games he played in the NHL
Filling the loss of Goligoski should be Kyle Capobianco or Ness. The possibility of signing a free agent or receiving a player in a trade can always fill that spot.
The savings on the contracts for Demers, Goligoski, and Hossa alone amount to $14.7 million and while some of that may be spent on new signings, the team shouldn’t have any salary cap issues for 2021-22. Add in Raanta’s $4.25 million and that figure jumps to almost $19 million, in addition to the $30.31 million they already have. This should allow for some good moves to really improve this hockey club even more.
Let’s see what Armstrong can do to make the Arizona Coyotes a contender and not a pretender.